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Time for a Community Economic Charter?

May 21, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
There has been a great deal of attention lately on what the Saranac Lake Area Chamber should be doing and what it has not.

With summer approaching, there has been a focus on tourism.

Can one organization and one industry move our community forward? Are there other economic opportunities and resources we should also be discussing? With change in leadership either having recently occurred and more to come with the fall elections, is it time to create a “Community Economic Charter” of who is doing what?

Should a key component of a community economic strategy also include what sometimes is our forgotten warrior: our existing small businesses?

May is National Small Business Month.

Yet there is a disturbing trend. The self-employed who are the backbone of our economy are declining. We may need to put forth a better effort to keep those who are here already.

Each year the SBA Office of Advocacy issues a “Small Business Profile.” Their most report on their web site is the 2011 report. The following statistics in this blog are from their on-line report.

" Self-employment in New York declined over the last decade." - (SBA)

We hear the saying “A community that relies on one industry is an unhealthy one.”

Perhaps a community that also has a diverse approach to economic health by partnering is a more successful one.

We have many fine community based organizations in our area. They are manned by caring volunteers. Typically, they have minimal staff and resources.

In their deep caring for our economic future, they see so many ills that need to be addressed:

• Community infrastructure • Marketing • Tourism Development • New Industry Attraction • Existing Business Services

Because they care they tend to get involved in all of these facets. It is hard to say no. Their members, whether they be municipal boards or non-profits are made up of representatives from many of these economic sectors.

So they often go about pursuing a broad agenda.

Over time some of these important initiatives get lost primarily due to lack of time, resources or expertise. It is not that they don’t care.

Sometimes in our enthusiasm to attract something new, we forget who is here. Our existing small business base has needs too and they are vital to our community. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ United States - (from the SBA report):

"Small businesses totaled 26.8 million in the United States in 2009. They represent 99.7 percent of all employers and employ 49.2 percent of the private-sector workforce.

• Most of the country’s small businesses are very small as 78.5 percent of all businesses did not have employees and most employers have fewer than 20 employees.

• While the employment situation in 2008-2009 was weak, small businesses in the United States represented 81.4 percent of the net new private-sector jobs from 2005-2008." _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So does a sound community economic strategy entail several legs so that it can continue to move forward?

1. Tourism Promotion and marketing 2. Tourism Development 3. Non-tourism business development 4. Existing business support. 5. Community infrastructure and essential services

Is it possible to create a “Community Economic Charter” of our many organizations?

For example:

• Business Development: the Saranac Lake Local Development Corp, perhaps with Harrietstown (business park and airport) and ARISE

• Existing Business Support: through the chambers perhaps to form a Tri-lakes Chamber.

• Tourism Promotion & Destination Planning: Tourism Council

How might this work?

Let’s say that the through the work of the Tourism Council marketing effort, a biotech company contacts them to possibly locate here.

The Tourism Council would not add this to their agenda or spend their resources on this. This opportunity would be passed on to their partners in charge of “Business Development.”

Likewise, it is identified that signs or marketing materials are needed at the airport or the train station by those working on “business development.” They would refer this to the Tourism Council to get this done.

Each of these partners is responsible for reporting back to one another. In this way, no one organization’s agenda would be filled by all of these community strategies.

Is this a way for each of these important strategies for a communities health to be more focused? Would the public have a better understanding of what each of these organizations are doing?

Could a “Community Economic Charter” create more focused results utilizing the strengths of each of these partners?

Would this help in support and membership?

Would existing businesses, which are so important to us, have a louder voice through a regional business service effort?

They use to say when I was in the economic development gig that you “need to talk their language.” Tourism based businesses and organizations who live and die by the visitor understand best how to market a destination.

Non-tourism based businesses such as biotech and medical know best what the opportunities and challenges are in attracting these firms.

And the needs of our existing businesses require a different strategy to help them called “retention” services.

Is it possible to take these 5 important strategies to build a healthy community and bring interested organizations together?

Is it possible to create a memorandum of understanding or a “Community Economic Charter” of roles and services? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ From the SBA Report:

New York

• Most of New York’s small businesses are very small as 77.1 percent of all businesses did not have employees and most employers have fewer than 20 employees.

• While the employment situation in 2008-2009 was weak, small businesses in New York represented all of the net new jobs from 2005-2008. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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