North Country finds the recipe for manufacturing success

Published: May. 10, 2019 at 3:25 PM EDT
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Manufacturing in America is on the decline and New York's North Country helps tell that story.

Here's a look at the decline in manufacturing jobs in the region from 2000 to 2010. Clinton County lost 1,600 jobs in that decade, Essex County lost 200 and Franklin County lost 600.

But the region is working hard to turn the tide and woo workers to the region. Our Kelly O'Brien found out how.

Reinventing an entire community's economy takes decades.

"We get up every single day and have been doing it for 25 years saying, 'What are we going to do to move the vision today?'" said Garry Douglas of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.

When the Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, Douglas saw an opportunity involving our neighbors to the north.

"We are exactly 60 miles from the downtown to one of the most exciting metropolitan cities in the world with all of the sectors of growth that we would want to be linked to. Let's maximize that. Let's make ourselves Montreal's U.S. suburb in every way," Douglas said.

That vision has certainly paid off. Plattsburgh focuses on strong manufacturers in the Montreal area and has become an international stop for rail, road and aerospace industries. There are 52 transportation and aerospace manufacturing companies in the North Country, creating roughly 9,000 jobs.

"It was worth it, everything we went through was worth it. And now we're here, we're here to stay and we're here to grow," said Michael Carty, the CEO of Smart Phases Inc.

Smart Phases picked Plattsburgh for its new, United States branch for Novacab, a Quebec clean energy company. The company hopes to expand to other states, too, but says Plattsburgh will always be its U.S. headquarters.

"We've looked at different places but we've chosen New York because of different things. We had a lot of help and we're really grateful for that from the stakeholders in the North Country, as well we had help from other agencies in the state," said Stephane Bilodeau, the founder and chairman of Novacab.

That includes robust workforce training. Employers like Novacab partner with Clarkson University and Clinton Community College so students learn manufacturing skills on the exact equipment they'll use after graduation.

"Which are able to help us, whether it's on the training of our skilled employees we will be hiring soon or it's for specific projects on the research and development," Bilodeau said.

Plattsburgh also benefits from its location, with a direct route to Montreal using Highway 87 and one of America's busiest border crossings.

So if you ask business leaders if they're surprised by their success, the answer is simple.

"It's all the plan," Douglas said. "It didn't just happen."

It happened with a vision, and if another community has a vision, it could happen for them, too.

"You don't want base runs, you want home runs," Douglas said. "It's a long game."

Leaders say business begets business. The more companies that come to Plattsburgh, the more that will want to follow them.