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North country named top performer, nets $90.2 million in state funds

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The north country was named a top performer at the Regional Economic Development Council awards announcement Wednesday, earning $90.2 million in state funds to create new jobs in the region.

Last year, the North Country Regional Economic Development Council’s plan for boosting the area’s economy was named one of the four best among ten in the state. This provided the region with over $100 million to implement this plan.

During Wednesday’s presentation, the north country was lauded for its successes, focusing on the construction of new housing around Fort Drum and the expansion of Bombardier Transportation Inc., Plattsburgh.

For the second round of funding, the North Country competed against the three other top regions from last year to be named one of two top performers. The regions that best executed their plans would be given priority for funding in the second round. Central New York, Western New York and Long Island were also in the running.

Central New York was named the second top performer, earning $93.8 million.

The North Country’s $90.2 million, made up of grants and tax breaks, will be used to fund the region’s 82 projects.

“It’s fantastic news, to keep that momentum and keep injecting money for projects into our region,” said Clarkson University President and development council Co-chairman Anthony G. Collins. “Obviously they liked what we were doing.”

The north country is geographically the largest of the state’s ten regions. In order to provide the largest benefit across such a wide area, the council’s plan calls for a large number of small projects rather than a few juggernauts.

“We use the term firecrackers, rather than large explosions,” Mr. Collins said.

The single largest amount, $5.4 million, will allow the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency to rehabilitate the 92-unit Maple Court apartment building on Weldon Drive, Watertown.

Two other priority projects will expand housing near Fort Drum.

A $2 million grant was awarded for the construction of 364 apartments planned at a 72-acre site in West Carthage. The project, which is still being planned, also calls for a large retail development, including a big-box store, restaurant and numerous businesses.

The housing portion located at the back of the site, situated southwest of North Broad and Franklin Streets, would be completed by a developer that hasn’t yet been disclosed under the plan. The 16-acre retail portion to be located at the front would be developed and built by Lundy Development Corp. of Carthage.

Developer Michael Lundy, who’s led the charge to approve the project, said the $2 million grant will be an important component for the undisclosed housing developer to move forward with its plan. He’s optimistic the project could get final approval from the village of West Carthage this spring if the developer gives a final commitment to move forward.

“Our development partner will be the ones that are physically building the housing, and this grant makes it one step closer for them,” he said. “This development is key to Fort Drum’s future, and having it on this end of Jefferson County is important. If this comes to fruition, it’s going to be an important step for the village of West Carthage.”

Norstar Development USA, Buffalo, will receive $3 million to develop the second phase of Creek Wood Apartments, which includes 104 units now under construction off Mill Street, Watertown.

Norstar Executive Director Linda L. Goodman said she appreciated that both the state and regional economic development council recognized the need for additional housing in the Watertown area, noting the developer has a waiting list of tenants for the first 96 apartments in phase one of the project.

“We’re very happy and it will be very helpful,” she said.

Slic Network Solutions, a subsidiary of Nicholville Telephone Co., will receive $1.37 million to expand broadband coverage in Long Lake and the surrounding area, as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to create a broadband network for the North Country.

In St. Lawrence County, the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena will receive $459,000 to improve village buildings and construct a new rail spur to the Massena Industrial Park.

A $350,000 grant will provide for a North Country Food Hub in Canton, a 9,000-square-foot distribution facility for regionally grown and raised products.

Among the remaining nine Regional Economic Development Councils, the southern tier, the Finger Lakes and the Mid-Hudson region were big winners, each taking home more than $90 million. $738 million total was awarded to the ten councils.

During the ceremony, lawmakers praised the successes of a regional economic strategy, rather than a statewide top-down approach. Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy described the state as a “beautiful mosaic of regional economies.”

“Going from concept to reality in the last two years has been extraordinary,” Mr. Duffy said.

This competitive regional funding model will continue for at least the next three years, and its effects will become even more pronounced as the national economy improves, according to Gov. Andrew R. Cuomo.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet, because we haven’t even had the national economy at our back yet,” he said.

Northern New York Newspapers staff writers Ted Booker and Craig Fox contributed to this report.

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