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5 Pieces of Advice for Community Leaders

December 13, 2022

On December 8, 2022, NNY Business hosted its annual 20 Under 40 Award Ceremony. Six Lewis County professionals were recognized and Naturally Lewis' Executive Director, Brittany Davis, gave the keynote speech. In her speech, Brittany advised the honorees on five pieces of advice leading to a community promoting partnership and collaboration. Read the full speech below!

"I am so honored to be standing in front of 20 of the North Country’s most dedicated leaders, and your families, friends and colleagues. You have been nominated for the incredible things you are doing in your communities, and tonight is the night that we get to celebrate you, to encourage you to keep going and to keep doing what you do, because the North Country continues to need great leaders to buildResized 20221208 192751 our communities.

 I work for the economic development agency for Lewis County, Naturally Lewis, administering both the Lewis County IDA and Lewis County Development Corporation. We focus on business and community development initiatives that prioritizes the retention and growth of our existing businesses, entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses, growing our communities and creating great places to live, work, build business and play. Economic development is so encompassing, and it involves so many facets of our community. Just think about what it takes to create a thriving local economy! Its manufacturing, and small business, housing options, safe neighborhoods, public spaces, transportation, healthcare options, great schools… and the list goes on. We cannot simply do all of these things alone. It takes more than one person, or one agency, or one organization to do economic development. Growing our communities takes a village, and a great part of that village is in front of me tonight.

You are the great leaders of the community that are helping us to do economic development. You are the great leaders that are providing health care, creating safe communities, helping businesses grow, creating new businesses, serving as elected officials, and so much more.

Without your leadership, we would not be able to promote the North Country as the best place to be.

In my time serving as a leader in my community, there have been a few pieces of advice that have stuck with me through the years. I have put together my top 5 inspirations or key values that are constantly in the back of my head while doing economic development. These are the things we need to always consider to promote a community of cooperation, collaboration and partnership, to keep our communities moving forward.

1. You aspire to great things? Begin with the little ones. In my role as a leader in economic development, we, as economic developers, historically, have been waiting on landing the “big one” and attracting a large corporation to bring hundreds of jobs. Well, in the North Country, and specifically Lewis County, it is a different story. If I spent my days, time, and money on solely attracting the large company, I would have wasted days, time and money with little result. Although this is an economic developers dream, the successes of this work are few and far between. However, if we help 100 entrepreneurs in a year, and 50 of them create 1 new job, that is 50 new jobs in Lewis County. Small steps can make big waves in small communities like ours. Small wins, such as helping a new entrepreneur start their business, or helping that business create that one new job, can, and will lead to bigger wins in the long run. Stay patient, and celebrate the little wins.

2. It’s amazing how much good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit. This is leadership. Naturally Lewis would not be able to be what it is, or do what it does, without my amazing team who work day in and day out to develop our businesses and grow our communities. And the best part? We don’t need the credit to be satisfied with our work. Great leaders won’t care about the credit. And when you stop worrying about the credit, its amazing how much you can accomplish.

3. If you don’t do it, who will? This came from a former college professor of mine. If you don’t do it, who will? If you don’t create that young professionals group, who will? If you don’t become president of the local development corporation board, who will? If you don’t take the leap of faith, become an entrepreneur to fill a need in the community, who will? Many times, we often wait for someone else to ‘do that thing,’ but great leaders, will just ‘do that thing,’ because if you don’t, who will?

4. “If you are a leader of an organization, and are not a finance person, find yourself a finance person” – This has probably been the best advice that has stuck with me. Let’s face it. Leaders cannot be experts in everything, and I for one am not going to pretend like I LIKE numbers. So build your team, and surround yourself with the experts. Delegate. And let your team thrive in the areas that interest them. Like I mentioned – economic development is so many things. I cannot simply be an expert in everything, and without my team, my boards, and their expertise, Naturally Lewis, and the Lewis County community, would not be the growing community that it is. Tonight, we have four awardees sitting in this room who have been directly involved in the work we do at Naturally Lewis, as a staff member or board member – Jenna, Mckenzie, Herb, Ian – thank you for your expertise in getting us to where we are today.

5. In the North Country, you can be a big fish in a small pond, and opportunity awaits. This has been my own advice. Going back to my first story about traditional economic development and attracting that big fish. In Lewis County, our development story starts from within. We needed to focus on our own FIRST. And that meant getting creative with opportunities. Creating opportunities for pathways to successful entrepreneurship, creating programs to help revitalize our downtowns, creating new fun community events to bring people together. When we talk to entrepreneurs or people that have an idea, we tell them, ‘hey! You’re in the North Country! The opportunity is here, and we are ready to help.” And guess what, those people have amazing ideas, fresh perspective and are ready to immerse themselves in our communities. Some of those people may have been you. As a leader in the North Country, with the right support and resources, you can do just about anything.

So, I suppose what makes a great leader in the North Country, is grit, and courage. Typically you are one of the few who are involved in many things within your community. Being a good leader is often a lonely path. But just know, the things that you are doing in this community matter. You are doing the “little things” or maybe the “big things,” you are doing the things that no one else would do, you are creating opportunity and helping to create thriving communities across North Country.

In closing, I wanted to share a recent conversation I had. In meeting with a new entrepreneur in Lewis County, she indicated that her and her husband just moved here from California. Her husband is retired military, and she was born and raised in California, and they had lived all over the country. As he looked to transition out of the military, he was connected with a job at a local manufacturing company in a small town just outside of Watertown, called Beaver Falls. The couple had first met when he was stationed at Fort Drum thirty years ago, so they picked the North Country, out of all the places and job opportunities in the United States, to move to and retire to. But what really stuck out the most throughout my conversation with her was when she said, “You know, the North Country is the first place that I have felt like I am home.”

It is because of people like all of you, and the work you are doing in your communities, along with the many other leaders and community members throughout the North Country, that make it what it is. As an economic developer who is working to make communities great places to live, I am always reminded that it takes a village, it all comes down to the people of the North Country, and leaders like you, who make this place so special, and who make it feel like home. So thank you for all that you do for making the North Country the best place to live, work, build business and play, for being part of my village, and your continued service to the North Country communities.

Congratulations to all!"