Cuomo announces fund offering $10M in loans for NNY businesses

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the establishment of the North Country Economic Development Fund on Thursday, which will help businesses across eight counties tap into low-interest loans.

Designed to help businesses expand and create jobs, the $10 million fund was created as a result of a long-term power contract between the New York Power Authority and Alcoa. On Thursday, the Development Authority of the North Country’s board of directors agreed to administer the fund, according to an agreement made with NYPA.

In a statement, Gov. Cuomo lauded the establishment of the fund as a boon for small businesses to stay competitive.

“This fund will give local businesses access to the capital they need to invest in land, equipment and technology that will enable them to remain competitive in the 21st century,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Supporting these efforts will in turn help strengthen the region’s economy and create jobs in the North Country.”

James W. Wright, executive director of DANC, said the fund will have a major impact on businesses across the north country.

“We think it’s a great tool to be utilized to assist in economic development in the north country,” he said. “There’s always an absence of capital available in the north country, and having an additional source of funds to be committed is an advantage.

In addition, it can help leverage other sources of money that can be available to businesses.”

DANC will take loan applications from businesses looking to expand in St. Lawrence, Clinton, Franklin, Essex, Jefferson, Lewis, Hamilton and Herkimer counties. Expanding enterprises within the state boundaries of the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation also are eligible.

For every $25,000 lent from the fund, at least one job must be created or retained. Businesses are eligible to apply for loans of up to 30 percent of the planned project cost, with the ceiling for the loans set at $300,000. Funding applications will be reviewed by a board representatives from the authority, NYPA, North Country Alliance and Empire State Development.

Funding will be available to manufacturers, agribusinesses, technology companies, assemblers, wholesale distributors and warehouses. It will be available for building construction and rehabilitation, land acquisition and the purchase of machinery or equipment. Funding is also available for business improvement districts and nonprofit entities eligible to apply for community revitalization projects. Retail and market applicants also may be eligible, but must meet special criteria in order to be considered for a loan.

Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, said in a statement that the fund will be an effective mechanism for spurring economic development.

“Providing low-interest, upfront capital to businesses looking to expand will help to support job growth and complement other measures by the Power Authority and New York State to bolster the region’s economy,” he said.

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

Black River Valley Club plans to reinvent building with rental apartments

Rental apartments have been proposed for the underused upper floors of the Black River Valley Club on Washington Street in Watertown. Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

Rental apartments have been proposed for the underused upper floors of the Black River Valley Club on Washington Street in Watertown. Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

The Black River Valley Club plans to create rental apartments on the under-used upper floors of its historic downtown building, in a venture with Purcell Construction Co. that will be introduced to club members tonight.

In a recent letter to its membership, the club announced its plan to form a partnership with the Watertown construction company, which would build market-rate apartments on the second and third floors of the 131 Washington St. building.

The club’s operations would be consolidated on the ground floor, which would be dedicated to club member use under the plan, said Paul A. Luck, president of the club’s board of governors. The floor would be renovated to include a new kitchen, event space and dining and meeting rooms. The historic character of the club’s grand foyer and entranceway would remain the same. [Read more…]

Confirmed tornado scatters debris in Lewis County

Storm damage. Norm Johnston / NNY Business

Storm damage. Norm Johnston / NNY Business

Maple Ridge Wind Farm workers who rent two houses at Eagle Factory and Gardner roads fortunately were on holiday break Tuesday night, when a tornado swept through the area and ripped apart the structures as if they were toys.

The National Weather Service in Buffalo confirmed Wednesday that at 6:48 p.m. Tuesday, a tornado touched down near the intersection, west of Lowville, and went on to damage 12 buildings. The agency reported the northeast path of the tornado was about 10 miles long with a width of up to 300 yards, although it wasn’t on the ground the whole time. The last signs of damage were in the town of Croghan. The tornado was classified as an EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, reaching maximum wind speeds between 95 and 100 mph. [Read more…]

JCIDA committee tentatively OKs $40,000 loan to Skewed Brewing Co.

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency’s loan review committee tentatively approved a $40,000 loan request Tuesday made by RC Spot LLC, the parent company of Skewed Brewing Co. at Salmon Run Mall, to be used for cash flow.

The three-year loan for the restaurant, which opened in October, will be considered for final approval at the agency’s board meeting July 3. The committee’s unanimous approval of the loan comes after the agency issued a five-year, $50,000 loan in February 2013 needed to launch the business, co-owned by Ryan and Cheryl Chaif, owners of the Hops Spot restaurant in Sackets Harbor, and Mark P. Crandall.

Owners were notified by the agency about Tuesday’s meeting but did not attend. Mr. Chaif declined to comment after the meeting.

Committee members, who reviewed the financials of Skewed Brewing and the Hops Spot during the meeting, discovered the business has operated at a loss since it opened. The Hops Spot, which received a $27,500 loan from the agency in October 2011, finished 2013 with a net loss in revenue.

Lyle V. Eaton, JCIDA’s chief financial officer, declined to disclose financial figures for the two restaurants. He said a combined total of about $60,000 is owed on the two outstanding loans, and owners have consistently made payments.

Mr. Eaton said Skewed Brewing, staffed by 44 employees, needs cash flow after it encountered unexpected expenses.

“They had some overruns on the startup and loan fees to the (Small Business Development Center) they didn’t anticipate,” he said.

An unanticipated cost to install plumbing equipment also set back the restaurant, committee member Donald L. DiMonda said. He said a plumber installed equipment incorrectly, and another plumber was hired to complete the work.

“They had a bad experience with a plumber and took a $20,000 hit,” Mr. DiMonda said. “I don’t think I see anything unusual, other than the fits and starts of a new business. I haven’t heard anything bad about the food or the business.”

Committee member Michelle D. Pfaff said the operating loss at Skewed Brewing did not concern her, as startups typically operate at a loss during their first year. But she expressed concerns about the loss in 2013 at the Hops Spot.

“They showed a profit in 2012 at the Hops Spot, and I thought that was good because it would support their new business,” she said. “And in 2013, it shows a loss and negative cash flow — that’s my only concern.”

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

A new watering hole

 Co-owners of Wood Boat Brewery, Michael Hazlewood, left, and Lance Peterson, right, hold up growlers at the bar of the new brewery in Clayton, which is being opened this summer. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

Co-owners of Wood Boat Brewery, Michael Hazlewood, left, and Lance Peterson, right, hold up growlers at the bar of the new brewery in Clayton, which is being opened this summer. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

Pub across from boat museum offers local beers, spirits [Read more…]

End of an era

Lunman’s Furniture to close after store’s 62-year run [Read more…]

ReEnergy helps municipalities by burning storm debris at biomass plant

A ReEnergy employee uses a pitchfork to spread out debris while loading up a tractor-trailer with brush at the town of Brownville garage on Tuesday afternoon. The company will be picking up debris at municipalities in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties for free. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

A ReEnergy employee uses a pitchfork to spread out debris while loading up a tractor-trailer with brush at the town of Brownville garage on Tuesday afternoon. The company will be picking up debris at municipalities in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties for free. Amanda Morrison / NNY Business

Giving municipalities a lift without charge, this week ReEnergy began grinding and collecting storm debris that will be used to fuel its biomass facility at Fort Drum.

For up to 10 weeks, ReEnergy will visit municipal sites in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties to collect massive quantities of fallen limbs and other debris that accumulated during the winter, said John R. Howe, ReEnergy’s north country wood procurement manager. The move comes after ReEnergy met with highway superintendents following the ice storm in late December to hatch a plan for removing brush to be burned at its 60-megawatt-capacity plant, which opened last June. The service is provided at no charge to municipalities.

ReEnergy began grinding and collecting debris this week at the town of Brownville’s storage site off Star School House Road, Mr. Howe said. It also has agreed to collect debris from Jefferson County, the city of Watertown and the towns of Antwerp, Brownville, LeRay, Orleans and Rutland; in St. Lawrence County, agreements have been made with the city of Ogdensburg; the village of Gouverneur and the towns of Edwards, Fowler and Colton. More municipalities, as well as Fort Drum, are expected to participate in the effort this summer, he said. ReEnergy will collect debris free of charge for municipalities. [Read more…]

Learning with Legos is niche of Bricks 4 Kidz in Watertown

Stephanie M. Widrick has launched an education-oriented business called Bricks 4 Kidz in Watertown. Photo courtesy Bricks 4 Kidz

Stephanie M. Widrick has launched an education-oriented business called Bricks 4 Kidz in Watertown. Photo courtesy Bricks 4 Kidz

Offering educational activities with Lego bricks for children, former elementary school teacher Stephanie M. Widrick has launched Bricks 4 Kidz.

Weeklong summer camps, after-school classes and birthday parties are hosted by the education-oriented business, Mrs. Widrick said. She completed training offered by the corporate franchise in St. Augustine, Fla., to launch the Watertown franchise this year. The business, which does not have a storefront, will host activities at the Watertown Fairgrounds YMCA, Cici’s Pizza and classrooms at the Watertown and Immaculate Heart school districts. Summer camps at the YMCA, offered for children ages 5 through 12, will kick off in July and run through August. Registration is available online at http://wdt.me/bo2z5v.

Bricks 4 Kidz is permitted by Lego to use its products for educational activities. Geared toward different grade levels, the curriculum enables children to complete a range of Lego projects with different themes and levels of difficulty, Mrs. Widrick said. Activities might range from creating simple animals, for instance, to building more complicated machines with moving parts powered by small motors. [Read more…]

Commissioner says radical change needed for U.S. Postal Service to survive

Postal Regulatory Commissioner Robert Taub spoke Thursday in Watertown. Norm Johnston / NNY Business

Postal Regulatory Commissioner Robert Taub spoke Thursday in Watertown. Norm Johnston / NNY Business

Radical changes have to be made to the structure of the U.S. Postal Service for it to survive, according to Postal Regulatory Commissioner Robert G. Taub, the keynote speaker during a luncheon Thursday at the Black River Valley Club on Washington Street.

Mr. Taub discussed the many hurdles facing the nation’s Postal Service at the luncheon, hosted by the Central New York Postal Customer Council. He has served as commissioner since October 2011, following his nomination by President Barack Obama and confirmation by the Senate. Before being appointed commissioner, Mr. Taub served as a special assistant for Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh since October 2009. He also served as chief of staff for Mr. McHugh over the preceding decade, when Mr. McHugh was a U.S. representative of the 23rd Congressional District.

To emerge from financial uncertainty, the business model of the Postal Service will have to be completely reinvented to reflect the actual mail use of Americans, Mr. Taub said. In 2013, total mail volume delivered by the agency dropped to the lowest levels seen in nearly 27 years, a decline that has continued this year. He attributed that decline to the economic recession that began in 2007, along with people increasingly using electronic media to communicate.

“The question now confronting our nation is, will the mail always be there?” Mr. Taub said. [Read more…]

United Way awards $356,600 to nonprofits in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties

The United Way of Northern New York has awarded $356,600 in grant funding to partner agencies in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties that was raised during its 2013 campaign.

Funding awarded by the agency is down from last year’s $430,000 because of a decrease in pledged donations, Chief Executive Officer Robert D. Gorman said. Even so, the agency was able to fund three agencies that didn’t receive grants last year: Family Counseling Service of Northern New York, the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County and ACR Health, Canton.

“Last year the United Way didn’t fund organizations for various reasons,” said Mr. Gorman, who succeeded Jayn M. Graves as head of the agency last summer. “But in a year in which our revenue is down, we were able to bring them back into the fold.”

The agency, led by volunteer committees that decide how funding is awarded, was able to provide funding to those three agencies by granting lower requests to others in some cases, Mr. Gorman said. In addition, the Children’s Home of Jefferson County’s board of directors decided not to make a funding request after receiving $20,000 last year.

“Some of our partner agencies actually requested less money this year because they knew our revenues would be down,” Mr. Gorman said.

For the 2013 campaign, the Jefferson County United Way Campaign raised $580,622, down from $598,622 raised in 2012; the St. Lawrence County campaign raised $113,299, down from $133,790, and the Lewis County campaign raised $60,486, up slightly from last year’s $60,055.

Pledged donations in 2013 by state employees through the State Employees Federated Appeal were down from 2012 in Jefferson/Lewis counties and St. Lawrence; funding raised by the Jefferson/Lewis campaign decreased from $79,270 to $68,456, while the St. Lawrence County campaign fell from $58,373 to $49,764.

The decline in financial support from large manufacturers in the region, which has occurred gradually over the last 40 years, has compelled the United Way to recruit more small businesses to become partners, he said.

“Historically, the United Way has depended on major manufacturing businesses for the majority of its funding,” he said. “We could go to a company with 500 to 1,000 employees and go to the employees to make pledges. But with the decline of manufacturing and increase in service jobs, we have to knock on more doors and convince more small businesses to participate in the United Way.”

The agency recently has made strides in recruiting new businesses to become United Way partners, and it will be increasing its outreach efforts this year.

“There were five or six companies in the last couple of months that are doing United Way campaigns,” Mr. Gorman said. “We’re forming committees in all three counties that will help knock on doors to talk with more businesses to become partners.”

Another hurdle for raising funds has been recruiting younger employees to make pledged donations, Mr. Gorman said. He said that many younger adults may not know about the critical role the agency plays.

“They’re not making the decision to invest in the community,” he said. “Nonprofits have been here for about an average of 30 years, and it’s not easy to know that it’s the citizens of the community that are needed for their survival. Every one of our nonprofits will say United Way funding is critical to their survival.”

As an example of the lifesaver role played by the agency, Mr. Gorman cited a $15,000 gift made by the United Way from its endowment fund to Family Counseling Service in December. “That funding helped us get them back in business,” he said.

A list of grants awarded by the United Way of Northern New York is available at http://wdt.me/JzDBsQ.

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer.