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North Country economic council gets crash course on Fort Drum's impact

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The North Country Regional Economic Development Council, or REDC, held its most recent meeting at Fort Drum last week. The idea was to give members from the region's seven counties greater insight into how the Army post interacts with the local economy. The council also took steps to implement a new program for water and sewer project infrastructure.  

The council heard briefings from Fort Drum officials as well as community leaders who work with the facility on a range of issues including housing, government contracting and health care.

Council co-chairman Garry Douglas, president and CEO of Plattsburgh's airport, says one major takeaway from the session is the close integration of the Army post into the local community. Unlike most military installations, Fort Drum relies on civilian hospitals and schools to provide services to soldiers and their families. Douglas says that strengthens the post's economic impact on the area. 

“It also makes, if there were any reduction or anything that we wouldn't want to see happen here even more impactful, and so I think that it was important to have a clear understanding of that,” he said. 

Douglas says council members left the meeting with “strengthened resolve” to secure the future of Fort Drum. That's timely, because the Defense Department has requested Congress approve a new round of base realignments and closures as the military sheds personnel and winds down operations in Afghanistan.

The meeting also saw the council moved forward with new funding for water and sewer projects in the north country. Based on a similar initiative in the Southern Tier, the program gives the REDC direct control over about $3 million in funds, which it will use to expedite work on regional water and sewer infrastructure. Douglas says the council will focus on dispersing modest grant and loan amounts to fill funding gaps on ready-to-go projects.

“We're particularly looking for water and sewer projects where they will either retain or enhance job creation in some way,” he said. “If this is done, some investment's going to happen, or some employer is going to expand or stay.”

Douglas says the dedicated fund means North Country municipalities won't have to compete in the regular statewide funding process.

A council spokesman council said the program’s another example of regions having more control over how taxpayer dollars are spent to stimulate economic growth.

Support for the Innovation Trail comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate public media outlets reporting about New York's innovation economy. You can find more at innovationtrail.org