Could the North Country be an immigrant mecca again?

The North Country, it goes without saying, was created by immigrants — and not so long ago.

From Lyon Mountain to Tupper Lake, people from far-flung lands dug in, got to work, and built things.

The last half-century, though, the number of immigrants from outside the US choosing our rural region as the place to start their new life has slowed to a trickle.

This morning, I report that Canada — and some nearby cities like Kingston, Ontario –is making a concerted effort to attract newcomers.

In particular, they’re looking for newcomers with skills, ideas, energy and entrepreneurial experience.

Some of this is happening in our region, of course.  In the St. Lawrence valley, the Amish have arrived in growing numbers and are changing the landscape with their buggies and their burgeoning families.

And Lake Placid’s prosperity in the post-Olympics era has been shaped to a large degree by immigrants.

But I wonder if we couldn’t do a lot more.  The Jamaicans who help pick our apples in the fall — can we help them start their own orchards?

Why not help some of our migrant dairy workers — many of them from Mexico or Central America — start their own farms here?

How about a program that helps sponsor some of those young seasonal workers who flock to our resort towns.

We’ve got them on the line. Why not reel them in, get them enrolled in one of our regional colleges, develop programs to help mentor them, urge them to put down roots.

Obviously, this will never be an easy sell.  It’s easier to recruit immigrants to Kingston or Toronto than it is to bring people into North Creek or Plattsburgh.

But efforts like the foreign high school student outreach in Newcomb have shown that innovative programs here can work.

What do you think?  Canada is luring in its next generation of strivers and entrepreneurs.  Should the North Country do the same?

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29 Comments on “Could the North Country be an immigrant mecca again?”

  1. Gary says:

    I’m not sure how you would impliment such a plan but if it involves using tax dollars….I’m opposed. There are currently no jobs available to attaract these individuals. Our present farmers can’t make ends meet. I met a young man from Roch working in a local store. He was going back to Roch because the best he could do was part time work. Years ago immigrants found work here and planted roots. If we can’t keep our current high school grads here I don’t see how you can emlpoy immigrants.

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  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “In particular, they’re looking for newcomers with skills, ideas, energy and entrepreneurial experience.”

    We could sure use some people like that instead of the people who constantly complain about their taxes. I am so sick of hearing people bitch about their taxes it makes me retch.

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  3. newt says:

    The most dynamic businessman in Saranac Lake is an immigrant from, I think, Italy. He’s started two successful restaurants and facilitated the downtown parking lot reopening. Another, more recent owner of several convenience is from Southwest Asia. Between them they’ve created, I’d guess, about 3 dozen or more jobs. As far as I know, without any government help.

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  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Where the heck is Roch?

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  5. Bunny Pepin says:

    I’ve worked closely with an immigrant population in my past work life. Most of them save every penny and send it back to their families in the “old country” while living communally and frugally here in the states. Not all want to start a new life here in the US, but would prefer to live comfortably among family in their native land. If the money can be saved to move ALL the family to the US. they will come. This may sound a bit generic but it has definitely been my experience. There will always be the occasional immigrant who sees this country as a land of opportunity to be embraced and taken advantage of. Finding that particular immigrant and convincing him/her of the opportunities to live permanently in the North Country is quite a challenge. I don’t think it can be done. That desire comes from within and is really entrepreneurial in nature. Not all immigrants are entrepreneurs.

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  6. PNElba says:

    An immigrant mecca??? When so many are talking about deporting 11 million illegal aliens (along with their US citizen children)? Are you mad man?

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  7. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Canada has more to offer any potential immigrant. Whether it’s health care, social safety net, job opportunities, a gov’t that appreciates its people or whatever.

    I don’t know how the North Country could compete. We don’t have a good health care system or good job opportunities. You have a hard time keeping people in the area, much less drawing new folks in.

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    I am an immigrant. After my time in the Navy, I moved from Michigan to New York. My grandparents were German immigrants from Romania. My wife is an immigrant from Barbados.
    Everyone is an immigrant including the so called Native Americans who came from Asia.
    Personally, I wish there weren’t any damn borders.
    The North Country needs more of everyone. We shouldn’t worry so much about those who leave here and should spend more time welcoming those who come here for whatever reason they might come here.
    Yes, welcome people with farming backgrounds from wherever. Students who want a good education from small schools are another possibility. Another possible group is artists of all kinds. People who care about saving the environment is another group that could be attracted to live and work here.
    To get to the future, one needs to stop clinging to the past. Way too much of that goes on up here.

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  9. Chris Morris says:

    “There are currently no jobs available to attaract these individuals.”

    Please see http://www.labor.ny.gov/jobs/regional.shtm

    In the North Country, more than 1,400 jobs remain unfilled. A good majority, it appears, are in the private sector.

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  10. Peter Hahn says:

    One way to do it would be to attract a nucleus of people from a particular village/region. That becomes a sustaining draw for others from their families and neighbors. I remember reading about a mayor from a Hudson Valley small city who drove to NYC to recruit and pick up immigrants from some specific place as they got off the plane. He was successfully rebuilding the population of his city and reinvigorating it. Utica has developed a huge Bosnian population, and in Syracuse, the Catholic Charities have brought in all sorts of refugees from all over the world. It would be harder to do in a rural context – but the Amish (as Brian mentioned) are an example of how that could work.

    Most immigrants head for the big cities but they could be recruited to smaller cites and even our villages.

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  11. Peter Hahn says:

    But… there would need to be a cultural change. Many people in the North Country don’t trust other people from the next village.

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  12. JDM says:

    Why not help some of our migrant dairy workers — many of them from Mexico or Central America — start their own farms here?

    First, we need a program where they can be allowed off the farm property.

    As is, they do not show face in a store, lest they picked up and made an example of how “tough” the authorities are on immigrants.

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  13. JDM says:

    And who is going to implement this change?

    We have a St. Lawrence County legislator, who themselves have illegal immigrants in their employ, who are happy with the current system of fake S.S. cards and I9′s, but whose employees cannot leave the property, lest they be picked up and deported.

    What a system.

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  14. Paul says:

    Newt, I beg to differ. I agree the folks you mention (I think it is Bosnia not Italy?) are good but a good friend of mine that was born and raised in Saranac Lake gets my vote for the most dynamic businessman in Saranac Lake! But hats off to anyone trying and making a go of it in the area.

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  15. Paul says:

    A couple here that I am good friends with are both born and raised in Quebec. They both have PhD’s (one is also a DVM) that they earned in Canada and the US. They have lived most of their adult lives in the US because there are far more opportunities for scientists here than they could find in Canada. They are now both US citizens. If we are talking about immigrants like them, bring em on!

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  16. dave says:

    “there would need to be a cultural change. Many people in the North Country don’t trust other people from the next village.”

    I had the same initial reaction. There is an undeniable amount of xenophobia present in the Adirondacks. Distrust and tension between “locals” and “newcomers”, for lack of better terms, is something that Brian M. has reported on and talked about on this very site.

    This is true when those newcomers are from just outside the Park, or from different socioeconomic backgrounds. I have to suspect it would also be true, possibly more so, if there was a big influx of newcomers from other countries.

    It is an odd local dynamic to witness. One hand seems to be worried about population issues, the other hand seems to be concerned about ‘outsiders’.

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  17. Alan says:

    Is increased immigration a cause or a potential effect of economic development. Amended rules about cross border trade might open up markets to North Country communities. Just in the northern edge of the NCPR listening area, from Kingston to Montreal and up to Ottawa there are about 4 million of us Canucks. What level of exploration of that opportunity has really taken place? Increase trade, increase wealth, increase population.

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  18. Paul says:

    Dave, if the dynamic that you describe exists in the Adirondacks how do you explain the success that “outsiders” have found in the area that is described in this post and in some of the comments??

    Maybe this is more about some personal experience that you have had? I have always found folks in the Adirondacks (on the whole) to be very friendly and welcoming to anyone that is willing to reciprocate.

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  19. Walker says:

    Paul, maybe Saranac Lake is a special case? I don’t know the rest of the Adirondacks like I know the Tri-Lakes, but I know Saranac Lake history is rife with immigrants from all over the world (and the nation). I was impressed when the owner of the E&M Deli (and now Fusion) was being hassled by INS a couple of years back at the outpouring of support he got in the Enterprise. I’m sure there’s xenophobia here too, but it sure isn’t across-the-board.

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  20. dave says:

    Tensions (which might be too strong of a word)… but this dynamic between locals and outsiders is something that has been discussed on this very blog on numerous occasions. It is an accepted reality (sometimes treated with humor) to everyone I have ever spoken to here. You are the first person, friend or stranger, that I’ve heard suggest otherwise.

    So no, this is not about any experience I have had. But nice attempt to make this personal.

    I also see little relation between the ability of an outsider to succeed here, and whether or not this dynamic is real.

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  21. dave says:

    Here is a post from Brian M. where he specifically talks about this issue in Saranac Lake:

    http://blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org/inbox/2010/03/19/can-newcomers-and-old-timers-get-along-in-the-north-country/

    “In many North Country communities — including my adopted hometown of Saranac Lake — one of the trickiest fault lines runs between “locals” and “outsiders.”"

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  22. Paul says:

    Dave, Sorry I was not trying to make this personal, I just thought that maybe you had personally experienced some kind of issue that I have not.

    This comment just seems very odd to me:

    “You are the first person, friend or stranger, that I’ve heard suggest otherwise.”

    I am constantly hearing about and reading about how many folks that have moved to the Adirondacks from other places (my family included many years ago) having been welcomed with open arms. Many people are dying to move to the area (if they could make ends meet) and it is not only because of the scenery. So to learn that you have never had anyone suggest to you that the area is a more friendly place is shocking to me?

    Dave I remember seeing this blog by Brian. I just have not experienced the issues in the 40 or so years that I have spent in the Adirondacks and many of those in Saranac Lake specifically.

    Walker, a lot of other Adirondack towns that I have spent time in are also ones that I would take over many of the places outside the park.

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  23. Paul says:

    knuckleheadedliberal: Roch is WNW of NYC and W of Syr and E of Buf!

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  24. dave says:

    “Dave, Sorry I was not trying to make this personal, I just thought that maybe you had personally experienced some kind of issue that I have not.”

    Oops! I meant to put a smiley face after my comment! Left it out accidentally and that changed the whole tone of that sentence. I didn’t really think you were making it personal…

    Anyway, back to the point, this isn’t just about people being friendly to one another. That seems to be what you are focusing on, so I suppose I can see how you might be missing the bigger dynamic. Of course people are friendly up here.

    But you’d almost have to completely ignore what is going on in the larger community to not see that there is often a “fault line”, as Brian describes it, between “locals” and “outsiders” (or transplants, or newcomers… whatever term fits). It is there in almost every watering hole and in just about every political/community issue. (the ACR!?)

    I could take a quick ride, walk into any bar or diner, and just about guarantee I can strike up a conversation with any random person about some of these issues to illustrate the point.

    Anyway, it sure makes for some interesting sociology and fun conversations, I am just not sure it makes this area a possible “Immigrant Mecca”

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  25. Mervel says:

    The North Country ALREADY has a lot of immigrants as Brian points out. We already use substantial numbers of immigrants to operate our dairy farms, the Amish have migrated to the North Country in large numbers and of course we have students who migrate up here every fall. The key is I think tapping into these groups and getting the most potential out of them to benefit the entire region.

    I think there is potential to attract more telecommuters from Downstate. We take this place for granted but it really unique and yet we are close to the largest city in the US and two large Canadian Cities. There will be people who appreciate this area, and they will have some money or at least skills.

    There is a bunch of options I think it is a good idea.

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  26. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Just a quick point about language. Mecca is a place many people visit but people rarely move there.

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  27. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, I see … Rochester! I thought this blog was about immigration. Last I heard Rochester was in New York state, United States of America. Or in Minnesota. I’ve been to both by the way, without ever leaving the country. Hence my confusion to see it referenced as a source of immigrants.

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  28. Pete Klein says:

    Just for the record and the fun of it, there is also a Rochester, Michigan.
    Mixing is always good. One of the best thing that has happened in recent years for local students has been the merger of sports between Indian Lake and Long Lake Central. It has expanded the friendship and dating base for the students. The same has happened with the outreach for talent by the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts.

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  29. John says:

    I think it is mainly Canada´s state of economy that makes immigrants choose Canada over the US. According to Forbes magazine, it is one of the best countries for business, the sixth happiest place in the world, but also quality of life is much higher there. Moreover, health care and education systems are incomparably better in Canada.

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