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CenterState details economic plan at Clarkson

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POTSDAM — A Syracuse corporation has a plan to revitalize the flagging economies in central and northern New York.

The CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity presented its New York Agenda for Economic Opportunity at Clarkson University on Friday.

The agenda is the result of three years of study, created in collaboration with the Brookings Institute, a leading Washington think tank. It looks at the problems and opportunities in 12 counties, including St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Lewis.

Clarkson was the fourth and final stop on a two-day tour to introduce the plan, following Ithaca, Syracuse and Utica.

The agenda confirms and supports much of the work that has already been done by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council during the last three years, according to Anthony Collins, Clarkson University president and council co-chairman.

“I think it’s always good to have an outside entity come in and take a look. It validates what we’re doing,” he said.

The data gathered for the report showed a region suffering from high unemployment and low income where economic growth lags behind the rest of the nation.

The regional economy is diverse, with no one industry making up more than 9 percent of employment. This helped shield the area from the worst of the recession, but it also made it difficult to specialize and thrive.

The data collected also suggested solutions. The report included five key findings which, if addressed, could theoretically provide a major economic boost to the studied counties.

The first is a focus on high-technology fields. By taking advantage of the local colleges and existing high-tech industries, the report proposes a push toward creating more so-called “data to decisions” businesses, which gather and interpret a large amount of complex data.

The second is increasing exports to compete in a global economy. While Brazil, China and India are often named as the biggest player when it comes to globalization, many of the north country’s export opportunities come from its proximity to Canada.

“In a very important way, the north country is more ready than most areas, in that we’re already international. International doesn’t have to mean China. International can mean Canada,” said Garry F. Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in Plattsburgh.

The third key finding took a look at the region’s struggles to secure venture capital financing. The twelve counties studied receive only $27 in investment per person, compared to $933 in larger regions.

To rectify this situation, CenterState CEO has already raised more than $12 million for what the corporation plans to turn into a $40 million venture capital fund.

The fourth finding showed the need for a skilled workforce. Many trained workers are leaving the region, even as high-skilled employment opportunities are opening up.

The problem is that the area’s schools and training programs are not necessarily teaching the skills needed in the region’s economy, according to Robert Simpson, president of CenterState.

“We are not always connecting those dots appropriately,” he said.

Finally, the report found that local governments need to be streamlined. The region has nine times the number of local governments per capita than the largest metropolitan areas, which contributes to a heavy tax burden.

Now that the report is complete, CenterState plans to immediately begin work on implementation.

“We’ve already done a lot of the legwork,” Mr. Simpson said.

The agenda includes strategies to apply the five key findings to the area, including the creation of workforce training tailored to the region’s needs and a call to double exports within five years.

The next few years will tell whether CenterState CEO and its many partner organizations, like Clarkson, can turn the suggestions into a reality.

“Part of the idea of economic development, in a broad sense, is getting everybody on the same team,” Mr. Collins said.

The full report, along with additional information, is online at www.centerstateopportunity.com.

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