December 2015: Business Briefcase

ECONOMY

St. Lawrence County sales tax revenues down

Sales tax revenues in St. Lawrence County are continuing to decline compared with a year ago.

County Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said third-quarter collections were down 4.2 percent compared with the same quarter last year.

The county took in $14,099,321 in sales tax revenues from April to June compared with $14,721,037 collected during the same period in 2014, a loss of $621,716.

So far, 2015 sales tax collections are down 3 percent compared with last year, he said.

The county splits its sales tax revenue with towns, villages and the city of Ogdensburg, so those municipalities also will be negatively affected by sales tax decreases.

The decreased value of the Canadian dollar is being blamed for reducing the number of Canadians crossing the border to shop in the north country, which results in sales tax decreases.

The sharp decrease in fuel prices compared with last year also has hurt sales tax revenues.

In response, in the 2016 tentative budget approved Monday by the Finance Committee, sales tax revenues are projected to decrease from $58 million to $55.1 million.

Neighboring Jefferson County also saw a slump in third-quarter sales tax revenues, with receipts decreasing by more than $350,000 compared with the same quarter of 2014.

In September alone, the county saw a 15 percent decrease compared with last September.

AGRIBUSINESS

Grant awarded for meat processing study

Developer Michael E. Lundy has been awarded a $50,000 federal grant to explore building a meat plant that could be the anchor of an agricultural park in Jefferson County — but he hasn’t yet ruled out the controversial spot proposed near Car-Freshner.

U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand announced last month that the grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program has been awarded to Thousand Island Meats LLC, owned by Mr. Lundy. The West Carthage developer — who will match the grant with a $50,000 private investment — said studies funded by the grant will be done to explore building the U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified facility at two alternative sites within the town of Watertown.

Those two sites, and possibly others, will be explored as an alternative to building the proposed $20.6 million, 42,000-square-foot New York Meat Co. on the combined 9 acres of land owned by Mr. Lundy on lots 10 and 11 at the Jefferson County Corporate Park off outer Coffeen Street.

The launch of the grant-funded study comes after Car-Freshner threatened this summer to relocate the 300-plus-employee company if the proposed meat facility was approved. Daniel Samann, general counsel for Car-Freshner, claimed odor from the plant would be detrimental to the testing of fragrances used by the manufacturer of pine-tree-shaped air fresheners. The proposed site is next to the FedEx building and about 2,000 feet from Car-Freshner.

Grant-funded research will call for an in-depth market analysis of the region to gauge the demand for a plant, Mr. Lundy said, along with a detailed analysis of how much it would cost to build the facility and purchase equipment. In the case of alternative sites, infrastructure costs to gain access to utilities will be determined.

The site at the corporate park, by contrast, has access to all of the utilities that would be needed by the plant: water and sewer lines, three-phase power and natural gas. Site-preparation work at the property already has been done, and its neighborhood-commercial zoning is in keeping with the project.

Mr. Lundy declined to disclose the location of the two alternative sites being considered in the Watertown area. But he said they’re each more than 40 acres, providing enough room to establish an agricultural park to serve manufacturers in the industry. He has discussed the idea in recent months with officials from the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency.

The original proposal for the three-phase project called for the creation of 57 jobs and more later on. The facility would be expanded to about 62,000 square feet in the second phase and to 110,000 in the third. It would have the capacity to process about 100 cattle a day, along with 200 to 300 smaller animals such as calves, sheep, pigs and goats.

Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County agricultural coordinator, said he is optimistic that the plant could find a better home in the town of Watertown that would still be close to Interstate 81. He believes an agricultural park would provide a much-needed home for manufacturers in the agriculture industry — which can generate dust and odor — that won’t interfere with corporations and residential communities.

Manufacturing

Air purification system maker adding jobs

HealthWay, a global manufacturer of air purification systems headquartered in the village, will create 15 to 25 jobs after launching a new product line in early 2016, according to the company president.

President Vincent G. “Vinny” Lobdell Jr. said the company, which expects international demand for its products to grow, will begin manufacturing a portable residential air purification system in February at its corporate headquarters on Maple Avenue.

The 15 to 25 jobs — primarily production positions, along with some in sales and management — will be added to the company’s staff of 32 employees at the facility, Mr. Lobdell said. He could not disclose the hourly wage for the positions, which are expected to become available in early 2016. Applicants will be able to apply for jobs on the “careers” section of the company’s website, healthway.com, or in person at the company.

HealthWay manufactures an array of residential, industrial and commercial air purification systems. The company has locations in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Canada, Mr. Lobdell said. It collectively has more than 100 employees across its locations.

Mr. Lobdell said the company had considered manufacturing its new air purifier in China, where its other residential units are made. But after weighing the pros and cons, it decided Pulaski would be a better fit for manufacturing the new product.

“Costs have gone up considerably in China, but the decision was also about the market. The market is demanding U.S.-built products,” said Mr. Lobdell, who launched HealthWay in Pulaski about a decade ago with his father, Vincent G. Lobdell Sr., CEO of the company.

Depending on the model, he said, the new residential units will be priced from $799 to $999. He said the unit will be designed to be more efficient than others on the market, with the ability to filter a 1,000-square-foot space about four times per hour.

The new product will join the commercial air purifiers manufactured at the Pulaski facility. Those units are used by several large clients in the U.S., including Hyatt Hotels Corp., and the corporate headquarters of the BMW Group in Beijing, China. Other notable clients include Harvard University and SUNY Oswego.

Mr. Lobdell said international demand for air purifiers is expected to grow. While the company now does about 15 percent of its business overseas, he said, that figure is expected to climb to roughly 50 percent in five years.

When HealthWay was launched, he said, it specialized only in building products for other companies that sold them under private labels. But the company has shifted its focus in recent years to manufacturing its own products under the HealthWay brand. About 70 percent of its products now are sold under its own brand, and the remainder are sold under private labels.

Vinny and Vincent Lobdell are known in Pulaski for acquiring the long-closed Kallet Theater in 2011. The theater and events center, which opened in the fall of 2013 after it was rebuilt, hosts an array of live performances and special events.

HEALTH CARE

Samaritan closes on medical office building

Samaritan Medical Center closed Nov. 12 on the $14.4 million purchase of a three-story medical office building at 826 Washington St.

The 45,000-square-foot building, which houses an array of medical offices, was bought from owner Rothschild Breuer and Associates, Syracuse, said Krista A. Kittle, Samaritan spokeswoman. The property, adjacent to the hospital’s parking garage, is connected to the hospital and houses numerous medical tenants. Although the hospital plans to renovate the building, those plans will not impact existing tenants.

The hospital’s request for up to $11 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the acquisition of the building was approved last month by the Jefferson County Civic Facility Development Corp.’s board. Donald C. Alexander, JCIDA CEO, said Samaritan needed bonds to help pay off a short-term loan needed to acquire the building. The sale of the bonds will be handled on behalf of Samaritan by Bond, Schoeneck and King, Syracuse.