For The Love Of Community: Superheroes without Capes

Lt. Col. Jamie Cox

The people who’ve made Northern New York home have come from all over America. The vast majority have generational connections to the north country. However, some arrived on orders from the Army. Others journeyed north to raise their family. A few came to be part of something special. 

    There is an extraordinary breed of individuals amongst us who rise above the the rest. They are servants to the community. 

    The list of whom they serve unfortunately runs long. There are victims of domestic violence, families struggling with food insecurity, people who fight mental health conditions, individuals who have become casualties of the opioid crisis, infants born to homeless mothers, veterans in search of work opportunities, adolescents struggling with self-identity, and seniors who can’t afford much needed prescriptions. 

    These selfless servants carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The stories they hear from their clientele haunt their dreams. And despite the low pay and lack of benefits, they continue to perform miracles day after day. 

    For most who serve, it is a calling: a vocation to help the most vulnerable members of our community. The paychecks they receive are reliant on the generosity of good people, philanthropic foundations and companies who embrace corporate responsibility. When funding dries up, they learn to do more with less. 

    They are desperate for career and job skill training, a cost of living pay raise, benefits, and a clean and professional facility to conduct their business. 

    When they see nationally renowned charitable organizations throwing lavish parties for donors and executives, our local servants cringe at how that image imposes itself on their own company. They fear the effects of the economy on people’s ability to give. They know societal philanthropy is decreasing year after year. 

    And yet they continue to serve. 

    The employees of nonprofit organizations throughout NNY serve to give friends, neighbors, and even strangers hope for a better future. They are passionate to make our part of the country a better place for everyone to live. They do it for the children, seniors, arts, environment and individuals and families in crisis. It’s a willingness to live a simpler life because the sense of fulfillment and pride is more than any paycheck could convey. 

    So to all of those who serve, thank you. Thank you for holding the hand of a teen who’s going through violent withdrawals from drugs and for providing care for toddlers while their parents work. Thank you for teaching people to read and for hugging the senior who’s not able to leave their home. Thank you for driving the veteran to his appointment in Syracuse and for teaching people how to interview for a job. Thank you for feeding the hungry and for educating our children about the dangers of substance abuse. Thank you for guiding teens who have identity challenges and bringing music to our communities. Thank you for protecting victims of domestic violence and for filling propane tanks in the winter. Thank you for saving the river, lake and our forests. Thank you for sacrificing your financial security and for incurring greater personal debt to pursue a life in service to others. 

    Thank you from all of us to all of you who put our neighborhoods and communities ahead of yourselves. You deserve more. You are all – truly – superheroes. 

Lt. Col Jamie Cox, a combat decorated and wounded US Marine Corps (Retired) aviator, is currently the President and CEO of the United Way of Northern New York. He can be reached at

Turnovers Are For Breakfast, Not the Workplace


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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


The Rise and Fall of Unemployment

Cheryl Mayforth is the director of The Workplace.

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Biennial survey shows Jefferson County employers plan to hire

Nearly half of the employers in Jefferson County plan to hire workers in the next two years, according to a biennial survey conducted by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency from March 7 to May 1.

According to the survey — which included 76 employers in Jefferson County — 44.4 percent plan to increase their staff in the next two years; 41.7 predict their staff will stay the same, while 13.9 expect to have fewer employees.

Those results are much improved compared with the 2011 survey, which had 81 respondents that included employers from Lewis County. Results in 2011 showed that only 23.1 percent of employers planned to add to their staff over the next two years; 62.8 percent predicted their staff would stay the same, and 14.1 percent thought they would downsize. [Read more…]

State, Alcoa strike deal to keep 900 jobs, low-cost power

Alcoa employees listen to U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand during a press conference at Alcoa Massena Operations, East Plant. Senator Gillibrand was promoting Made In America Manufacturing Act, legislation to help bolster high-tech manufacturing in the North Country. Photo by Melanie Kimbler-Lago/Watertown Daily Times.

Alcoa has committed to investing $42 million to modernize its Massena aluminum production facilities, preserving 900 jobs for the north country, in a deal with the state that guarantees a long-term supply of low-cost electricity from the New York Power Authority.

The critical development, announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the close of business Friday, was met with enthusiasm and a huge sigh of relief from community leaders who had been anxiously awaiting Alcoa’s decision as a Sunday deadline approached. The official announcement is scheduled for today in Massena. [Read more…]

Hot jobs for the future

Despite recruiting challenges, health care and manufacturing poised for growth

Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services trains both high school students and adults in technical fields such as nursing and with skills such as welding for careers in the manufacturing field. Photo by Norm Johnston/NNY Business.

As the country heads into 2013 with high expectations for continued economic recovery, the focus in Northern New York and across the United States remains solidly on jobs and job growth. As unemployment rates in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties waver from month to month, no tried and true trend lines have emerged. But business leaders across the north country are optimistic that job growth is in the immediate future. Developing a strategy for growing jobs and identifying potential markets for industries that bring jobs with them has been at the forefront of dozens of discussions in the past several months.

While economists are leery to express too much joy over a growing jobs market, the New York State Department of Labor released a statement in late December outlining how the state added 83,500 private sector jobs last year and the statewide unemployment rate fell from 8.7 percent to 8.3 percent. Industries with the highest rate of growth statewide included professional and business services, educational and health services and trade, transportation and utilities, adding a collective 98,100 jobs in the state. [Read more…]

Corporate park plan at Watertown airport gains momentum

Local government leaders have mulled launching a corporate business park at the Watertown International Airport near Dexter since 2006, to be located on 45 acres of land owned by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency east of the airport’s taxiway.

Now, after years of inaction, they hope to start work in earnest by purchasing additional property and developing a business plan. [Read more…]

Putting job-seekers to work

Staffing firms connect the north country with opportunities

Robert J. Penski, owner of Penski Inc., outside his business at 50 Market St. in Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter.

The job hunt can be a tedious, yet gratifying, frustrating and fulfilling journey. Sometimes the search for work is in one’s field. Other times, job seekers decide — or are forced — to switch gears and take a completely different path.

Despite the reasons for the hunt, work force firms and staffing agencies are bringing the job search full circle bigger and better than before. Even during an economic downturn, these companies continue to help people and businesses find ways to thrive without enduring major financial challenges.

[Read more…]

JCIDA to entice developers to hire local labor

Developers seeking tax breaks from the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency will be required to say whether they will hire local labor to complete projects.

While the agency always informally has encouraged development companies to hire local workers, the board of directors decided Thursday to retool the agency’s application requirements for projects so developers will complete a form detailing how many local workers they’ll hire.

The move was made after the agency heard concerns last month from Dennis C. Affinati, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 910, that local union workers weren’t being hired to complete work for any of the summer’s major housing projects.

[Read more…]

Kinney Drugs to host job fair

GOUVERNEUR — Kinney Drugs will host a job fair from 1 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Elks Club, 1419 Route 11.

Kinney, a pharmacy and retail business with 94 stores, has openings in its administrative accounting departments and its IT departments.

[Read more…]