Building the North Country Economy

Sarah O’Connell

The American economy has changed greatly over the last half century, and we’ve seen a lot of those changes right here in the north country.  Most of our paper manufacturers have closed down, national chains have changed the faces of our downtowns and our many small dairy farms have merged into just a handful of large agricultural enterprises.   Our largest employers now are the military, the hospitals, the various levels of government and educational facilities.

                So what happens when someone doesn’t fit into one of those types of businesses?  Maybe they decide to start their own business.   Every year we at the Watertown SBDC talk to around 700 would-be entrepreneurs.  Of those, many just want to kick around an idea or need some basic assistance with getting the business set up. Others decide to go forward and obtain a startup or expansion loan. 

                Many of the small businesses we work with are what the U.S. Small Business Administration calls “nonemployer” firms, meaning they are a one-person operation with no employees.  We could call them “starter businesses” – usually they are quicker and less costly to start, and also to close.  The median age of a nonemployer business is six years, about four years less than an employer business.

                Furthermore, startups are less likely than established businesses to create jobs, again because during those crucial first five years, the new business may be just struggling to find its place in the market, much less adding employees.  Less than half the jobs created by startups still exist after five years, while expanding, older businesses account for 60 percent of small business job creation.   The share of employment that microbusinesses (those with fewer than 10 employees upon start up) contribute has declined over the past 30 years – from 15% in 1978 to 11.6 per cent in 2011.  (SBA.gov).

                With all that being said, small businesses are very important to the local economy.  Besides providing employment for a local resident, new businesses may bring new ideas to the area.  They can provide support services or products that free up larger employers to do what they do best.    Small businesses also generate tax income through self-employment, payroll taxes and sales tax collection.  They can also be more reactive and flexible to market trends. Just look at the rise of the craft beverage industry in our area,  or ethnic restaurants and small niche shops; I think they make our community a more interesting and enjoyable place to live than large metropolitan areas that are just lines of chain store after chain store.  

                How about lawn care providers, plumbers, small contractors, or snow plow operators (shout out here to my guy Mike!)?    Small hardware stores, bakeries, crafters, web designers, our local news sources, and professionals like lawyers, insurance agents and accountants are here to provide us with their goods and services; they know their community and may even be our neighbors.

                So sure, you may find the Internet is quick and easy to search for something, order and pay for it electronically; it might even offer a cheaper deal than what you’d pay locally, and hey! – free shipping!    But at the end of the day, what is that doing to help your local economy?  If you want to support the north country economy, it starts with spending your money right here and creating growth and job creation, one local purchase at a time.

                For fiscal year 2015-16, the advisors at the Watertown SBDC serving Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties saw 735 clients, spent 5,174 hours counseling, helped them create 167 new jobs and retain 53 jobs and assisted 51 clients in obtaining financing for business startup or expansion in the amount of $15,166,933.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  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.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

Why It Pays To Be Honest in Business

Joleene Moody

I’m going to share a personal story here, one that actually destroyed me emotionally. But only for a moment. When it was over, it gave me exactly what I needed to be a better leader. If you’re interested in being the best version of yourself, listen up. This has to do with being brutally honest, even at the cost of making a fool of yourself.

     I write books for professional men and women. Self-Help and How-To, mostly. When someone who needed a book written contacted me, his professional stature intimidated me a bit. So much so, that when he asked me what it would cost to write his masterpiece, I fumbled and jumbled my quote horribly. So much so, that I severely undercut myself.  Severely.

     He agreed to my teensy price and we ended our call. I was devastated. What had I done? Why didn’t I say anything? How could I possibly move forward, knowing I would be making mere pennies, thanks to my fumbly foolishness?

I had a choice to make:

1) I could either move forward and write his book for peanuts, or

2) I could call him back and tell him I made a mistake.

     If I went with option one, I knew I would regret it and hate every step of the process.

If I went with option two, I risked making a fool of myself and looking unprofessional.

     After wrestling with both options, I decided to go with option two. I decided to be honest, even if it meant I might look like a fool. Here’s what I said:

     “Mr. Author, I owe you an apology. For reasons I can’t quite explain, other than I became flustered while talking to you, I severely misquoted you. I said I would write your book for X dollars when the truth is, I should have quoted you four times that amount. I am so sorry. I don’t know how it happened or what I was thinking, but I would be doing myself and my clients a huge disservice if I moved forward writing your book for what I quoted you. I am so very sorry. I am embarrassed and humiliated. I understand completely if you want to move on and find someone else to write this for you.”

     And do you know what happened?

     He said he would like to move forward with me anyway.

     Yes, I was as stunned as you are.

     Mr. Author told me he valued my work and appreciated my honesty. He could hear in my voice how terrible I felt and understood I simply made a mistake.

     After we hung up, I had an unexpected emotional release and I cried.

     I cried because telling this man I made a mistake was very difficult.

     I cried because the perfectionist in me was still beating me up.

     I cried because I was honest and it felt good.

     I cried because I realized, even if he decided not to work with me, being honest and standing in integrity felt better than any check in my hand would.

     Choosing to be honest is actually a gateway to freedom. Had I lied to him or myself and moved forward anyway, I would have actually done more damage than good. One lie leads to another lie, which leads to another lie, which in turn leads to another lie. My emotional release was my body understanding that, and thanking me for being true to myself and to Mr. Author.

     If you want to feel free, take the route of honesty every time. Looking back, I can safely say that even if Mr. Author told me to go fly a kite, I still would have felt free and safe because I told the truth. There were no stories to protect and no lies to continue to weave.

     Decide to be honest, no matter what. None of us is perfect. All of us make mistakes. Besides, look what happened when I told the truth. I ended up getting paid what I should have from the beginning. See? It really does pay to be honest.

JOLEENE MOODY is a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Learn more at: www.joleenemoody.com

Creating an Effective Team

Vega Nutting

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams

Though I never imagined I would one day be working in Health Information Technology, today I am doing just that at the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. And when I look around at the team of women that support me at FDRHPO, I am always reminded how remarkable it is that we landed here together.

     At FDRHPO, we are right in the middle of a key transformation of our region’s healthcare system, working on a daily basis to improve the quality of care for our community, support our region’s healthcare providers and fill any gaps that may exist across the healthcare spectrum. Our agency is currently – and always has been – led by a woman, and it has several women in management roles.

     My direct team, which focuses on implementing the Patient-Centered Medical Home model in primary care offices throughout the north country, is made up of five women. We work closely together to support our agency’s mission, support the entire tri-county healthcare system, support our families and anyone else whose path we might cross throughout the day. As women, it’s just what we do.

     However, what we do in a day is just part of our story. The really interesting piece involves who we are, how we ended up in this field, and why we function as a great team in the male-dominated Information Technology sector.

     So, what makes an effective team? Forbes Magazine suggests that team chemistry might be more simple than we often think – “The most engaged and excited teams in the world can be found at your local park watching a Little League baseball game.”

     Working together towards a common goal, learning from past mistakes, encouraging one another, understanding individual roles, having a confident team leader, and even a little celebratory cheering when the team scores are all attributes of highly effective team. Forbes goes on to list five specific attributes of a highly successful team. They are:

  1. Having a Clear Vision – Being motivated not only by your company’s mission, but also by your own personal mission helps each individual team member realize how her personal contributions lend to the big picture.
  2. Having an Inspiring Leader – The best teams are led by people who communicate the vision, lead humbly and are open to feedback and criticism. They encourage employee development, leave the door open and delegate effectively.
  3. Team Cooperation – Teams that know how to work together and properly divvy up tasks gain the most from their group’s unique mix of knowledge and abilities.
  4. Constructive Communication – Teams are always a work in progress. That’s why the best teams are open to feedback and actively encourage constructive communication.
  5. Appreciation All Around – Just as the whole team cheers for a home run, effective teams cheer each other on for individual victories, big or small. Regularly recognizing each other’s work lets everyone know their effort is valued.

     I believe the women and men I work with demonstrate these qualities every day. Including myself, the women I work with directly do not have backgrounds in technology. We have worked as clinical nurses, nonprofit representatives, behavioral health specialists and even foreman supervisors. As a team, we use these skills with technology to achieve our own goals and the shared goals of our healthcare partners in this region.

     To conclude with a thought from Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success.”

     Regardless of the industry or project we are involved in, we must remember to work together and encourage all members of the team.

VEGA NUTTING is a is the Patient-Centered Medical Home Implementation Project Manager at the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization.Her background in is practical nursing and health administration. She is a PCMH Certified Content Expert and is working toward her national certification in project management.

How To Dominate Social Media

Joleene Moody

If your business isn’t showing up loud and proud on social media, you could be compromising your bottom line. You want to dominate the social airwaves and bring new clients and fresh opportunity with it. Your social success hinges on where you post and how much effort you put into it. Consider these options when posting on social media platforms that meet the likes of your business.

1) Schedule Your Posts

     Some businesses don’t consider this an option as they circulate the cyber airwaves. But continuous posting can pull more followers your way, especially on a platform like Twitter. Use apps like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to schedule hourly tweets. Include posts that inform, engage, and promote sharing. Your followers choose to trail you because of what you do or what you’ve posted in the past. Make them happy and share their posts as well. The more followers you have, the more you open the space to be recognized as the expert in your field. If you seek more sales and a powerhouse reputation, share great content and post regularly.

2) Use Video to Share Content

     When Twitter released Periscope, the response was both immediate and overwhelming. Within a few short months, small business owners and entrepreneurs across the globe were Livestreaming tips, stories, and useful information to followers. With a chat that allows comments and hearts for likes, Periscope is ideal for the business owner that wants to stay focused and instruct. Many followers convert to fans and clients for those that regularly use the app.

     If Periscope doesn’t thrill you, consider Blab, a social video platform still in its Beta stages. With four video seats and a chat section that allows hundreds of attendees to engage, Blab is shaping up to be the new wave of Podcasting. If the host allows, a single attendee can briefly take one of the video window seats and be heard. Blab chats can go on for hours. Some Blab users actually schedule 24-and-48 hour marathons. While this isn’t necessary, a short 30-minute show can prove invaluable for business owners that want to share content and elicit trust.

3) Use Platforms that Match Your Business

     You don’t have to exist on every social media platform to dominate in social media. For some businesses, determining which platform works best is a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be. Spending time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest can answer that question for you. If you are a coach or consultant, Facebook and Facebook Ads are where your tribe exists. If you are a social media or content marketer, Twitter may be where it’s at. And if you own a design or bakery business, Pinterest is the ideal platform for you. Overwhelming yourself with too many platforms can actually work against you. Choose two or three that fit your business well and shoot for the moon.

     Regular posting and highly valuable content will give you the exposure and leverage you need on social media. Offering information that is actionable is also key, as it leads followers to your website and other social platforms. Show up with integrity and your business will shine above all others.

JOLEENE MOODY is a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Learn more at: www.takeyourvoiceback.com

The Key to Downtown Revitalization?

Brooke Rouse

A vibrant downtown is on the top of nearly every community’s wish list; how to get there is the question. Livability is a word used in planning that refers to the aspects of a community that improve quality of life. If livability is high, people will want to live, work and play in the community and are invested and committed to its future. Factors include both built and natural elements, “economic prosperity, social stability and equality, educational opportunity and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities” as defined by the Partners for Livable Communities.

     A review of several “top rated downtowns” reveal some common threads, often referencing locations that have experienced the common theme of peripheral development draining downtowns, and a new surge of interest in bringing people and business back to the historic commercial centers. Of greatest importance is that a community has a vision statement. Ideally the vision statement is then translated into a comprehensive plan that includes action items and key stakeholders and partners. That vision will direct the priority, investment and character of some of the other elements noted here as “keys to livability.”

     Land Use and Zoning: Communities are diligently reviewing their zoning and land use laws to ensure they are updated and in line with the current vision for the community. Often the comprehensive plan may identify what the “downtown” is, which may be a certain area or street other than the Main Street. Many municipalities are operating off of old and sometimes irrelevant or counterproductive laws.

     Pedestrian Friendly: Access and safety for cyclists and walkers is a top priority in increasing downtown vitality. Widening streets, widening and connecting sidewalks and paths, installation and strategic placement of light posts and bike racks, along with beautification features such as landscaping and public art all entice more people, and families, to come and spend time in the downtown. Reduced noise and pollution, combined with increased public spaces for outdoor dining and music are defining “hip” downtowns.

     Private – Public Partnerships: Successful communities have mechanisms in place for residents to contribute financially to the success of the community, whether it is for a civic or commercial project. These financial “holdings” may be in the form of a crowd sourcing campaign, partnership with a bank or foundation, or as a part of the municipal government. Public funds are necessary (or encouraged) to leverage almost any grant opportunity through state and private foundations and are critical to move projects forward.

     Arts, Entertainment and the Creative Class: Top downtowns always include a number of things to entertain people…a key to quality of life. Identifying, supporting and leveraging art and culture; museums, venues, and events will ensure residents and visitors are enjoying their community. Additionally, what has been referred to as the creative class (by Livability.com and others) includes engaging and finding a meaningful place for artists, innovators, researchers and technology experts to work and share their work.

     These are some of the key Livability Factors. What do you see in your community? What are you missing? Why do live there and why do you consider leaving? These are all good questions for conversation in your community. In 2017, get engaged, join a committee, run for public office, start a private enterprise! Communities will thrive when populations are steady (growing), healthy and happy!

BROOKE ROUSE is president and CEO of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at brooke@slcchamber.org.

February 20 Questions: Eric Virkler

 

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY BUSINESS

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Organic Milk Production in Jefferson Co. and NYS

Agri-business column by Jay Matteson

Northern New York is one of the leading dairy-producing regions in New York State and the nation. Dairy farms in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined produced approximately 1.8 billion pounds of milk in 2010.  That is a lot of milk!  All three counties rank in the top 10 of dairy-producing counties in the state and top 50 counties in the United States.

                We are also seeing continued growth in organic milk production in our region. According to Sharad Mathur, chief operating officer with Dairy Marketing Services, it is estimated that Northern New York has over 100 dairy farms producing about 5 million pounds of pure organic milk every day. Nearly one-third of the organic dairy farms in the state are located in Jefferson and St Lawrence counties. There are conventional dairy farms interested in converting to organic dairy production, but are looking for good markets for organic milk.

                Organic milk is different than conventional milk in that certified organic dairy farms are required to follow strict guidelines that govern use of pesticides, herbicides and type of fertilizer applied to farms, the type of feed that can be used to feed cows and the management practices a farm may use to keep cows healthy. The price organic dairy farms receive for every one hundred pounds of milk they ship is generally higher than what conventional farms receive for their milk, but the cost of producing one hundred pounds of organic is generally higher than producing one hundred of conventional milk.

                We are now seeing a limited number of farms further differentiating their production method by going to certified grass-based milk production.  This certification required the farms to follow a different set of regulations regarding the use of grass in feeding cows on the farm. Certified grass-based farms receive an even higher premium than organic farms.

                In our efforts to attract new agribusiness into Northern New York from Europe, this diversity in our milk production is important.  Our office is currently talking with two dairy manufacturing companies that are interested in organic milk.  The fact that Northern New York produces pure, high-quality milk, and especially is a leader in organic milk production, is critical to our efforts. Our area has potential to grow our dairy production, especially organic milk production, and that is what these two companies are looking at.

                For the consumer, we are very fortunate to live in an area where you have choices between pure and nutritious choices in dairy products.  Our farmers are fortunate that our soils, temperatures and terrain provide opportunities for diverse production methods that suit the management styles of the farm owners. Whatever your preference is for great tasting dairy products, Northern New York provides some of the purest milk available.

 

North Country Downtown Development Builds New Opportunity

 

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business
Gary Beasley, director of Neighbors of Watertown, explains the layout and reconstruction of the commercial space in the former Empsall’s Building.

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January Small Business Startup: Little Friends Vet

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Flux in Canadian dollar impacts NNY economy

STEPHEN SWOFFORD / NNY BUSINESS
Gary DeYoung, executive director of the Thousand Islands International Tourism Council, stands in front of the Thousand Islands Bridge.

Despite exchange rate IMbalance between U.S. and Canadian dollar businesses maintain vision towards continued economic partnership

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