The Role of Manufacturing in the ADK Futures Strategy

A couple of times now when we give our standard talk about the ADK Futures project and the consensus vision, someone asks us why there is no manufacturing in the plan. Although it doesn’t receive strong emphasis, there is mention of manufacturing in the vision.  In the 45 minute version  of the talk it often gets dropped.  But it actually is a big deal.

Many of the areas just outside the Blue Line are experiencing a manufacturing boom.  The Saratoga/Capital region, in particular, is experiencing an incredible high-tech boom in nanotech and semiconductors.  There is the potential for much further expansion there, too.  Meanwhile there is expansion at Bombardier in Plattsburgh and the Army in Ft. Drum and Fage Yogurt  south of the Park in Johnstown. International Paper’s Ticonderoga Mill is in the Park, producing copier and office printer paper. The Finch Pryun mill in Glens Falls produces also produces printing paper.

There are many ways in which the edge towns of the Park that are near these growing areas can benefit from this mini-boom.  Some employees in these new or expanding plants will choose to live in a quieter community with more open space somewhere just over the Blue Line in the Park. Others will want vacation homes in the Park.  Most will at least visit regularly.  The management of some of these new companies in the region may decide to build a Corporate retreat somewhere currently up for sale.  Notice I haven’t even mentioned fracking and its potential economic impact on the southern areas of the Park?

People throughout the Park with broadband Internet access will also be able to participate in various ways in the growth in manufacturing and other jobs in the ring of cities around the Park, as subcontractors and remote employees, or as providers of necessary business back office services.  People can work from home, but also easily show up in the office when necessary.  Some smaller subcontractors may find it cheaper to set up shop in an Adirondack town than in the booming capital region.  With most business interactions being over the Internet anyway, you don’t have to be co-located in the same office Park as your client.

All of this requires getting in front of the people who are hiring and growing these businesses around the edges of the Park in order to promote the region as a place to live, vacation and recreate. Some of the community development organizations around the Park are working on this we’re told. We need to dispel the myth that a business can’t get started inside the Blue Line because of APA and DEC red tape and restrictions. We have industrial parks, waiting. We have a large industrial site in Clifton Fine with fiber trunk line and potentially restored rail freight service.  Information businesses, in particular, should raise no serious environmental concerns.

Inside the Park, we have some light manufacturing that can grow.  Here are some examples. Saranac Lake has several biotech companies.  North Creek has Creative Stage Lighting doing well enough to expand.  In Willsboro, General Composites is a custom manufacturer of hi-end composite components. In Piseco, Wilt Industries fabricates advance annealing ovens to produce, for example, silicon ingots for chip companies like Intel.  Placid Boatworks makes canoes.  Hi-end craftsman make rustic furniture, guide boats and taxidermy.

These are niche businesses.  “Niche” means they are large enough to be real businesses, but their markets don’t attract the 1000 pound guerrillas of industry.  These fit the Park better than large mines and mills, employing many hundreds of people.  When these big business fail or leave, the towns involved crash, often losing 2/3 of their population.  Look at Port Henry, Newcomb, Clifton-Fine – all are case studies.  The Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranac Lake was a huge employer and shut abruptly in the summer of 1954 when effective antibiotics were introduced.  It took decades to the village to get back on its feet.  Light manufacturing, involved in niche markets, is our sweet spot.  But you have to find a lot of them.

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