Is Your Business Planning (ahead) For A Successful Transition?

Michael Besaw

Across the north country region, family business owners are debating their future, and determining how the business they’ve worked diligently to create, will transition after they retire – is it letting a younger family member take the reins, or having a business valuation to prepare for an open market sell, or maybe moving to an employee-owned model; these are the complicated decisions that business owners in the north country are trying to navigate.

The ‘Need for a Transition Strategy’ estimates that more than 10,000 businesses in the Adirondack north country are owned and operated by Baby Boomers, who are planning to retire in the next few years in what has been referred to as the “silver tsunami”. Closure of these businesses means loss of services and tremendous loss of employment. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of businesses nationally have an exit strategy planned. This is where the inspiration came from for the Adirondack North Country Association’s “Center For Businesses In Transition” (CBIT) — a collection of public, private and nonprofit partners working together to provide the training, resources, and connection to existing services to support a business in creating their transition strategy, as well as matchmaking services, in an effort to match the newer generation of aspiring entrepreneurs with a business already established in the north country.

How Community Liaisons for the CBIT are helping
Transition planning isn’t often mentioned when passing a business down to the next generation, whether it’s family members or exploring less traditional transition options such as employee ownership models. In the north country region, there are community liaisons in Ticonderoga County, Franklin County, Hamilton County, Lewis County, and St. Lawrence County who are making the effort to connect with transitioning businesses to help them understand the process and how to plan for it. These individuals have been chosen for their understanding of area business and involvement in their communities are part of their county Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Agency, or the Small Business Development Center (SBDC); ensuring the sharing of resources, information and objectives.

Workshops Planned for Transitioning Businesses and Entrepreneurs
A top priority of the CBIT is helping businesses connect the dots to the resources available for transitioning. To accomplish this goal, the CBIT is holding monthly workshops across the north country from April to August. Each workshop covers an element of transitioning planning or the process of purchasing a business, including “Business Transitions Overview: Where do you start?”, “Preparing to Sell Your Business”, “Transitioning to Worker Ownership”, “Intergenerational Family Transitions, Creative Solutions & Alternative Structures”, and “Entrepreneurs: Taking over an existing business”. Registration and the date/time for the workshops are available online at www.adirondack.org/CBITWorkshop Series, or on the St. Lawrence County Chamber’s website www.SLCchamber.org.

Using the latest technology, the workshops will also be live streamed at “Viewing Parties” to offer a level of convenience to both businesses and entrepreneurs who are unable to travel to workshops out of their county. Workshops will also be recorded so that interested business owners can view them at their convenience and as needed in the future.

The Real Deal
Transition planning can take up to five years, and it’s never too early to get started. North Country business owners looking to transition their operations to new owners or a new ownership model, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs looking to take over an existing business, can contact the Center at transitions@adirondack.org or 518-891-6200 for more information or to be connected with a community liaison in your county.

Let’s work together to keep businesses in the north country and continue to grow the beautiful region that we all love to live, work and play in!

Michael Besaw is a native of Massena, and the Assistant Director/CBIT Liaison of the St. Lawrence County Chamber.

Best Stories Of the North Country Are Its Human Ones

Rande Richardson

“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.” — Author unknown

Funeral directors don’t deal well with mortality. Staring daily into the face of death has many effects, including a continual awareness of the fragility and transitory nature of life. At the same time, it has a way of helping sort through the things that matter, creating urgency around living your life with purpose and meaning.

    Last month, one of my funeral director mentors died at the age of 80. There were feelings of regret for not having had that last conversation, that last opportunity to say “thank-you” for the way he shaped my life. I learned so much from him and his son. In many ways, his funeral service served to provide the bridge to the next step in accepting a world without him in it. In that moment, too, as I witnessed the memorializing of someone who had always been on the other side of serving families in need, the importance of remembering became even more fundamental. In so doing, we remind ourselves that each of us, in our own time, is responsible for carrying on, just as those who have come before us.

    I am often asked where I work, what I do. In many ways, what I do is very similar to what I did as a funeral director. I am the temporary custodian of something preciously valued. I am honored with the duty of care in honoring the memory of our community’s people. Ultimately, the stories of the north country are its human ones; people who, during their lifetimes, lived, loved and cared in a way that affected others.

    I prefer to answer the question of why I do what I do. I feel a tremendous obligation to tell our community’s stories honorably in a way that helps ensure that those who have come before us are lovingly remembered. Perhaps more lasting, though, is how their lives provided an example of a continuum of care for where they spent their lives — the teacher who left an imprint on thousands, the doctor or nurse who was there to comfort and heal, the person from any walk of life who simply chose to make a difference. Not only is it right to honor these legacies, it is how others are inspired to continue that tradition.

    After a decade at the Community Foundation, I’ve been there long enough to carry out the wishes of those whom I had previous conversations regarding how they intended their support of important causes to endure when they were gone. Because of their thoughtful planning, they continue to support the people, places and organizations of the region with consistent, thoughtful, lasting care.

    At the end of the day, the things that make our community more than average are made possible by the work and mission of our region’s charitable organizations, through the support of donors of time, talent and treasure. Many caring citizens have partnered with nonprofit organizations as a tangible expression of their interests and values. These range from education, health care, a wide scope of human services, animal welfare, arts and culture, history and recreation.

    The early citizens who made gifts to build the Community Foundation did so long before many of today’s needs were clearly apparent. A donor in 1929 likely would not have anticipated the desire to offer hospice services in the region 50 years later. They would be pleased to know that the stewardship of their desire for a better community could impact lives in meaningful ways far into the future. It is hard to separate honoring one’s memory and telling the story of the forever effect of their existence. Just as matter is neither created nor destroyed, kindness, caring and generosity has an extended half-life. One way or another, each of us is forever part of our community’s story.

    In a recent CBS “On The Road” feature, Steve Hartman remembered his dad, stating “His death makes me an orphan. I can tell you this is a unique kind of emptiness. When there is no one left on earth to love you quite so unconditionally.” Sooner or later, we all can relate. “Although losing such a parent can feel like kryptonite, remembering them in all their glory can make your heart fly.”

We are at the intersection of today and tomorrow. Remember that our own lives will continue to ripple throughout our communities for a long time to come. Be ever aware of the story you were born to tell. Focus not only what you leave behind but what you made possible. Not so much for the gifts you give, but the love behind them. Do so with purpose so that others will want to remember you in ways that causes many more hearts to fly and the goodness in our communities and its organizations to endure across the generations.               

 

Women’s Roles in Agriculture Grow Strong

ALYSSA COUSE

I recently attended The New York Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Albany.  The theme of the meeting was “Young Farmers- The Future Agriculture Superheroes”.  It is no secret that the agriculture industry has experienced volatility in recent years, whether it be changing markets, new regulations, or extreme weather, so investing in the future of the industry is more crucial than ever.  Building versatile, resilient, invested young leaders is becoming more of a focus and as you look around the room, there is no doubt a growing proportion of lip gloss wearing, braid-bearing farmers. 

    The keynote speaker of the conference, Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Bayer Crop Sciences, discussed the importance of telling the story of farming and building relationships with consumers.  It is evident that this is a significant task, even just from the fact that millennial engagement and consumer relations are now job titles within agribusinesses.  More often than not, it is the mother, sister, aunt, etc. on the farm that takes on the role of managing social media pages, community events/tours, and newsletters. Most women have the inherent finesse to connect emotionally in creative ways, which is key to building relationships with consumers these days.  In addition to online or written outreach, many farms today are incorporating more opportunities for visitors to get a hands on experience. 

    Some farms take advantage of their home being a tourist destination and participate in some form of agritourism.  Agritourism involves encouraging visitors to a farm/ranch for any agriculturally based operation.  Activities offered can be equine boarding facilities, u-pick fruit and veggie patches, farm tours, hay rides, petting zoos, and open houses just to name a few! This can also be an extra source of income for farms and an opportunity to diversify from everyday production. Such experiences are quite literally being craved by consumers today as they yearn to learn more about when, where, and how their food came to be.  This need stems most directly from the fact that many young people today are four to five generations separated from the farming lifestyle.  What the agriculture industry once took for granted was the innate trust and knowledge of the food system that once was, when almost every family had a part in the production from dairy farms to road side stands.  Today, less than 2 percent of the population are involved in production farming.  Yes, those 2 percent are feeding themselves and the other 98 percent.  Thus, reestablishing people’s connections to their food and how it was produced is a growing need.

    Agritourism was another area we focused on at the recent conference, specifically the new Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act.  The “Safety in Agricultural Tourism Act,” now part of New York’s General Obligations Law (“GOL”), provides that owners and operators of agricultural tourism areas “shall not be liable for an injury to or death of a visitor if the provisions of General Obligations Law Section 18-303(1)(a) – (e) are met.” Statutory requirements for protection include directional signage, employee training, warning to visitors concerning inherent risks of farm activities, operator provided written information, visitor responsibility signage, posting of notice of right to a refund, and operator duties. In a nutshell, in order to protect visitors and business owners, there must be posted signage stating any potential risks and well trained employees to help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences.  When thinking about compliance for your agritourism business, think like a paranoid mother of a toddler! What can they get into? What could go wrong? Then make a sign warning against those actions.  For example, if guests are able to feed livestock treats, warn them to be cautious of being nibbled, because fingers look a lot like carrots. It is important to make signage specific to the operation and not just post a few general warning signs. To ensure that coverage requirements are met, it is best to work with a lawyer.  

    For more information: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/Inherent_Risk_Guidance.pdf

    Women’s roles in agriculture continue to grow exponentially.  Based on observations of the crowd at recent leadership conferences, you can expect the female voice to become louder throughout the industry in the years to come.  In addition to becoming great farmers, they will become leaders in technology, marketing, and communications.

Benefits of Owning Commercial Real Estate

Kiah Surgue

As a business owner, you should be aware of the many advantages to owning the commercial real estate where your business is located.  In order to pursue owning, you have to have a solid financial profile and a clear vision for growth.  Investors are more apt to lend to businesses with value and assets, combined with a low amount of debt compared to owner’s equity.  This is important to ownership and access to capital.  Ultimately this type of business investment can serve as a stable foundation for future commercial success. 

    The interest savings on purchasing versus leasing commercial real estate is huge.  When carrying a mortgage on the property, a portion of each monthly payment goes to principal and a portion goes to interest.  A business owner can use the interest portion as a tax deduction.  So, a property valued at $500,000 with 20 percent down, a 20-year term and an interest rate of 4.5 percent has total payments of $607,000 over the course of 20 years, of which $207,000 goes directly to interest.  Thus, a third of the total payments can be deducted over the term, a major tax bonus.

    Property tax write-offs are another advantage to owning commercial real estate.  When you own property, you are responsible for village, county and school taxes which are deductible expenses that can offset business income and business tax liability.  

    Additionally, depreciation on commercial real estate is a benefit come tax time.  All assets but the land will depreciate in value as soon as they are purchased, including the roof, siding, furnace, sinks, toilets, decking etc.  The IRS allows the depreciation of a residential rental unit over 27.5 years and a commercial building over 39 years.  For example, if you purchase a residential rental for $1 million, the annual depreciation that can be written off is about $36,000. 

    Many other tax deductions are available when owning a business.  Any maintenance or renovations done to the property are deductible, as well as purchases of equipment, furniture, fixtures, and inventory and working capital for common area maintenance charges, insurance, phone, electric, internet, office and supply expenses.

    Some investors purchase commercial real estate as a long term retirement investment to generate a valued asset, knowing that the capital gains tax rate on the sale of a building will generally be lower than the personal tax deduction associated with a traditional IRA.  This is another reason that owning commercial real estate can be favorable.

    Looking way ahead, if you plan to leave the property to a beneficiary such as a spouse, family member, partner etc. and they decide to sell the property, they will only pay taxes on the increased value from the time of the owner’s passing.  This is referred to as a post-sales tax savings and is another benefit to ownership. For example, a business owner purchases a commercial property for $1 million and it appreciates to $4 million over time.  Then the owner passes, the property goes to the beneficiary and the beneficiary sells the property for $5 million; the beneficiary only owes taxes on $1 million. What a tax savings!

    The benefits to owning your commercial property may outweigh leasing or renting a space.  If you have a business that is in a solid financial position, consult with your team of experts such as your business advisor, attorney, accountant and banker to see what your next move should be. 

                The New York State Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  They also offer an entrepreneurial training course with presentations by area professionals in law, marketing, accounting, etc.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu. 

Turnovers Are For Breakfast, Not the Workplace

KRISTEN AUCTER

One of the biggest issues facing employers is the rate of turnover. Employers are coming to realize that more often than not a quality work environment is high on the list of priorities to the average employee. Turnover is fairly common for all businesses but can have a massive impact on an organization. Turnover is disruptive, costs money, and impacts employee morale. While the financial cost is difficult to measure, effects can include things like increased workloads, overtime expenses, and reduced productivity that is often found with low employee morale. That isn’t even including things like recruitment costs or the time and money that are put into training the new people. Turnover will never be 100 percent preventable but we can at least try to manage it better.

    Every business should attempt to have some sort of strategy in place to keep employees. The following are a few ideas to start that strategy:

Saving Money

  • Do you have businesses in your neighborhood that are willing to trade with you? Is there a restaurant that would agree to employee discounts for your employees that frequent there? Network and make connections that could benefit your employees or employees on both sides.
  • Celebrate employee’s work anniversary with a check or savings bond.
  • Add pet illnesses to the list of approved uses of sick time.
  • Buy movie tickets in bulk and make them available at a discount to employees.

Valuable Time

    If there’s one thing organizations can often offer with the most gain with the least pain, it’s time off and flexible work schedules.

  • Give employees the option of working an adjusted schedule that helps them with family, school, or personal preferences.
  • Provide a once-a-month pass for a longer lunch hour with the understanding that the time doesn’t have to be made up later.
  • Give employees a free floating vacation day on their birthday.
  • Depending on seasonal workloads, add seasonal hours to your official benefits.
  • Open the office late or leave the office early on special days that show employees you care about their dedication to their families and personal lives too (First or last day of school, Halloween, Christmas Eve etc.)
  • If no face-to-face meetings are necessary and work can be done via laptop, establish a work-from-home policy one day a month.

Time off and having a say in determining their own work schedule can be a huge benefit for staff morale and employee retention.

Recognition

    Employees who are recognized for their contributions to the cause generally have higher levels of job satisfaction, are more likely to be motivated and exhibit better retention rates.

  • Just saying the words “thank you” goes a long way. Not a verbal appreciation type of person? Send an email. Copy the manager or supervisor to celebrate achievements up the chain of command.
  • Send monthly “Kudos Kards” to your team or department pointing out successes in the department.

Let your employees feel appreciated. The loyalty earned will take your business far beyond your wildest expectations.

Drive

    Studies show there is a huge connection between staff morale and retention.

  • Free coffee is pretty regular but how about adding water or tea in the mix? Offer healthy snacks in the break room.
  • A local chiropractor or masseuse might be willing to come in and do 10-minute chair massages for free in order to advertise their business.
  • A Free-the-Feet Friday can make employees feel right at home if work conditions allow for slippers or sandals; add a dollar amount that gets dedicated to a local non-profit.
  • Create a canine-friendly workplace – More and more companies are allowing dogs in the workplace. Companies that allow pets have reported a lower rate of absenteeism and a more productive environment.
  • Put your employee’s time first. Are there regularly scheduled meetings that confuse attendees and take up valuable time that could be used more efficiently elsewhere? Are you micro-managing when an employee has proven time and time again they are up to the task? It’s time to stop and consider that this might be sending a message to your staff that you don’t trust their skills and that their time doesn’t really matter.
  • Encourage employees to walk away from technology. Schedule a few 20-minute breaks a week to just spend time together and catch up. Form a group that would like to do a daily afternoon walk to get air and exercise.
  • Keep them happy with little things:
  • A note on their desk in the morning when they come in acknowledging a small scale success.
  • An incentive program that allows them to save up for time off or bonus pay.
  • Got Snow? Create a phone tree among your departments and allow for surprise no-snow snow days when the winter days really start to get everyone down.

Employees that feel appreciated and valued are less likely to leave their jobs.

Communication

    People like to know what is going on. Keeping employees involved and “in the loop” can help keep them satisfied. Organizations and business with open communication tend to have more loyal employees. When employee viewpoints are taken into consideration while making changes and adjustments they will continue to pay more attention to productivity and efficiency. A statement heard more often than not is … “I loved my job… just not my manager.”

  • When adding tasks to an employee’s workload be sure to ask them what is already on their plate and assist them on prioritizing what is there. Don’t expect them to read your mind.
  • How effective are your evaluation process? Most employees desire feedback on jobs done and again, including them in conversations when setting future goals will create ownership of those goals.
  • Try to keep employees informed of decisions early and explain your thought process so they understand where you’re coming from. While they might not necessarily agree with decisions made they will know that you put ample time into coming to the decision.

Highly effective organizations rely heavily on communication to meet deadlines, produce products and encourage customers and clients to return.

    Create an environment where your employees feel valued and like they are a part of the success of the business. Allow them to take on new roles and responsibilities and grow their skill set to understand the business from a more holistic point of view. Obviously, not all of these ideas fit every work environment. There are deadlines and quotas to meet and customers to keep happy. But if you can find a few that might fit with what you have going on the results will more than likely surprise you.

 

Access to Quality Child Care Can Strengthen Our Region

Max DelSignore

There are many factors to consider when determining the quality of life in a prospering community. One of the key pillars to a thriving community is access to education.

    The education provided by north country school districts and higher education institutions remains robust as the needs of our region evolve. However, research shows the greatest and most critical development in young children takes place from ages of 18 months to age 4. More than 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age 5. The availability of quality child care and early childhood development programs becomes a focal point for not only the healthy growth of local children, but the community as a whole.

The LEAD Council of the Northern New York Community Foundation is examining this community need more closely. The advisory committee of more than 20 young professionals recently launched its “LEAD Impact Grant Program,” which is designed to address strategic needs affecting residents of all ages in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The Council representing the tri-county area researched the issue and convened with local experts to identify meaningful support in child care and early childhood development as a community priority.

    Many nonprofit organizations, school districts and local agencies offer support in child care and early childhood development. While some programs receive federal funding to operate, other agencies scramble to secure appropriate resources and staff to optimize their programming. A compromise in the quality of programs is likely to hinder the preparedness of children entering kindergarten and grade school. Children are not only challenged with fundamentals in education, but with development of cognitive and social skills as well.

    “It is a simple and an incredibly complex fact that a person’s earliest years set the stage for the rest of their life,” said Joanna Loomis, a LEAD Council member and director of provider strategy and transformation at the North Country Initiative. “The quality of child care services for any child, along with other factors that influence their early development such as housing, family relationships and nutrition, all intersect to inform not only that child’s well-being, but by extension, that of their community.”

    LEAD is an acronym that means Leadership, Engagement, Access, and Direction. The LEAD Council and the Community Foundation announced in February up to $25,000 in grant funding is available to tri-county nonprofit organizations with a mission to provide services and support in child care and early childhood development. The focus areas for this grant opportunity are programs, advocacy, accessibility, and opportunities to support staff through training and professional development. Nonprofits, as well as other publicly supported organizations, such as school districts and municipalities, are eligible to apply for funding. The application deadline is April 19, and grant awards will be announced in September.

    “Although our grant is not a fix-all, we felt strongly that we could make a significant impact in this field with the potential that our grant is a step toward overall betterment,” said Andrew Boulter, LEAD member and a lifelong Watertown resident.

    Across the country, advocacy for quality child care and early childhood development is building momentum. Some municipalities have built partnerships and initiatives into their strategic plans to focus on providing growth and sustainability to support early childhood development. Bruce Stewart, the executive director of the St. Lawrence Child Care Council, noted that raising awareness of the gaps in support is one of the north country’s greatest challenges. Recent results from the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College reflects good or fair outcomes related to availability of child care in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. But local municipalities continue to evaluate feasible models to make improvements.

    “Child care and early childhood development should be thought of as infrastructure when it comes to community planning,” said Jennifer Voss, LEAD member and senior planner with the City of Watertown. “It’s an integral part of economic development. Parents who cannot find secure, affordable day care are not able to work outside of their homes. Child care is more than taking care of children, it’s a vital component to a community’s quality of life.”

    Investment in a child’s education and development begins well before the first steps into a kindergarten classroom. The LEAD Council and its “LEAD Impact Grant Program” will help continue the conversation and serve as a catalyst to augment support for optimal child care and early childhood development efforts in our region. As our communities evolve and grow it is important that we are mindful of properly nurturing our young children to give them the best chance to succeed in Northern New York.

 

Improve your Content (and Grow) in Three Easy Steps

Jessica Piatt

If you’re new to the rapidly expanding world of social media, welcome! It’s a fun place where individuals can create, organizations can expand their brand, and businesses can profit.  It can also be an intimidating world for any user, let alone someone doing it in a professional capacity with little to no experience using social media as a tool to market a service or product.  I’m going to give you the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media. Thus, improving your brand awareness.  If you’re ready to commit to investing in your brand’s success on social media, then these steps can help you accomplish that goal. 

Start with Looking Ahead

    Planning is key when it comes to content creation.  When you look ahead, you’re taking the time to consider your brand’s consistency, your target audience, and what you can offer.  This is to say that you are planning with a purpose.  This is an important habit to initiate because it is crucial to transforming your social media presence.  In my last contribution, I went into this concept in further detail in a piece titled Invest in Your Businesses Online Presence.  In this column, I intend to build on the notion by recognizing it as a paramount pillar in your endeavor to improve your content and increase your growth. Planning with a purpose plays a critical role in your cohesive strategy to improve your content by establishing the ground work for your approach.

Quality Visuals Count

    Now that you’re in the habit of planning with a purpose (or on your way there soon) it’s time to talk visuals. Visuals are a key component to any marketing strategy.  They are an effective method of making memorable impressions that can be converted to meet a call to action.  And people like them!  With visual content continuing to yield higher engagement rates than text alone, employing this tactic to your overall strategy, as laid out in step one, will produce real results.  However, keep in mind that quality over quantity holds power when it comes to the visuals you associate with your brand.  The photos and videos you post should fit well into your organization’s visual brand, keeping the audience in mind.  It’s true that a picture’s worth a thousand words, but who are you talking to? The visuals you use should resonate with your audience.  Take photos that both represent your brand and hit your target audience (it’s 2019, this can be easily done by using your smart phone) then post them to the appropriate platforms.  When you maintain your brand, act with purpose, and produce quality visuals, it will show in your content. Now, you can take this practice a step further.  Consider which posts are generating higher engagement rates and respond by giving your followers more of what they demand.  Quality visuals, produced within the parameters of your visual brand, made for your audience will enhance your efforts to improve your content and grow your brand.

Words Absolutely Matter

    Having a brand voice is an essential part of success when it comes to social media.  Using a brand voice gives your audience a consistent feel that maintains your brand’s identity and helps build relationships.  Think about the words you type and how they can help you connect. At the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce we believe that when people make meaningful connections, it leads to growth.  It is for this reason why we provide opportunities for businesses, networking experiences for professionals, and encourage organizations across northern New York to use social media intentionally.  The next time you write copy for purposes of social media, do so with your brand’s voice.  Write for your target audience and be consistent with your messaging.  This practice will help your content feel familiar and better resonate with your audience.  Consequently, writing in your brand’s voice will make your content more impactful, therefore improving your connections and growing your brand.

    Well executed content is vital to growing your presence on social media.  In taking the necessary steps to improve your content, you’re committing to the development of your brand.  Utilize the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media.  Implement planning to establish a foundation, use quality visuals made for your audience, and consistently write in your brand’s voice.  These simple, yet effective, steps will result in improved content and yield growth.

United Way Partnerships Boost NNY Programs

Bob Gorman

Prior to this gig at the United Way of NNY, I was a journalist for 39 years. After interviewing a lot of people over the years and paying attention to what they said one day and then what they said the next, I concluded – only half-jokingly – that I became adept at diagnosing mental illness. I just didn’t know how to treat it.

    Frankly, I am no good at helping anybody who needs serious help. For instance: You have an addiction? Just say no. You’re depressed? Snap out of it.  In other words, I don’t have the right words when it comes to truly helping people.

    But helping the helpers? I figured out a long time ago that THAT is something I can do.

    At the United Way the easiest way to see that help is in the $420,000 or so in grants we make every year to our nonprofit partners. But there’s more to helping the helpers than just money.

    In the last five years we have produced programs with nationally recognized speakers to support the work of agencies that make a difference in the lives of thousands of north country citizens.

That includes:

  • Former NFL All-Pro Joe Ehrmann on the subject “The three lies every boy is told on what it means to be a man.” St. Lawrence Renewal House, Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, Catholic Charities, Mountain View Prevention and Lewis County Opportunities joined us in bringing Ehrmann to SUNY Canton, Massena and Lowville school districts and Jefferson Community College.
  • Olympic Champion Carl Lewis on organ donation, in which we partnered with Jefferson Community College and area health agencies, including the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.
  • Roger Breisch, who has spent 15 years on regional and national suicide hotlines. His talk “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” was attended by more than 4,000 area high school students. We partnered with the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, and the north country’s suicide coalitions, made up of representatives of dozens of human service nonprofits.

Partnering has allowed us to create the highly successful Food 4 Families programs at the Watertown City School District. By working with officials from the district and city, we developed a program through the Food Bank of CNY that allows the district to provide weekend food to 100 students a week during the school year. The advantages for the district are many: The food is less expensive than from a commercial store; it is already vetted for nutritional value; it is delivered directly to the school district by the food bank.

    Several years ago, a roof leak at the Salvation Army in Watertown forced the agency to close its soup kitchen for a week. But after we made a few phone calls, we put together a temporary daily lunch at the Watertown First Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall with the food prepared by the Mental Health Association of Jefferson County.

    (As an aside, we contract with the Mental Health Association once a year for our annual awards luncheon for state workers who make payroll deduction donations to area nonprofits. If you need to feed 30 or 40 people and want good food at a good value, you should contact the Mental Health Association at (315) 788-0970).

    Partnering works for us. A few years ago we rallied 35 businesses to provide a day of free labor to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in Carthage. And every fall we ask businesses to support our county food drives. Watertown Savings Bank and Northern Credit Union generate huge shipments of food every year, and added to the donations large and small from so many others, we generated 24,000 items that were shared by every pantry in Jefferson County.

    And we partner with individual companies, such as the Wladis Law Firm, to create adult education scholarships, which are awarded through Lewis County Opportunities, St. Lawrence Community Development Program and Community Action Planning Council.

    Helping the helpers is the best way to understand community service. Personally, I have no interest in providing anyone medical care. But donating blood through the Red Cross? Now you’re talking. After donating 13 gallons of blood in the last 50 years I can say without fear of contradiction that blood donation is the lazy man’s way to save a life. You sit on a table for 20 minutes while reading your smart phone, and then they give you snacks and apple juice. It’s the best deal in town.

    Let’s face it: The people who DO help people have a pretty tough row to hoe. Working with people who suffer through poverty, addiction, developmental disabilities, etc., often means a lot of days where progress can be hard to find, and relapse is a constant threat. If the rest of us don’t provide help through board membership, volunteer help and financial donations, those services will wither.

    At the United Way, we are committed to ensuring our community continues to help the helpers.

DEC Plays Critical Role in Strong Local Economies

Randy Young

If asked, few people would associate the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with economic development. However, DEC plays a critical role in maintenance and improvement of local strong economies. Indeed, our mission statement says that we protect and enhance the environment in part to protect the “…overall economic and social well-being …” of the people of the state.

    A few examples of DEC directly supporting local economies include our programs to clean up blighted properties with the hopes of redevelopment and returning these properties to the tax rolls.

    DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) was established to support private-sector cleanups of contaminated properties and reduce development pressure on greenfields.  Tax credits are provided to parties that perform cleanup activities under the BCP to offset the costs associated with site investigation and cleanup, site preparation, and property improvements. Specific examples of sites that have been redeveloped under the BCP include abandoned gas stations, former factory and mill complexes, and foundries.

    DEC also assists with the cleanup of abandoned gas stations and other petroleum spill sites through the New York State Spill Fund. Within DEC Region 6, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oneida and Herkimer counties, DEC spent approximately $1 million in 2017-2018 to clean up six sites within the city of Rome, and we’re poised to invest an additional $1 million this year on nine sites in St. Lawrence County. 

    Once these cleanups are complete, the municipalities will be able to market the properties for redevelopment and place them back on the tax rolls. 

    Millions of dollars in grants are also awarded to assist local communities with infrastructure improvement assistance. In Jefferson County, the village of Adams was recently awarded a Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) grant of $1 million for extensive improvements to its 38-year-old wastewater treatment facility. These improvements to the nearly 40-year-old wastewater treatment facility include the addition of disinfection equipment, which will substantially reduce the number of microorganisms discharged into Sandy Creek.

    “This award supports a much-needed project that the village of Adams has been planned for some time, and the grant will help the village to move it forward,” said David Rarick, DEC Region 6 regional water engineer.

    The WQIP program is a competitive, reimbursement grant program that funds projects that directly address documented water quality impairments. The village of Adams, plus 10 other municipalities and not-for-profits in Region 6 received WQIP awards totaling nearly $4.5 million.

    The town of Theresa was awarded $325,000 to build a new salt storage facility at the town’s highway department, while Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) was awarded $555,771 for a land acquisition project for source water protection. TILT plans to place perpetual conservation easements on six parcels of land totaling more than 310 acres of undeveloped habitat and three miles of vegetated shoreline and riparian habitat in the town of Clayton. This project will protect riparian vegetation, natural shoreline, and the surface water quality of the St. Lawrence River.

    The awards were announced mid-December 2018 and affect many statewide communities. Governor Cuomo announced more than $103 million in grants for a statewide total of 124 projects. While all WQIP projects will improve water quality, reduce the potential for harmful algal blooms and protect drinking water statewide, these funds provide an economic benefit, as well. Communities that can improve and expand wastewater collection and treatment capacity are better positioned to accommodate residential and commercial growth opportunities.

    “Access to clean water is critical to the health, safety, and economic wellbeing of our communities. With Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York is investing millions of dollars to protect and restore invaluable water resources statewide and addressing growing threats like harmful algal blooms,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

    In other promising economic news, 12 municipalities in Region 6 received Engineering Planning Grant (EPG) awards totaling about $600,000. This includes $30,000 for the village of Dexter Wastewater Treatment Plant Disinfection Study. The EPG program funds engineering studies that will ultimately lead to wastewater treatment improvement projects that can be funded through the WQIP or other funding opportunities.

Randy Young is the regional attorney and acting regional director. He has been with the DEC for 25 years.

Realtor Association Awards, Inaugurate Boards of Directors

Lance Evans

December marks the end of the elected year for both the St. Lawrence County and the Jefferson-Lewis Boards of Realtors.  Both held their annual meetings which included the election and inauguration of new officers and directors and honoring those departing the Board of Directors. It also is the time of year that various awards are given and funds are raised for various community organizations.

St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors

    The St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors marked the end of the year with a lunch at the Gran View Restaurant in Ogdensburg on Dec. 14.  The occasion included awarding the Association’s first ever Realtor of the Year and Affiliate of the Year, a very successful auction conducted by Scott Boyer with proceeds going to area Neighborhood Centers, as well as inaugurating the 2019 Board of Directors.

    The Affiliate of the Year award is given to a non-Realtor member or member company.  Affiliates include bankers, lenders, home inspectors, media companies, etc. who have an interest in the real estate industry, but are not licensed to sell or appraise real estate. The award was given to Julie Derrigo-Inschert of Fairport Mortgage. Julie, a member for almost 30 years, was praised as having a high degree of knowledge about the industry, treating real estate buyers as VIPS, and having a level of commitment, professionalism, and compassion that makes her an asset to her profession.

    St. Lawrence County’s Realtor of the Year award is given to a realtor member (broker, appraiser, associate broker, or salesperson) who has made contributions to the realtor profession and their community.  This inaugural award was given to Jennifer Stevenson, broker-owner of Blue Heron Realty in Ogdensburg.  A member since 1990, Jennifer has held many offices locally including several terms as president. She served as the Adirondack Region Vice President for the NYS Association of Realtors (NYSAR) from 2009-2010, the 2018 NYSAR Secretary-Treasurer, and will be NYSAR’s President-Elect in 2019.  Jennifer also serves on the Ogdensburg City Council and has been president of her Rotary Club, president of Ogdensburg’s Chamber of Commerce, and is active in the SPCA.

    Jennifer Stevenson, in her capacity as a NYSAR Officer, also oversaw the inauguration of the 2019 Board of Directors. The 2019 President will be Richard J. Wood.  The rest of the team will be Brittany Matott (vice president), Elizabeth Trego (treasurer), Doug Hawkins (secretary), Debbie Gilson (immediate past president), Wendy Smith (state director), and three-year directors, Gail Abplanalp, Tracy Bernard, and Joel Howie.  Also recognized during the lunch was Amanda Kingsbury who served as Treasurer in 2017 and 2018.

Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors

    The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors held its holiday dinner and inauguration on the evening of Dec. 13 at Watertown’s Hilton Garden Inn. Music for the evening was provided by Chuck Ruggiero.  During the dinner, the departing members of the Board of Directors were recognized, the 2019 Board of Directors were installed by NYSAR Central Region VP Don Radke, an Affiliate of the Year was named, and an auction was held which benefitted several charities including the Salvation Army, Watertown Urban Mission and Hospice.

    Northern Credit Union was recognized as the 2018 Affiliate of the Year.  Some of the reasons cited were their support for programs put on by the Realtor Association and the Women’s Council of Realtors Network, as well as their employees’ professionalism, knowledge, responsiveness, and enthusiasm.

    The Jefferson-Lewis Board will be led by Alfred Netto as 2019 President.  He will be assisted by Britt Abbey (president-Elect), Katharine Dickson (vice president), Mary Adair (treasurer), Nancy Rome (recording secretary), and Desiree Roberts (corresponding secretary). Rounding out the leadership team will be three-year directors Elizabeth Miller, Cindy Moyer, and Vickie Staie as well as one-year directors Daniel Bossuot and Michael Hall and State Director Walter Christensen.  Honored for their service as they departed the Board were Lisa Lowe (corresponding secretary) and Randy Raso (three-year director).

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.