Chambers of Commerce are about what’s good for business. But while most chambers take a pretty narrow view of that, focusing on such things as recruitment, promotion and lobbying for business-friendly laws, the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County is taking a broader, more enlightened approach. Its community development program, in which it organizes its own members and other volunteers to fix up important assets around the county, will improve quality of life in the county and win friends for the chamber. That, ultimately, is good for business.
The first project undertaken was a rehabilitation of the historic (built in the 1840s), and now unused, canal lock at the Vischer Ferry Preserve last year. This was a hands-on educational experience for 80 Shenendehowa High School students, who worked with mentors from Turner Construction, the firm that built the GlobalFoundries plant, and other local companies to design and construct a footbridge, observation deck and picnic area, as well as develop a marketing plan to promote the new recreational area. The driving force behind the project was Chamber President Pete Bardunias, who has an interest in history.
And history is a central part of the next two projects as well. One is restoration of the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, which houses the Saratoga County Historical Society and features photos, artifacts, exhibits and programs for schoolchildren. This is a handsome, colonial-style building (originally constructed as a hotel in 1792) in a picturesque setting, which has had to cut hours, lay off staff and defer maintenance in recent years after having its county and state funding reduced. As with the canal lock, the work will be done by volunteers; and students, this time from the Ballston Spa school district, will also be involved.
Then there’s the historic train station in Mechanicville, which the city owns (having bought it for $1 from its previous owner, who had moved out) and the Mechanicville Heritage Society wants to turn into a museum. This, too, is a handsome, charming building, with an arched entryway, gables and a cupola, but needs work, including to the slate roof, wooden floor and ceiling. The state recently awarded a rehabilitation grant of $100,000, and it will go a long way with all that volunteer labor. A historic building will be saved, one that will attract tourists and, the chamber hopes, businesses to locate near it.
Even with volunteers, money, of course, is still important. And government grants cannot be counted on, which is why the chamber is having its members kick in for these projects. In 2014, the plan is to do additional ones, yet to be determined, in Waterford and Charlton, followed by more projects in other places around the county in future years. It’s a nice gesture and a nice formula by Saratoga County businesses, good work that will engender good will.