Paddling past a dairy farm on the Chazy River in New York.
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Economics of the Basin
Resource-Based Economy

fish hatchery The Lake Champlain Basin's economy was traditionally a rural resource-based economy. In addition to agriculture, both renewable natural resources (such as timber, tannin, fish, game, ice, maple syrup) and non-renewable natural resources (such as iron ore, marble, gravel, slate, wollastonite) have played a central role in the economic history of the Basin.

Post-Revolutionary War settlement in the Lake Champlain area began in earnest in the early 1800's with the cutting of timber and the mining of iron ore. The economic well-being of Lake Champlain shore land residents quickly became dependent on the development of these natural resource industries. The lumber camps and mining towns that supported these industries fueled additional economic activities such as farms to supply food, and railroad and canal boats to move timber and iron to market. The boat building industry was one of many economic links to the natural resource base during these times.

ferry The region's economy soon diversified beyond timber, iron, and other mining activities, but continued to depend on natural resources. For example, the non-consumptive resource use of "vacationing" around Lake Champlain that began in the early 1800's quickly had a positive impact on local economies. More recently, the growth of the tourism industry in the region has included development of activities such as Nordic and alpine skiing, marinas, sport-fishing, white-water rafting, and outdoor guiding.

agriculture in the Basin Natural resources still play a significant role in the Lake Champlain Basin economy today. Log homes, paper products, milk, ice cream, apples, fish, fowl, venison, slate, and granite are a few of the natural resource commodities produced. In 1999, maple syrup production contributed about $11.5 million to the Basin's economy in New York and Vermont. Approximately one-third of the United States' maple syrup is produced in the Basin. The only mine for wollastonite (a mineral that replaces asbestos in floor tile, plastic, paint, and brake linings) in the United States is found in Essex County, New York, and is world renowned for its quality.

Click to Enlarge Farming, forestry, mining, and guiding also provide employment in rural areas where opportunities are otherwise limited. View the Percentage of Employment by Occupation Category chart for more information about employment. The 1990 census data indicate that more than 25% of all employment in the Vermont towns of Bridport, Shoreham and Addison is in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Agriculture-related activities and the processing and packaging of commodities harvested or extracted in the Basin result in significant additional natural resource-based employment.

Besides their importance to local economies, natural resources industries in the Basin also have social and cultural importance to local areas, representing "traditional" ways of life that help to distinguish the unique character of the region.

Service and Manufacturing

View of the IBM plant While agriculture and other natural resource based activities continue to make significant contributions to local economies, the Basin economy has diversified into such areas as education, health care, tourism services, prisons, and manufacturing. Vermont and New York are very similar in employment by sector, except that twice the percentage of people in New York are employed in state, county, and local government. View the Percentage of Employment by Occupation Category chart for more information about employment.

Research for the LCBP in the 1990's found that more than one third (35%) of all people in the Lake Champlain Basin are employed in service occupations, including personal business, health, legal, professional, and educational services. Service occupations also include tourism facilities in the Basin such as hotels, motels, museums, and amusement attractions, as well as all hospitals, health care facilities and schools. The economy of the Lake Champlain Basin can thus be classified as a service economy, in line with national trends.

Click to Enlarge During the 1980's, manufacturing declined from 22% to 15% as a percentage of total employment in the Basin, a region-wide phenomenon that reflects national trends during the decade. However, the variety of employment found within the Basin is more diverse than that found in the rest of New York and Vermont, with agriculture, forestry, mining and construction comprising a larger relative portion of the workforce in the Basin than they do in either of the states as a whole. This diversity is one of the main features of the Basin's economy, and should contribute to its future economic health. View the Income Levels chart for more information about income in the Basin.

Tourism and Recreation

fishing on Button Bay Tourism connected directly to the Lake is a significant economic factor for the region. It has been estimated that total tourist expenditures within the Lake Champlain Basin were $3.8 billion in 1998-1999, with roughly 71% in the Vermont portion of the Basin ($2.7 billion) and 29% in the New York portion ($1.1 billion). Fishing related expenditures were estimated at $204 million in 1997 for the Basin. In 1997, the owners of the 98 fishing-related businesses within 10 miles of Lake Champlain estimated that $5.6 million of their total income was from anglers using Lake Champlain.

While tourism provides both skilled and unskilled employment opportunities, helps stimulate local commerce, and provides recreational facilities for local residents as well as tourists, it needs to be seen within the context of a healthy and diversified regional economy. The Lake Champlain Basin's natural and cultural resources provide a foundation to support important aspects of the area economy. Abundant and diverse natural resources are a major reason many Basin residents choose to live where they do. Sport fishing and hunting, along with the tourism and local business generated by these activities, are extremely important. Non-consumptive uses such as boating, hiking and cross-country skiing are all made more attractive by virtue of excellent water quality, abundant wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Quebec Portion of Missisquoi Basin

A historic farm in Wallbridge, Quebec. After agriculture, recreation and tourism are most important to the economy in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. Tourism opportunities in the Basin include skiing, hiking, and hunting. Swimming, fishing, and boating are popular in the Bay itself; however, these activities are increasingly compromised by water quality degradation from excess phosphorus. For example, beaches have been closed starting in July because of major blue-green algal blooms over the past several summers. Visit the Human Health Issues page for more information about blue-green algae.

In 1999, the average annual per capita income in the Missisquoi Bay area was around $22,000 (Canadian currency). Agriculture and natural resources account for 5.6% of the labor market, manufacturing and construction for 29.9%, and transportation, trade, and services for 64.5%.

Agriculture is the economic mainstay in the Missisquoi Bay drainage basin. According to Statistics Canada (1996 census), farms cover 45.5% of the basin area, 24.6% of which is under cultivation. Corn and fodder are the two main crops, accounting for 21.5% of the total farm area. This translates into 700 farms, including 400 in the Brochets (Pike) sub-river basin. In terms of livestock production, beef cattle account for 46.2% of production; pigs, 43.4%; poultry, 6.8%; and other animals, 3.6%.

Learn More... Lake Champlain Basin Program, 2004
Design: Nicole L. Ballinger (LCBP) | Maps: Northern Cartographic and LCBP