NCREDC preps for third round of grants

MALONE – The North Country Regional Economic Development Council hopes to best competing regions again in the third round of state Regional Economic Council Development grants.

At a public forum Tuesday, council co-chairs Garry Douglas, the North Country Chamber of Commerce president, and Tony Collins, president of Clarkson University, outlined why the council has been successful in the past, and what it will do to stay on top.

The payoffs are huge. Round three of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council competition will award $760 million in state funding and tax incentives across New York: $220 million for the council competition and $540 million for state-supported programs through the Consolidated Funding Application process.

The $220 million will be divided differently than in previous years. Five regions identified as “top performers” by the state will each receive $25 million, and the remaining five regions will compete for part of another $25 million. The remaining $70 million will be doled out as tax credits, with each region eligible for up to $10 million.

The deadline for all applications is Monday, therefore it has not been determined which projects will receive grant money.

The state is divided into 10 regions, and each has its own council. The North Country council is composed of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. It was rated a top council by the state in both 2011 and 2012, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo began the program.

In 2011, the North Country council was named “Top Performer,” and 82 projects totaling $90.2 million were funded. In 2012, the council was named a “Best Plan Awardee,” and 70 projects totaling $103.2 million were funded.

“The first year’s competition was about how well we did in developing a five-year plan; the second year was about performance,” Douglas said. “Year three will look a lot like year two in terms of what we’re going to be judged on.”

Douglas explained that resources in round three are available for businesses, community development, waterfront revitalization, environmental improvements, energy, education and workforce development, low-cost financing, and sustainability planning and implementation. The focus is on “Priority Projects,” those that, when complete, will have a lasting economic affect on the community.

“This is not about the projects; it’s about the strategies.” Douglas said. “If we win the state competition again, there will be some bonus money, particularly from Empire State Development, for additional capital projects in the region. They will certainly look very favorably at those projects we consider priority to receive some of that additional funding we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.”

Applicants submitting a Consolidated Funding Application can fill out a separate application to receive Priority Project funding.

One Priority Project in each of the region’s seven counties was funded last year; in Franklin County, it went to the Wild Walk at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, which received $1 million.

Groundbreaking for the new attraction is expected to occur soon. Once complete, it will enable visitors to walk through the treetops along a series of boardwalks, learning about the species that live there as they go.

“The Wild Center is an anchor for the Adirondack Park’s tourism economy,” said Hillary Logan-Dechene, director of philanthropy at The Wild Center. “We have been around for seven seasons, and Wild Walk is going to be our next chapter. It really is a reinvestment in a North Country asset.”

Logan-Dechene said the goal of Wild Walk is to help the region by creating jobs and attracting new visitors, and added that an economic impact study performed by the museum over the last two years supports that.

“The data showed us that The Wild Center is a major catalyst for the North Country and an economic engine for the North Country,” Logan-Dechene said. “Visitors to The Wild Center, as well as The Wild Center’s own staff, generated more than $14 million in total regional revenue and led to the creation of 277 jobs in 2011 alone. That’s something we can say about what we’ve done for the region.”

Priority Projects aren’t the only ones eligible for grants.

Infrastructure fund projects approved for funding last year included $190,000 for the LaPan sewer main replacement in Saranac Lake, $422,000 for a new pump station and wastewater treatment plant improvements in Bloomingdale, and $72,000 for improvements to sewer district number 2 in Malone.

Douglas also said up to five regions will be selected to receive Innovation Hot Spot money. To receive those funds, the region must provide a regional incubator plan that demonstrate a connectedness to promoting the commercialization of academic research to grow the state’s economy. Five more regional incubator plans will be selected in 2014.

Projects that aren’t necessarily CFA-ready can submit application to the NCERDC Pipeline, which is open to the private sector, economic development groups, nonprofits and municipalities.

“I’d like to encourage anyone who has an idea to give us a heads-up in the Pipeline to know what kinds of projects are coming up over the year,” Douglas said.

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