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.

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.

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

[Read more…]

Subtle, effective holiday season prep

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Temperatures are dropping, days are getting shorter and before we know it people will be shopping for the holidays. As much as some of us don’t like the early launch of holiday decorations and products, there are some more subtle ways that your business can be prepared to make the most of the season.

Be top of mind

People may start their gift shopping this month or they may wait until the last minute. Now is the time to be sure potential customers know you exist so that when they’re ready or motivated, they think of YOU, not the Internet or the big box store.

Plan to increase your marketing now; don’t wait until the week of Thanksgiving or put it off to December. Be active on social media to feed photos of new products or services (or gift certificates) frequently and at least once a week. You may consider doing sponsored posts to new markets beyond your existing fans so that they will “like your page” and receive your posts over the next couple of months. Informing people of what you have to offer is the first best step.

Get them in the door

Now is the time to schedule an event at your shop. A “do-it yourself” workshop, a tasting of some sort, a ladies night, a book signing, a demonstration — anything you can come up with to get your business on community calendars and in the news. In addition to publicity, you also get people to come to your location, see what you have available and begin a relationship with you and your staff. It is all in the name of fun as well as getting people through the doors and into your shop, browsing and buying.

Entice them

Photos are the best way to share what you have to offer, whether it’s a unique product, a delicious meal or a perfectly detailed car — again, think gift certificates. Now is the time to take high quality photos of your products and services, or invest in a photographer to do an even better job. You will use those photos multiple times over the next few months, in print ads, on social media — Facebook and Instagram — and on your website.

Make shopping easy

Think about the many ways you can get your product to market MORE during the next few months. Perhaps extending your hours or opening an extra day will allow more people to shop after work or in their free time. If you have a website that allows for Internet sales, e-commerce, get your items updated, use those professional photos and make sure your online store is functioning, attractive and easy to use. Link the web address to your email signature and your Facebook page. Did you know you can install a “SHOP” button on your business Facebook page? Promote your online store in your brick and mortar store, too.

Reward your loyal customers

Be proactive about getting your existing customers to shop with you this holiday season. You can create a coupon or postcard to hand to them with their receipt. You can plan a customer appreciation holiday party and pop the VIP invitation into their bag as they check out. Your existing customers provide your best word of mouth advertising and if you continue to treat them well, they will shop with you this holiday season.

If you take these and other simple steps NOW to plan for the holidays, the busy season will be less stressful and more profitable. Good luck and happy holiday planning.


Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 386-4000.