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ON THE SCENE: Lake Placid Institute celebrates 25 years

July 19, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

For most of its history, Lake Placid has been a gathering place, a community that has attracted thoughtful people who seek to make a difference.

Some connected with this village have acted upon their ideas in a dramatic fashion. Examples include: Gerrit Smith and John Brown, who tackled slavery; the Lake Placid Club's Godfrey Dewey, who launched the community into the nascent Winter Olympic movement; and Jay photographer Nathan Farb, who 50 years ago documented everyday Russians, sneaking his negatives out of the Soviet Union in trash bags at the height of the Cold War.

While by no means assuming the speakers it presents have aspirations of a similar nature, the Lake Placid Institute for the Arts and Humanities launched its 25th anniversary year with a riveting roundtable discussion on U.S.-Canadian relations, led by former Congressman Bill Owens, of Plattsburgh, on Saturday morning, July 6 at the Lake Placid Conference Center.

Article Photos

Congressman Bill Owens, left, poses with Ted and Bill Ughetta on July 6 during the Lake Placid Institute’s John C. Bogle Adirondack Roundtable at the Lake Placid Conference Center.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The series has been renamed the John C. Bogle Adirondack Roundtable after the late founder of the Vanguard Fund who long chaired the roundtable, and Owens more than fulfilled Bogle's ability to articulate complex issues in a manner that was understandable by all. His message was unnerving: If the North America Free Trade Agreement is not renewed, or replaced by the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, then the resulting economic chaos would make the consequences of a no-deal BREXIT pale by comparison.

The Lake Placid Institute was founded 25 years ago with the notion that people and communities do better when they have opportunities for reflection as to where we are, where we've been, and where we'd like to be in the future. Inspired by the Aspen Institute, as well as the Chautauqua adult education movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the LPI has presented a variety of programs over the years - be they through music, photography or poetry - that have had as a central focus fostering awareness and discussion.

Perhaps no program more clearly articulates that focus than the Adirondack Roundtable modeled on Boston's Copley Roundtable, a discussion group organized by civic leaders who invited speakers to present at informal mid-week luncheons. Launched 18 years ago by Serge Lussi and Marty Stone, and then led for many years by Jack Bogle, speakers have included James Burrows, (TV producer and director of "Friends" and "Cheers"), Madeline Kunin (former governor of Vermont and ambassador to Switzerland), Chris Noth (actor), and Sanford Weill (former president of Citigroup).

"We met at the end of every summer on Jack Bogle's porch," said Mara Jayne Miller, an Institute co-founder. " Jack was such a wonderful convener that arguments ended very quickly, friendships were kept, and we always wound up with good suggestions. Then Jack would help us recruit, calling even strangers. Nobody said no. Jack's special gift was, he knew and cared about making difficult subjects accessible to all of us, no matter our backgrounds or professional interests. So, the speakers and topics he suggested were always those broad enough, attractive enough, and enough of a draw to bring a diversity of people to our tables."

Congressman Owens is an example of the kind of speaker Bogle sought. Representing the North Country in Congress from 2009 to 2014, Owens was the first Democrat to do so since the Civil War. A former U.S. Air Force captain and an attorney with the Stafford Owens law firm in Plattsburgh, he has been actively engaged in Canada-U.S. trade relations for more than four decades as a practicing attorney. He brought and refined that focus while in Congress, expanding his network of contacts on both sides of the border. Since leaving Congress, Owens continued this work, serving as a consultant to Dentons and as a board member of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. and the Canadian American Border Trade Alliance.

Owens began his presentation by first describing the Canadian-U.S. border as the longest unprotected border between two countries in the world and sharing his understanding of differences between Canadians and Americans. He pointed out as most Canadians live with 100 miles of the border, and thus have easy access to U.S. news and media. They are very aware of American issues, while we have little appreciation of events and life in Canada. He said Canadians trust government as working for them while Americans tend to be suspicious of government intervention. Owens pointed out that Canadians have two nationally recognized languages (French and English) while we have none as the use of English is decided on a state-by-state basis.

He then described the scope of our economic ties with Canada, our largest trading partner at an estimated $714 billion, with Mexico close behind at $671 billion. He illustrated the importance of this trade here in the North Country by pointing out that one-quarter of the population in Clinton County works for a Canadian-owned corporation. In Clinton County, the Canadian economic impact is $1.6 billion, a substantial per-capita number. When the Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, the economic loss was between $60 million and $120 million, the Canadian impact at that time $600 million. As a consequence, the financial leadership of Clinton County sought successfully to increase trade relations with Canada.

Owens's point was that were economic relations with Canada to collapse, the impact on our region and nation would be traumatic. He detailed a wide array of ways that our region and Canada are connected beyond trade. That includes infrastructure, geology, culture, history, travel and personal relations. A danger he highlighted is that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to give President Donald Trump a win without a win for the Democrats, be it an agreement on infrastructure, the "Dreamers," immigration reform or some other topic. Owens fears that Trump, who has a history of pulling out of deals such as he has done with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord and Iran nuclear agreement, will pull out of NAFTA/USMCA, as he has threatened to do on several occasions.

The discussion was riveting and expanded to include Owens's views on the Democratic hopefuls (he leans toward Sen. Elizabeth Warren); the pros, cons and realities of single-payer health care (insurance companies will not disappear); the functioning and dysfunction of Congress; and much more.

"I loved it," said Barbara Ericson. "I heard a lot of things I hadn't thought of before. He was captivating."

"I didn't realize how big a trading partner Canada is with us and the importance of that relationship," said John Heimerdinger.

"If NAFTA fails, it's equivalent to a hard Brexit," said Marilyn Heimerdinger.

"Congressman Owens is a tremendous speaker," said Ted Ughetta. "He provided insights into the U.S.-Canada relations and to the current legislative issues around getting things done."

Next week will be no less riveting. Kathleen Colson will share how innovative data-driven tools are being used to help women end extreme poverty in Africa at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Lake Placid Conference Center. For more information, visit



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