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Owens points to others to explain his jobs-creation claim

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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William L. Owens, the Democratic candidate in the 23rd Congressional District, has claimed in campaign commercials that he helped attract more than 2,000 jobs to the north country.

Since the ad began airing, however, Mr. Owens has refused to supply a list of the companies he helped bring here.

While standing by the claim, he has instead referred inquiries about the figure to a small circle of people he worked with on economic development in the Plattsburgh area.

Mark L. Barrie, president of CDC Real Estate, Rouses Point, said Mr. Owens is part of a team he created about 25 years ago to teach Canadian companies how to do business in the United States.

The group also included James C. Abbott, a managing partner at Abbott, Frenyea, Russell & Coffey, a Plattsburgh accounting firm; a person specializing in Customs brokerage, a second who specialized in insurance and a third with expertise in economic development.

Mr. Abbott estimated the group made more than 100 presentations, without charge, during the past quarter century in both Quebec and eastern Ontario. Mr. Owens and Mr. Barrie estimate more than 1,000 companies saw their pitch, and Mr. Abbott said the team "attracted probably over 300 businesses over the years."

Garry F. Douglas, president of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce, joined the team 16 years ago.

"I would say, easily, that Bill, as a team member, has certainly had a hand in well in excess of 2,000 jobs," he said.

Mr. Douglas pointed out a chamber study that estimated the economic impact of Canadian companies on Clinton County jumped from $784.5 million in 1994 to $1.53 billion in 2004. Canadian companies and border agencies employed 4,540 people in Clinton County in 2004, or 14 percent of the county's work force.

The chamber president said the team was a catalyst for the majority of those jobs.

Mr. Abbott added: "If you add all the ancillary companies and all the big companies, I think that 2,000 is a conservative estimate."

Roderic G. Giltz, chairman of Northern Insuring, Plattsburgh, said his company often had one of its employees on Mr. Barrie's team.

"Bill played a key role in that, again because of his understanding of U.S. and Canadian law and how these Canadian firms could be integrated into a presence in the states," he said.

Mr. Giltz said of the jobs claim: "I can't quantify it, other than it sounds reasonable."

"The end result is clear," Mr. Owens said. "We've got 200 or so companies, this huge economic impact and everyone in the process saying I'm a participant. I think it's a reasonable estimate."

The Democratic candidate said he was "very involved" in persuading Bombardier, a Montreal-based aerospace and rail magnate, to open a plant in Plattsburgh in August 1995.

"I participated in a lot of discussions in terms of the whole U.S. municipal content requirements, which is the reason they are here," he said.

Mr. Douglas said Bombardier once employed as many as 1,000 people, and its presence attracted 12 to 20 smaller companies to locate there to supply parts. The chamber president said the manufacturer created "a double direct impact," creating 1,000 more jobs at ancillary companies that supported its operations.

He and Mr. Abbott both said Mr. Owens was one of many who helped persuade Bombardier to open a north country plant.

Mr. Owens has also touted his role in the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp., which has turned the former military base into a business park since the Air Force left in 1995. The Plattsburgh attorney helped negotiate the corporation's formation and then was its general counsel for less than one year.

The corporation has attracted more than 60 tenants since 1995. The campaign said those companies have employed more than 500 people. PARC officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Mr. Owens's opponents are skeptical about his job creation claims.

"Honesty and transparency are needed in Congress — and Dede Scozzafava is the only candidate who has displayed both in this campaign," said Matthew A. Burns, spokesman for the Republican candidate. "On the other hand, Bill Owensrefuses to tell voters where he stands on important issues, and refuses to provide one shred of evidence to support the exaggerations he's pedaling about jobs he didn't create. Bill Owens trying to take credit for jobs he didn't create is like him saying it rained last night, therefore he watered everyone's lawn. No one's buying it."

Robert H. Ryan, a spokesman for Conservative candidate Douglas L. Hoffman, said: "Bill Owens should realize that any jobs he may have created are being wiped out by the big spending and high taxes of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress."

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