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Alexandria Bay holds economic development summit to discuss tourism initiatives

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Heads of several local organizations met for an economic development summit Saturday at Bonnie Castle Resort to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s marketing and form a plan to drive economic growth through tourism and agriculture.

“We brought a lot of good ideas to the area,” said Dale D. Hunneyman, town of Alexandria supervisor. “We’ve got to work on this as a regional thing. It can’t be done in just one community.”

About 60 people attended, including representatives from the Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Committee, and officials from Alexandria Bay, Cape Vincent, Clayton, Theresa, Hammond and other towns.

Following presentations by several speakers, the consensus seemed to be that expanding the agricultural industry, capitalizing on tourism and expanding activities for families during the off-season are key. The tourism season generally runs from May to October.

Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County agricultural coordinator, addressed the benefits of advancing the wine trail.

“Do you want to drive an hour between each winery? No, you want to get in the car and go down the road,” he said. “You want a couple of different destinations in between. A craft store or a different type of agricultural farm, like the alpaca farm.”

He suggested five wineries could be established surrounding Alexandria Bay, which would draw people to the village businesses.

The Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail includes eight wineries, six of which are in Jefferson County. Only Thousand Islands Winery is in Alexandria Bay.

Promoting mom-and-pop vegetable stands and capitalizing on the request for dairy products to produce Greek yogurt also were suggested.

Fellow presenters included 1000 Islands International Tourism Council Executive Director Gary S. DeYoung, Jefferson County Local Development Corp. CEO Donald C. Alexander, Clayton Town Supervisor Justin A. Taylor and guest speaker Jon “Jack” Kelley, director of economic development for Prime Companies, Albany.

“Develop the winter market; develop winter recreational facilities,” Mr. DeYoung said, adding that interactive entertainment geared toward children would benefit families.

Extending the season would increase cash flow, not just from tourists, but from community members within the region.

“A dollar spent in our region goes around three times in the town and villages before it leaves the area,” Mr. Hunneyman said.

Mr. DeYoung also suggested developing more vacation homes, inns, motels and resorts, as well as considering mass transit options. He recalled a number of instances in which people from downstate were surprised to learn there were no trains or buses.

Mr. Hunneyman said the summit first was prompted by the number of young people leaving the area because of a lack of job opportunities. The hope is that economic growth could bring more opportunities to the area for the younger generation.

A report is expected to be drafted by Mr. Hunneyman and several others based on the results of the summit and be used to develop a plan for economic growth. Officials intend to announce the results of that plan in the fall.

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