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During the 2014 Economic Forecast held Jan. 29, Anthony G. Collins made a startling observation.

Mr. Collins is president of Clarkson University in Potsdam and co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. The Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce hosted the event at the Ramada Inn in Watertown.

Joining Mr. Collins on an agribusiness-themed panel during the event were Kevin L. Richardson, president of North Country Farms; Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander; Loren C. Herod, agricultural business coordinator for Community Bank; and Stanley Telega, New York state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The economic council, which represents seven counties, has made numerous strides to assist the agriculture and tourism industries by providing grant funding over the past three years, Mr. Collins said. Though those industries are growing, more efforts need to be made to spotlight what the region has to offer for metropolitan areas in New York City and Boston, he contended,” according to a Jan. 30 story in the Watertown Daily Times.

“Industry could break down, and we can’t afford to rely on manufacturers as the economic engine of our region,” Mr. Collins was quoted as saying in the story. “Development in the areas of tourism and agriculture may help offset those areas that are isolated without an economic plan.”

Mr. Collins highlighted six agriculture and tourism-related projects that were awarded state funding through the economic council. The grants have been spread throughout the seven counties served by the council, and they demonstrate the potential here of agribusiness success, he said.

But here is what Mr. Collins pointed out that should really get people’s attention:

“In and of themselves, they’re not huge projects. But if we bring them together, it shows that we have the same agricultural climate as the state of Vermont. And yet, they’re the ones feeding products to New York City.”

This begs the question of why places like New York City are not obtaining more of their food products from farmers in their own state. Local businesses need to find ways to market themselves more aggressively and connect with partners in other parts of the state.

One local success story in this endeavor was presented during the panel. Mr. Richardson, president of North Country Farms in the town of Pamelia, said his firm does 90 percent of its business in New York City.

“By partnering with local farms and producers, it markets and sells products with locally grown ingredients that are sold under the company brand: white and whole-wheat flour, pancake and muffin mixes, maple syrup, honey and jams,” according to the story. “This year, the business is seeking to partner with grass-fed cattle companies from the region to market and sell meat products that would be processed at Red Barn Meat, a USDA facility in Croghan.”

To highlight the importance of the agricultural industry to the state, Mr. Collins said people should not rely on large manufacturers in the region to expand economic growth. Tourism and agriculture may be of greater benefit to areas he said.

Innovative thinking and persistent marketing are the goals to keeping the agricultural industry thriving in the north country. And Mr. Collins is correct. In areas without large manufacturing plants or where those firms are downsizing, agribusiness is the key to a brighter economic future.

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