The North Country Region The North Country Economic Development Region is geographically the largest region in the New York State, consisting of seven counties (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence) and covering 11,420 square miles. The region stretches across northern New York from the eastern shore of Lake Ontario to the western edge of Lake Champlain, and from the international border with Canada through the Adirondacks in the south. The North Country is home to 238 towns, villages, cities, and unincorporated hamlets, including Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Le Ray, Canton, Watertown, Massena, Malone, Lake Placid, Tupper Lake, and Saranac Lake. These communities serve as hubs of population, culture, industry and commerce, offering many of the business attractions and community amenities of their larger counterparts in other parts of the state. Residents tend to be both pragmatic and resourceful and demonstrate a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Diverse industry and manufacturing, farming, education, ecotourism, and retail activities can be found in many of the villages, towns, hamlets and small cities throughout the seven counties. With 428,000 residents, the North Country is the least populous of the state’s 10 economic development regions, and it has the lowest population density (Census 2010). Despite its small population base, the North Country remains a desirable area in which to live. Although population in the region has held steady over the last ten years, a 7% decrease was observed in the population living in the region’s cities, villages, and hamlets, which suggests a need to focus on the revitalization of downtown centers.
The region benefits from a fairly high influx of young adults to both Fort Drum and annually to its 10 colleges and universities. These locations are examples of anchor points for economic and community development. This infusion of young adults to the region presents an opportunity to both attract new residents and retain new and existing young professionals and families to the region. Creating a robust economy in the North Country will be highly dependent upon the availability of affordable, reliable, and renewable energy. The North Country is already a proven leader in these areas. More than 37% of the state’s installed wind generation capacity (approximately 700 MW) is located in the region (NYSDEC 2012). Low-impact hydropower has enjoyed a long and productive history in the region, dating back to the use of water-powered mills to process minerals, wood, fabric, and grain. That tradition has been translated into electrical power generation and is well established; the North Country generates more than 2,200 megawatts (MW) of reliable, low-cost, renewable, and low-impact energy for distribution on the grid. While wind and hydropower are well established in the region, there is ample room for growth in all renewables including thermal heating energy for households and buildings, and for the generation of utility scale energy with biomass. Given existing forest resources, and the potential to use agricultural land to sustainably grow biomass crops, the biomass potential in this region is unparalleled in the state.
Thirty percent of the region’s thermal energy needs are already met by wood. This resource only generates 1% of the GHG emissions associated with heating fuel. With the advent of high-efficiency biomass heating systems, the potential to transition many of our homes, businesses, and institutional buildings from heating with oil to heating with wood—and thereby generate jobs in the forestry, processing, and distribution industries and keep our energy dollars local—is one of the top priorities in this Plan. To fully leverage this local, renewable resource, care must be taken to ensure that forests are sustainably harvested and the full impact is assessed to avoid the mistakes of the past, when deforestation nearly devastated the timber and water quality of this region over a century ago. As the use of high-efficiency, low emission biomass for thermal heating increases it will be important for the region to monitor air quality conditions to ensure that air quality remains high and does not impact residents or the environment. Farming and agriculture has both a long tradition in the North Country and holds a promising future as market demand increases for value-added products including locally grown, non-genetically modified, and organic food products. With the additional potential to convert underutilized farmland for biomass growth, agriculture is poised to play a prominent role in further invigorating the North Country economy.
North Country Region Sustainability Plan