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Year in review: north country business in 2021

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 3:01 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Following a year like no other, many north country businesses were looking to rebound, trying to recover some of the money lost to due COVID-19 restrictions. We take a look back at what happened this year in north country business.

As we leapt into 2021, many were hoping for a sense of normalcy, especially north country businesses, which had to operate under certain restrictions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those restrictions wouldn’t be lifted until June when the state met former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s magic number of 70 percent of the population with at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

“We can get back to living and businesses can open because the state mandates are gone,” he said at the time.

Great news for local tourism, especially for businesses on the river in the midst of their summer season.

“Bookings are up across all lodging types whether that’s hotels, short-term rentals, campgrounds. And attractions are already reporting to us that they are having stronger starts to their season than they did on 2019,” said Corey Fram, Thousand Islands International Tourism director.

Eased restrictions also brought the return of county fairs, which saw attendance numbers through the roof.

“We don’t sell admission, so we don’t have a good way of telling how many people we did have, but by talking to the vendors, they are so happy; they have had a great week,” said Doug Hanno, Lewis County Fair president.

“By the end of Friday, we were better than all of 2019. So, anything we got yesterday or today is icing on the cake,” said Bob Simpson, Jefferson County Fair president.

2021 also introduced some new players into the area, like Convalt Energy and DigiCollect, a solar panel manufacturer and software company that plans to bring many jobs to the region.

“We are thinking in ten years, 2,000 jobs in ten years, right. So, that’s the target,” said Hari Achutan, CEO, Convalt Energy.

While the goal is to bring more jobs to the region, some businesses had to cut back, like at New York Air Brake. The company laid off 125 employees from its Watertown location.

The state also closed Watertown Correctional Faciity earlier this year and plans to close Ogdensburg Correctional next spring - a decision that north country lawmakers are trying to stop.

“We didn’t vote for it, we didn’t support it. The community’s here. We’re not responsible for it, but unfortunately, they are paying the price for it,” said state Senator Patty Ritchie (R. - 48th District).

All of those workers will not lose their jobs, however. They will be relocated to other facilities.

Now, with the the omicron variant spreading across the U.S. and Canada, Canadian officials are once again requiring all travelers to get a COVID-19 PCR test before returning to the country - a change from its previous policy last month allowing those fully vaccinated taking short trips under 72 hours to not have to do so.

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