The Natural Choice

Lewis County, NY
Written by Claire Suttles

Lewis County has launched a new marketing campaign that sums up the community in just two words: ‘Naturally Lewis’. “We are the natural choice to do business because of our natural resources, the dedicated people who live here, and the good quality of life,” explains Marketing Specialist Brittany Berrus.
Located in northern upstate New York, Lewis County is brimming with in-demand natural resources as well as a laid-back rural lifestyle and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities. The combination creates an ideal place for both industry and leisure.

Vast reserves of timber, water, and land have long made Lewis County a base for farming and manufacturing. “Agriculture and timber have driven our major industries historically and today,” says Lewis County Economic Development Director Eric Virkler. The community boasts 600,000 acres of forestland, an abundance of waterways, rich soil, and easy access to raw materials.

With so many farms and dairy operations in the area, food processing is a particularly prosperous manufacturing sector within the county. Most notably, Lewis County is home to a large Kraft Heinz plant that is currently undergoing a significant expansion. A local microbrewery is also expanding and the county’s nine-year-old vineyard is thriving. “There is definitely a focus to continue to build on the agriculture and food processing,” Mr. Virkler remarks. “Certainly there is more opportunity for wine, beer, and spirits.”

Lewis County’s natural resources have also made the community an ideal place for green energy. Local rivers power approximately 20 hydroelectric projects and a biomass plant generates electricity from discarded wood that would otherwise go to waste. There is also a 195-tower wind farm—one of the largest in New York State. At least four other wind projects are currently under development.

The community is ready to support any business that is considering taking advantage of the county’s abundant natural resources. “Lewis County Economic Development is a one-stop shop in a small county,” Mr. Virkler explains. “New businesses or existing businesses know we are a place that they can call [to get support for] what they are looking to do.”

The county’s new Naturally Lewis marketing campaign is just one step that the EDC has taken to raise the bar. “We are doing a lot more to get our services out there to local businesses, to people who want to start new businesses or grow existing businesses,” says Ms. Berrus. For instance, the organization sponsors workshops and seminars to give businesses the tools they need to succeed. “We recently hosted our first business funding seminar,” Ms. Berrus recalls. “We had great attendance and it sparked a lot of interest and gave us new leads for people who have these business ideas but just don’t know where to go. We are working hard to make people aware of who we are, the services we offer, and that we can help them make their dream a reality.” Lewis County Economic Development can also connect businesses to a variety of incentives to help them relocate, expand, or grow. Loans, grants, and tax credits may all be available.

Lewis County’s quality of life is also a key draw for businesses. “We are certainly looking to attract new people to come here and do business and one of the advantages there is the great quality of life we have,” says Mr. Virkler. The community of 27,000 is home to a handful of bucolic towns. “There are no cities; there are a number of small villages. It is quiet. It is very peaceful. We have very good schools and educational systems. It is a very good place to raise a family and a quiet place to live and enjoy.”

Many residents have strong roots within the close-knit community. “We have families that have lived here for generation after generation and have been on the same family farms for years and years,” Ms. Berrus shares. “We have a dedicated workforce that is very loyal to Lewis County and the businesses that operate in our county. I think that is a big reason why a lot of the businesses in Lewis County are open for years and years.”

The rural community enjoys a low cost of living relative to other New York State locations. According to the United States Census Bureau, the average cost of a single-family home in Lewis County is just $107,200. The crime rate is also very low. “People can leave their keys in their car with the windows down overnight because no one is going to steal their car,” Ms. Berrus says. “People leave their front doors unlocked because no one is going to go in and steal anything from homes. It is a very safe, easygoing, friendly atmosphere.”

Lewis County residents—and large numbers of tourists—enjoy the region’s outdoor activities all four seasons of the year. “We are a capitol for snowmobiling, ATV riding, kayaking, horseback riding,” Mr. Virkler says. “There are a lot of things you can do in the outdoors here.” The natural terrain varies from the Adirondack Forest Preserve to the Black River Valley to the Tug Hill Plateau. Nestled between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks, Tug Hill experiences the most snowfall in the eastern United States, delivering endless adventures for winter sport lovers.

The county boasts 232,000 acres of either public land or public conservation easements for residents and tourists to enjoy. There are 525 miles of public and private snowmobile trails crisscrossing the community. The county is also home to one of the largest horseback riding trail networks in the northeast, complete with approximately 64 miles of trails, 100 covered tie horse stalls, and camping facilities. Fishing enthusiasts will get plenty of bites; Lewis County is home to a number of cold water and warm water fisheries that support a wide range of species including trout, walleye, pike and small mouth bass.

Lewis County is preparing for the future with several development projects. The Lyons Falls Mill Demolition Project is currently in its fourth and final phase. The Village of Lyons Falls, the Lewis County Development Corporation, and the Development Authority of the North Country are working together to complete the development of the nine-acre property. Once the site of a crumbling paper mill, the property is the centerpiece of the Lyons Falls Designated Brownfield Opportunity Area. The final demolition, site cleanup, and restoration should be completed in 2017, opening the property up for redevelopment. “It is a great piece of property located directly on the Black River,” Mr. Virkler shares. “There is a hydroelectric generating facility right at the property with great potential in the future for a light manufacturing operation.”

The community is also in the process of developing Lewis County’s first business park. After reviewing many potential locations, Lewis County Economic Development has chosen a 40-acre site that will provide easy access to transportation routes and necessary infrastructure. Lewis County’s next step may be to launch a small business incubator. Lewis County Economic Development is reviewing options for a space where entrepreneurs could get assistance in starting or growing a business. The incubator would target food processing-related businesses and potentially include a kitchen, refrigerated storage and dairy processing equipment.

Whether through an incubator, incentives, or other means of support, “We want to build on those agriculturally based businesses,” Mr. Virkler summarizes. From craft breweries to artisan cheese producers, food processers of all sorts will find the raw materials and infrastructure that they need in Lewis County. “We’ve got a number of good, small businesses. We [want to] help them grow. We see that as the future and the way that we can continue to grow our economy.”



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