The tsunami of budget cuts has been felt by many personally, whether at the state, school or municipal level. Now the Saranac Lake village board plans to phase out its contribution to the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is trying to rally its members against this, saying, "A vote against the chamber is a vote against business."
This is one of many hard decisions public leaders are making throughout the nation. Saranac Lake essentially pays the chamber for a service - to promote the village - and it's understandable for village leaders to ask, as they have, that the chamber account for that promotion. The village board members are not only wondering whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth; they're also deciding whether this should be one of many things that has to go in these tight times - especially since two of the three towns that divide the village already pay the chamber, meaning most villagers are paying twice. (Harrietstown gives $20,000 a year to promote the Adirondack Regional Airport; North Elba gives $1,000 plus the full use of its Town House, including utilities and maintenance. St. Armand gives nothing.)
Keep in mind that the village isn't singling out the chamber; it's also planning to lay off some of its staff and cut contributions to other nonprofit agencies the towns support, like the civic and adult centers.
Regardless of what the village board decides, local business people must work to keep the economy strong.
Without the village payment, it certainly would be harder for the chamber to promote Saranac Lake, but local business people shouldn't just let that go and hurt the local economy in general. There is much the business community can do to make up for the loss, both in dollars and elbow-grease volunteerism. We can't expect government and a two-person chamber staff to do it all.
First, business owners need to get on board. If you're one who isn't already a chamber member, join. Maybe a robust membership drive is needed. Your dues will help the chamber pursue your interests: drawing more people here to visit and to live, and otherwise improving the local business climate.
But as with so many things, membership and dues aren't enough because the two-person chamber staff can't do everything that's needed. Members need to get involved, lending their ideas, observations, flexibility, time and talent to promote this community.
Unity and focus are critical. If chamber members agree to pursue a few sensible priorities - say, the age-old chore of drawing tourists over from Lake Placid - they can make some significant headway. But if they can't agree or try to do too many tasks, a noble effort will get bogged down in the amorphous committee mentality that has plagued Saranac Lake of late. Members, seeing one more sinking ship, will go back into the shells of their own pursuits.
But we're hopeful. After all, this is private enterprise we're talking about - no need to get too reliant on government aid.
Plus, this is a village that saw its population grow by 7.2 percent last decade, according to the census. Let's use that to everyone's advantage.
The business climate here isn't bad, either, compared to other upstate communities or even compared to how it's been in recent decades. Downtown may not be as robust as it was in 2003, but it seems better than it was in 1999.
Brainstorming is needed to survive these lean times, so we applaud state Sen. Betty Little for sending out an invitation to a brainstorming breakfast with the theme, "Let's Talk Tourism." It will be held at 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 26 at Paul Smith's College. We encourage business people to RSVP by April 20 to 518-743-0968 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sen. Little is the chairwoman of the Senate's Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee and certainly understands the unique challenges of the Adirondack economy.
One of the Adirondacks' strengths is its diversity of creative thinkers. One has to be scrappy to do business up here. By putting our heads together, we will not only survive but prosper.