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Economy is Gov. Cuomo’s real Adirondack challenge

February 25, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget tag line this year is "Built to Lead." While that may be the case in the rest of New York state, we're still waiting for his leadership to have a positive effect on the lives of Adirondack Park residents.

We give the governor credit for his environmental leadership in the Adirondacks, under which the state has added thousands of acres of land to the Forest Preserve. He can also be credited for compromises on controversial state land issues, offering creative solutions for outdoor recreation in the Essex Chain tract purchase and the Adirondack railroad corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid.

Those are milestones in Gov. Cuomo's Adirondack legacy, as he's personally bridged both sides of environmental issues together, trying to balance the needs of both the environment and the communities. He's achieved compromises that past governors were either unwilling or unable to accomplish. That's leadership.

Article Photos

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Adirondacks
(News photo — Mike Lynch)

Yet the governor's economic legacy in the Adirondack Park, so far, is the same as all the past governors who claimed to love this place. In a word, it's a failure.

It's clear that Gov. Cuomo sees Upstate New York as having economic challenges different from those in New York City and Long Island. Hence, the multi-million-dollar contest in 2015 called the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. That money will boost the economic base in places such as Rochester, Binghamton and Syracuse.

However, dividing the Adirondack Park into three separate regional economic development councils proves that state leaders don't fully understand that the park has unique economic challenges.

There's Downstate New York. There's Upstate New York. Then there's the Adirondack Park. Perhaps they should be thinking about an Adirondack Revitalization Initiative.

The governor and state legislators outside the Park have failed to embrace the responsibility they have to Adirondack communities. It was the state, after all, that created the park in 1892 and the Adirondack Park Agency in 1971 and set restrictions on land use that led to the isolation of these communities. We are in a 6-million-acre oasis, and most job-creating companies wouldn't even think of locating offices here because our communities have transportation challenges that geography cannot fix and communication limitations for cellphone and broadband Internet use.


Declining economy

While the governor and state politicians are in Lake Placid this weekend for the Adirondack Winter Challenge, we hope they realize they'll be visiting an Adirondack Park that's in economic decline, and they'll be competing at Olympic venues that are aging and outdated.

Yes, we give the governor high marks for creating the Adirondack Winter Challenge and Adirondack Summer Challenge. In their design, these events have brought lawmakers from across the state to enjoy the natural wonders of the Adirondack Park. These challenges have helped promote outdoor recreation in a way we've never seen before, and there's no doubt they've led to increased tourism, which helps the local economy.

But on their own, they haven't created jobs.

Due to our isolation, the Adirondack economy has evolved into a government economy first and foremost, with state, federal, county, town, village and school institutions employing most of our residents. That's followed by health care and tourism companies and other service-industry jobs. Few jobs are in harvesting raw materials and manufacturing finished goods, as we had up until the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the mines are gone, and the forest products industry employs a fraction of what it used to.

The real Adirondack challenge is to figure out a way to finally create sustainable economic development in the Adirondack Park, which state leaders have talked about for decades but achieved very little. It seems nobody has been able to crack that nut and find a lasting economic solution while protecting the natural resources. The only economic ideas for the Adirondacks coming out of Albany in the Cuomo Administration have been to promote tourism and give hundreds of residents pink slips by shutting down state correctional facilities.

There seems to be no balance. The scale leans heavily toward environmental protection with little emphasis on investment in our communities.


Invest in ORDA

That said, we must give the state of New York credit for operating the Olympic venues under the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which employs a lot of people in the Park.

Yet ORDA can only do so much with the funds it gets from the state. Under the proposed budget, ORDA would see a decrease of $275,000 for operations while the funding for capital improvements will remain at $7.5 million. The state must do more for ORDA and invest in its Olympic venues.

For example, if Mount Van Hoevenberg had snowmaking capabilities, ORDA would be able to keep the doors of the cross-country ski center open during the warmer days we've seen this winter. Luckily, pass holders can ski on the trails at the ski jumps because they have snowmaking there. Dedicated ORDA employees can only do so much with the tools they are given by the state.

Albany's goal for ORDA should not be to keep the doors open and hope for the best using dwindling resources. In cases like Mount Van Hoevenberg, they can't even keep the doors open. Such was the case earlier in the season when two speedskating events were canceled because of an aging refrigeration system at the Olympic Oval. We lost business to Canada, and we'll continue to lose business without the proper investment.

The government mantra of "do more with less" does not work in an ever-changing tourism economy, especially when we can see the effects of climate change. The success of snowmaking at Whiteface Mountain and the ski jumps proves that ORDA can provide winter venues during challenging weather conditions.

Albany's goal should be to invest in the Olympic venues, like Gov. George Pataki did when he led the construction of the current sliding track at Mount Van Hoevenberg in time for the Winter Goodwill Games in 2000. It's time to raise the bar.


Time for action

There is some good news in all this. Gov. Cuomo still has time to create a successful economic legacy here in the Adirondacks. Based on what we've seen, if there's anyone who can crack that nut and create a lasting economic solution for the Park, it's Gov. Cuomo, a man "Built to Lead."

While state politicians are in Lake Placid this weekend, they'll be visiting a place that could soon become the home of the Global Center of Sports Excellence, as long as we get proper investment. Forget being the best in the nation; Lake Placid could be the best in the world as far as training summer and winter athletes in a variety of sports.

And there's more good news. We already have a plan. As part of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council's URI bid, we unsuccessfully asked for $4.5 million to fund three proposals, creating the Adirondack/Thousand Islands Sports and Events Commission to establish a Global Center of Sports Excellence, formulate a strategy to bid for another Olympic Winter Games, and create a plan to make sustainable Olympic venues that will support the village's mission as the winter sports capital of the world. It's time for New York to fund that plan.

What's at stake? If action is not taken soon, New York will continue to lose its foothold in the Olympic movement as national governing bodies and the U.S. Olympic Committee look west for the future of Olympic sports in America.

For example, the USA Luge Board of Directors will be deciding in the spring whether to move its headquarters from Lake Placid to Park City, Utah. If the team moves, it will still have a presence in Lake Placid, but that's not the same as having its headquarters here. We'll likely lose some jobs. In the bigger picture, New York will lose much more.

If the USA Luge headquarters moves, it would send a message to the rest of the world that Lake Placid can't keep a team, and the ripple effects could hurt the economy in the long run. We could lose even more business. Utah is currently seen as a state that is investing in its Olympic heritage and is serious about developing U.S. Olympians, whereas New York is not.

Let's not wait until USA Luge officials are on the way to the airport before chasing them down and begging them to stay. There is much more we can do before we get to that point. Action would require a combination of state and private investment in the Olympic venues and sponsorship of Lake Placid-based Olympic teams such as USA Luge and the USA Bobsled and Skeleton.

There's plenty the state can do for Lake Placid and the rest of the Adirondack Park to create sustainable economic development and jobs.

Gov. Cuomo, you can create a lasting economic legacy here in the Adirondack Park, as you've done in other parts of the state. Under your leadership, for example, New York has become a worldwide leader in nanotechnology. We look forward to the day when you can take credit for establishing Lake Placid as the worldwide leader in sports development. Under your leadership, it could be a Global Center of Sports Excellence that is proud to call the Empire State home.



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