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A “Healthy Adirondack Park Plan for 2020”?

July 7, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
What is a healthy community?

Depends on who you ask.

What’s Our Cure? In terms of determining a community's “health” or “attractiveness” for business location there is a set of criteria they utilize.

But hold on, just like we cannot broad-brush the health of all Adirondack communities as being in the same condition, each of these communities are not able to attract businesses equally.

Each industry has its own set of criteria on what it looks for in an attractive or healthy community or simply put: is the locality viable enough for the business to thrive. What a biotech firm looks for in a community versus what a hotel resort may look for can be quite different.

Each of our communities has different capabilities of attracting certain types of industry. What may make sense in one community does not necessarily make sense in another. In general though, our Adirondack communities suffer from an overall lack of scale to attract big business. Some would say this is not a bad thing and the debate begins as to what promotes the future health of the community.

What Are They & We, Looking For? What are some of the location indicators businesses look for anyways? Again, each industry is different but there are some general indicators. Generally, the larger the business, the more it relies on quantitative and statistical analysis such as a “communities profile.” Smaller businesses may look at more quality of life issues before undertaking a feasibility analysis.

In a piece entitled “State Economic Development Strategies: Perspectives of a Site Selector” by J. Michael Mullis, he points to several key criteria a business looks for in a community including: • Workforce “Availability and Quality” • Education • Transportation • Overall Operating Costs • Energy “Availability, reliability, and costs” • Government “A very critical factor” • Permitting • Land “Availability, Costs, Quality” • “Business Interactions & Attention to the Retention of Existing Business” • “Image” • Incentives “statutory and discretionary –All location factors should be satisfied before incentives really come into play.” • “Humanistic Factors.” • Overall Quality of Life

In my involvement with businesses seeking to locate in a community, I have often found that the small business person starts with the bottom of this list and works their way up. This is not to say that large companies are not interested in “quality-of-life,” “humanistic factors” and a communities “image” but the scale of their operation requires that workforce availability, land accessibility and other factors are available to meet their needs.

Whose Definition of Healthy? But are these the same criteria that an environmentalist may use?

In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources in working with that state talks about a different kind of “community.” In their “value” determination of a site “ecosystem diversity” is important. Here the “criterion is based on the assumption that sites that have a high diversity of major ecosystem types are of higher relative "value" for protection and management…” They use the term “uniqueness of natural communities” and classify them according to the “Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) ‘community’ classification system.” These are all a part of a discussion of the health of a very different kind of “community.”

Or is it?

Are these and other perspectives not part of a definition of a healthy or attractive community? We would not live here if our natural communities were to deteriorate. We cannot live here if our economic communities deteriorate much further.

Perhaps the issue is that this debate is often talked about as “balancing” the two. Is it too often a discussion about compromise and if you give up something there you need take away something here? Is there a better way to debate this policy with a view of “integrating” man and nature so that it is a win-win situation for both?

There has been a great deal of discussion about an economic plan for the Park and movement has been made towards creating economic incentive zones. Will this effort be successful and will it be accepted by other interests who may have different definitions of a healthy Park? Can we talk about a company coming in to a specific location without an overall analysis of a community’s economic and environmental capacity? In the site selection criteria used by Mullis, permitting, land quality and supportive government are important criteria.

“Healthy Park Plan for 2020” initiative? Is there an opportunity to create a “Healthy Park Plan for 2020” initiative? Can we take the pieces that are already out there including the framework for regional and local planning at the APA, the DEC Unit Management Plans, Gov. Cuomo's call for regional economic development councils and merge them with the work done by communities on a local level?

Following over 100 years of this “great experiment” can we finally create a true Park that is unique to our sense of place?

To create healthy communities will require a great deal of hard work. In my opinion, it will only succeed if we combine the resources we have locally with other regional and state partners.

Re-inventing the Wheel? It is interesting that Mullis talks about that “All location factors should be satisfied before incentives really come into play.” Developing a strategy beforehand is vital. Mullis refers to “establishing project team members,” “development of pertinent criteria” and “community preparedness.”

Re-think Our Approach? To be successful in enhancing a healthy community we may need to take a look at a broader definition of this term. Many of our paradigms of community were developed over 100 years ago and much of our planning especially in economic terms is still caged in “industrial recruitment” and “balancing” one versus the other. As the world gets smaller we may need to think bigger in terms of what our community is. Is a proactive “Healthy Park Plan” initiative one step to do so?


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