The North Country Chamber has released the results of its annual survey of businesses assessing which issues are of greatest importance.
The regional chamber conducts a survey at the beginning of each year to gauge what issues business owners feel must be addressed at the state and federal level. The leading federal issue this year is accelerating the production and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. Chamber President Garry Douglas says that priority makes sense. “All possible acceleration of production and availability of the vaccines got almost 100% response. But then as we always do we have them rank all of the issues that we asked them questions about in terms of what’s the top priority. And there it was just far and away 79% said that this was the top priority, accelerating production and dispersal of vaccine. And it makes sense if you think about it because it affects the concerns about getting the Canadian border open at some point. It affects everything else really that questions were asked upon. It’s foundational.”
The second and third place issues tied. Businesses in the region want planning to begin for normalizing border crossings and a new federal COVID relief bill that includes significant funding for state and local governments. Douglas says the business community recognizes the ties between government and business, especially during the pandemic. “The business community gets that county governments, our state government for that matter all state governments, are struggling. It also I think is clear to most North Country businesses that if the New York budget tanks, if we have a huge deficit, it’s going to flow downhill. It’s going to flow downhill on aid to schools. It’s going to flow downhill on aid to our counties who are the ones having to deliver those services. It’s going to flow downhill in terms of various taxes being looked at for increases. So I think that all feeds into a pretty broad consensus that this next COVID bill does need to include significant state and local government aid.”
Ninety percent of the region’s businesses expressed support for a federal infrastructure bill. Democratic Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman says that’s been a priority for town planning. “Local government is in the business of infrastructure for example. And we all use the same roads. We all need good healthy water and businesses need to count on the health and safety sustainability and economic development. So these things get easily coupled and we’ve all been hurt. And we all need our local governments to be able to plow the roads and to do the daily business that allows for the private sector to move forward as well.”
The survey found the top state issue is closing broadband and cell phone gaps. Business owners also reject the idea of any new small business mandates and they don’t want any tax increases imposed to close the state budget gap.
Cashman finds the responses intertwined with the pandemic and recovery. “Each of these issues individually are important to rebounding from COVID-19 but they are also coupled together. And when looking at them more broadly you can see how they interconnect very easily. We need to think more collaboratively, creatively and we also need to make sure that we are not hammering the business community over the head with new mandates as they’re trying to make their way through these uncharted times right now.”
The North Country Chamber shares the survey results with federal and state representatives and uses it when lobbying in Albany and Washington.