Nearly 20 western Montgomery County decision makers and business owners gathered in a cold dark storefront at 47 Main St. in Fort Plain on Wednesday morning to discuss joint economic growth.
The group, called the Western Montgomery County Partners, is made up of representatives from St. Johnsville, Fort Plain and Minden, along with business owners from Canajoharie, Palatine Bridge and a few other villages.
“Were doing this meeting Amish-style,” said Fort Plain Planning Board Chair Micki Lieber. “There’s no electricity, no water and the meeting can only take an hour because we don’t have a bathroom.”
The storefront has been under construction for a few years since the village took it over. Everyone kept their jackets on, but no one seemed to mind.
The point of the gathering was simple.
“There is strength in numbers,” said County Planner Douglas Greene. “The villages have fallen into a sort of collective depression. If we work together, we can overcome.”
He explained that villages in New York tend to be rather self-contained communities and don’t often work together. That attitude can cause inefficiencies, stalling growth.
“This group is exploring and learning how to work together to maximize the advantages we have,” Greene said.
One of those local advantages is the Route 5 bike path, which was the focus of Wednesday’s discussion.
It connects many villages along the Erie Canal corridor and draws a number of cyclists every year, but the market is largely untapped.
“I benefit quite a bit from the bike path,” said A White Rose B&B owner Melissa Brown, “cyclists are most of my tourism business right now.”
Jacki Meola of the Montgomery County Business Development Corporation said municipalities should work together to advertise the path and organize joint events to bring in bikers.
“They’re not riding along saying, ‘I’m going through this village and this village.’ They’re riding through Montgomery County,” she said.
Greene brought up a “bike tourism roundtable” taking place next week in Albion. He said such a thing would be helpful for this area, as a one-day seminar on how to increase bike traffic. He can’t go to Albion, which is a four-hour drive, but said he’ll work toward getting something similar set up closer to home.
Bike tourism growth is just one of the things the group hopes to accomplish through joint planning.
Greene said the state is more likely to award grants for things like main street facelift projects when municipalities work together.
Though the meeting was a little cold and dim, the storefront at 47 Main St. is an example of what the group plans to accomplish in the years to come.
The village took the building over a few years ago and volunteers have been working on it ever since. Eventually it will have running water, house public meetings and generally improve the street.
Like the storefront, Western Montgomery County Partners is at the beginning of a building process. The group has been meeting since early spring, and hopes to actually start a few projects in the near future.
“Anything that gets these villages talking is great,” Greene said.