SARATOGA COUNTY – Not all of Saratoga County is as bustling as Clifton Park or Saratoga Springs.
Take the four towns in the northwest corner of the county, for example. Spread through the rugged hills and valleys surrounding Great Sacandaga Lake, the communities of Corinth, Hadley, Day and Edinburg never had more than a couple of thousand residents, even when they were self-sufficient Adirondack mill towns. In the 21st century, some of them have lost population.
But rather than accept a status quo of decline, those towns are working together to appeal for new residents from among those people adjusting to a post-COVID world, with the idea that they could live in a beautiful rural location, and still be within a reasonable drive of urban cultural amenities and high-quality jobs at companies like GlobalFoundries and General Electric.
“We live where a lot of people want to take vacations, so it’s nice,” said Hadley Town Supervisor Arthur “Mo” Wright.
A new report commissioned by the four towns outlines how they could do it. The “Building Communities: Attracting Residents to Saratoga’s Adirondacks” report even recommends the towns have their own marketing brand: “Saratoga’s Adirondacks: On the Edge of Everything.”
“Residents of the four northern Saratoga County communities enjoy the best of both worlds –– rural living with easily accessible urban amenities like brew pubs, ethnic restaurants, libraries, theaters, book shops and coffee houses,” the report, prepared by Behan Communications of Glens Falls, states.
The recommendations include a marketing campaign, creating co-work spaces in the towns, spaces that have strong cellphone and broadband access, and engaging in direct outreach to the Capital Region’s major high-tech employers about the lifestyle opportunities.
“I hope this report will help people see what we know: These communities are gems waiting to be discovered,” said Corinth Town Supervisor Richard Lucia.
The towns used $12,000 in Saratoga County economic development funds to commission the report, which looks at the kinds of people who have moved from elsewhere in recent years and ways more people could be attracted to the southern edge of the Adirondacks.
It was Wright who pushed for the four towns to pool economic development funding each could have spent on their town. “The report really emphasizes how we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “I think our ultimate goal is to attract people who will invest in the community.”
Edinburg Town Supervisor Jean Raymond, who herself moved to the Sacandaga region decades ago from suburban Connecticut, said the region still needs better cellphone and broadband internet service if more people are going to work remotely – and she thinks there are opportunities to attract more Capital Region day trippers to see the scenery and appreciate the history.
“I’ve talked to people in our county numerous times who have never been to Edinburg or seen Great Sacandaga Lake,” she said.
Town officials hope the timing for a marketing campaign is right, given that the restrictions caused by the pandemic have led to wider acceptance of remote working. They acknowledge their communities are generally older and could use new young residents to support schools, fire departments, and other community services.
Another key demographic cited by local officials: young people who left the area for new opportunities and might be interested in coming back.
The report cost $12,000, pooled from a $7,100 economic development grant each town in Saratoga County received from the Board of Supervisors last year. The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership economic development agency provided technical assistance and on behalf of the towns, contracted with Behan for the work.
“Something I encourage the communities to do, as much as possible, is intermunicipal cooperation,” said Shelby Schneider, president of the Prosperity Partnership. “We know these communities in the northern part of the county all are within the [boundary] of the Adirondack Park, and all share a similar community character.”
The towns are each receiving another $7,100 in county economic development funding this year – money that can go toward the sort of marketing campaign the report recommends.
“We really need to have some sustainability around here, so in 20 years we can have people in our Fire Department, on our Town Board, or Planning Board,” Wright said.
Raymond, whose town straddles the mid-section of Great Sacandaga Lake, said many people who own seasonal camps near the lake are looking for change. “We have had a lot of people who used to be part-time move up here permanently, and there’s a lot of construction going on in the town,” she said.
But the risk of explosive growth like that that has changed the character of southern Saratoga County is basically non-existent, given the development density restrictions of the Adirondack Park Agency, officials said. Day, Hadley and Edinburg are entirely within the park boundary, as is most of Corinth.
“We want to be ready without being overwhelmed, but we can’t be overwhelmed, because we’re in the Adirondacks,” Raymond said.
The need for new blood in communities is a common theme across the Adirondacks, where a year-round population of around 130,000 inside the park hasn’t changed much in decades.
“I think this can be a great model for what other communities in the Adirondacks can do,” Schneider said.