Rep. Jenne: Forum on growing North Country maritime-related economy set stage for more discussions
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - 6:01 am

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, said a recent forum on growing the maritime-related economy in the North Country set the stage for further discussion and actions.

"I was pleased with the turnout. There was a lot of good discussion. Despite the diversity of the businesses represented at the forum, there were common themes that we can focus on to help our economy moving forward. I wanted to hear from local business leaders so I can support their efforts to grow, to fight for specific resources for our region and to look strategically at infrastructure needs so we can up our game," she said.

A second forum will be held on May 11 with leaders from SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx on hand to discuss their academic program, which provides training for employment in the global maritime industry.

Jenne has spent the last several months exploring steps that can be taken to rebuild the maritime economy, including infrastructure funding and education and training programs.

That effort has included talking to local school and college officials about steps that can be taken in the region to provide training for employment in the maritime-related sector of the economy.

She said her goal is “to work with local community leaders to implement practical and common-sense programs to train the workforce with the necessary skills needed to grow the region's river and lake communities.”

"We have everything we need right here, except the training many residents want and need to build their professional skills and reputation in maritime trades and related businesses," she said. "By strengthening the workforce, we can bring businesses back to these communities for the quality and experience you can only get in the St. Lawrence River Valley and Great Lakes."

She led a delegation of educational leaders from around the North Country on a visit to SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx late last year.

Jenne and representatives from SUNY Canton, Jefferson Community College and Jefferson-Lewis BOCES met with SUNY Maritime College administrators and toured the campus.

SUNY Maritime provost Joseph Hoffman previously served as the interim president of SUNY Canton. She noted he has been a great resource during discussions about steps that can be taken to increase interest in training for jobs in the maritime industry.

More than half of the pilots on the St. Lawrence River, for example, are graduates of SUNY Maritime College.

Hoffman, who also serves as vice president for Academic Affairs, has said he sees opportunities for working with local officials to develop career paths in the maritime industry in the region.

The community forum will provide Dr. Hoffman with an opportunity to showcase the academic opportunities available at SUNY Maritime College, as well as continue working with SUNY Canton, Jefferson Community College, BOCES and local high schools.

"We know our region is filled with students that love being on the water in the North Country. We want to expose them to opportunities that would allow them to train for jobs related to their love for the water," Jenne said.

She said the need for additional training skills was one of the issues that surfaced at last week's forum in Alexandria Bay, which attracted elected officials from Sackets Harbor to Waddington and business leaders, education officials and local residents working on the river from St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties.

The conversation ranged from a concern that many mechanics working on boats along the St. Lawrence River are reaching retirement age to the need for additional training for employees working in the hospitality and tourism industries in the region.

Entrepreneurs talked about opportunities for growing the diving industry in the region as well as steps that have been taken to address an interest in water taxi service in the region.

"The first year we lost our shirt, but it is growing,. We do tailor-made trips. It's growing. I had three runs on Easter Day," D.L. Withington said of his water taxi service.

Marine business owners talked about the challenges of employee retention since most of their work is seasonal. Several owners said they had worked to keep some of their mechanics on their payroll year-round.

Community leaders said planning events outside the traditional summer season has also brought people to their community.

Jenne’s office said she has also worked with her colleagues in state government to get a financial support package for local governments, businesses and homeowners impacted by the past year's flooding on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.