Tough Decisions, Positive Results: Carthage Area Hospital shows profit after years of restructuring and reorganizing strategic plan

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Rich Duval CEO at Carthage Area Hospital.

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Finding Your Food: Regional food hubs connect consumer with food

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Peter Martins displays a handful of strawberries at Martin farm on Needam Road in Potsdam.

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National Grid has Programs to Assist Agriculture

Jay Matteson

Farms and agribusinesses considering improving their energy efficiency or an expansion project should look closely at the program National Grid offers. They have been a good partner to many farms across Northern New York offering financial assistance for energy projects. As an example, National Grid assisted a 430-cow dairy just north of Albany in 2015. The farm wanted to improve their energy efficiency and increase their productivity.  National Grid was able to help the farm achieve both objectives through $18,000 in energy efficiency incentives and a $50,000 grant from National Grid’s Economic Development Agribusiness program.

    National Grid offers a variety of energy saving farm incentives. Improved lighting systems can increase milk production per cow and provide a better work environment for farm staff. National Grid provides significant incentives for converting old light systems to newer higher efficiency systems. There is a range of incentives offered depending upon the type of fixture.

    Fans can be a huge electricity demand during the warm summer months. Without fans, herd health and production can drop significantly. It is important to provide well-circulated air flow and cool temperature to keep your cows happy and minimize fly problems.  Through National Grid’s help, farms may be able to obtain more efficient fans that improve air quality and cooler temperatures.  In addition, variable frequency drives and controls can be put in place to allow fans to run only when needed adding additional savings onto a farm electricity bill.

    Assistance on upgrading milking equipment may also be possible from National Grid. Variable frequency driven vacuum pumps, air compressors, pumps, air dryers, milk precoolers, heat exchangers and chillers are eligible for National Grid incentive payments. Many farms have already taken advantage of incentives from National Grid to upgrade this equipment.

    Some of our farms located in the rural areas of Northern New York face limitations because of the power supply to the farm.  In order to upgrade or expand facilities, farms sometimes face needing a three-phase power supply to farm instead of single-phase. This can be a very expensive proposition as the farm will incur the costs of running three-phase power to the farm, if the supply is not present in front of the farm already. National Grid does have a grant program to decrease the cost of obtaining three-phase power. Potentially, depending upon the specific situation the farm faces, it may receive up to $200,000 for running three-phase power.

    The National Grid Agri-Business Productivity Program is available to assist dairy farms, commercial farms, food processing businesses and controlled environment agricultural facilities with energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy projects and delivery or productivity improvements. To be eligible a business or farm must receive electric or natural gas from National Grid and be undertaking an energy efficiency project through any public agency or utility program or be purchasing /installing equipment for a renewable energy project to service the facility. A project that is constructing or upgrading a new controlled environment agriculture facility may also be eligible.  Awards up to $50,000 are possible.

    Our office has a great working relationship with the Economic Development and Corporate Citizenship office of National Grid in Syracuse. Mr. Joe Russo is great to work with and has worked hard to help farms and agribusinesses with their projects.  If you are interested in learning more about these programs, please give our office, Jefferson County Economic Development, a call at 315-782-5865 or by email to coordinator@comefarmwithus.com or contact Mr. Russo directly at 315-428-6798.  You’ll find a good partner through National Grid with your energy efficiency or expansion projects.

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

Realtors Advocate For Property Owners and Buyers

Lance Evans

The month of May saw Realtors from our area join their counterparts across the state and nation to advocate for consumer friendly real estate issues and oppose measures that would hurt property owners and buyers.

    During the week of May 15 to May 20, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) held its annual Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. Attended by approximately 8,500 attendees from across the country and around the world, the week included about 200 meetings and events that covered many real estate topics and allowed Realtors to take an active role in advancing the real estate industry, public policy, and the Association. 

    The tri-county area attendees included Jennifer Dindl (Humes Realty and Appraisal), Carolyn Gaebel (Bridgeview Real Estate and Gaebel Real Estate Services), Lisa L’Huillier (Hefferon Real Estate), Brittany Matott (County Seat Realty), Al Netto (Weichert Realtors, Thousand Islands Realty), and Jennifer Stevenson (Blue Heron Realty), along with myself. During the week there were NAR and Women’s Council of Realtors committee meetings, idea exchanges with other Realtors and staff, and information and updates that will assist all of us in better serving the area’s real estate consumers.

    On May 18, we met with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and joined colleagues from around the state while meeting with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Charles Schumer. We focused on three main issues.

    The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), of particular interest to our area, is slated to expire on September 30. Without reauthorization, NFIP cannot issue or renew policies in 22,000 communities where flood insurance is required for a mortgage. The NFIP was created to provide incentives for communities to rebuild to higher standards and steer development away from flood zones. In exchange, communities gain access to flood maps, mitigation assistance and subsidized insurance to prepay for future damage and recover more quickly from flooding. The NFIP was last up for reauthorization in 2008. There were 18 short-term extensions and a two-month shutdown before Congress reauthorized the program in 2012.

    We asked our representatives to pass the “Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act,” which passed the House unanimously last year, and to enable consumers to meet federal requirements with private plans that often offer better coverage at a lower cost than the NFIP.

    Tax reform was also on our list of issues. While no tax reform legislation had been introduced as of our meetings, there were several plans that had been discussed. Some of these would lower tax rates and raise the standard deduction, but would pay for these changes by scaling back existing real estate tax provisions. Proposals that limit itemized deductions, even if not directly changing rules applicable to mortgage interest, could have serious negative consequences for homeowners. 

    PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analyzed a blueprint-like tax reform plan and noted that home-owning families with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would face average tax hikes of $815 in the first year after enactment, while non-homeowners in the same income range would see an average cut of $516. Currently, homeowners pay 83 percent of all federal income taxes, and this share would go even higher under similar reform proposals. Homeowners should not have to pay a higher share of taxes because of tax reform.

    Further, proposals limiting tax incentives for homeownership would cause home values everywhere to plunge. Estimates provided by PwC show that values could fall in the short run by more than 10 percent, with a larger drop in high-cost areas. It might take years for home values to rebound from such a significant decrease.

    The final issue we spoke about was protecting sustainable homeownership.   We asked our representatives to responsibly reform the secondary mortgage market. Failure to do so, while limiting costs imposed on homeowners, ensure proper loan disclosures, and fund necessary system upgrades for federal housing programs hurts the very fabric and underpinnings of our society.

    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac act as a backstop for mortgages and help to safeguard 30-year, fixed rate mortgages ensuring families are not shut out of homeownership. We asked that these entities not be dismantled without identifying a viable replacement.

    The week was productive and informative. It is important that our representatives hear from Realtors advocating for property owners. The information we received at the meetings will assist us as we work for housing opportunities in the area.

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.

The Trails to Economic Upswing

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS
Lynette Lundy-Beck stands near the Seaway Trail in Chaumont where a new informational kiosk about the trail and the village of Chaumont was placed recently.

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5 Reasons Why No One is Visiting Your Website

Joleene Moody

You want more sales. More visitors to your website. You want people hungry for your product to eat right out of your hand. As you sleep, you imagine your email list growing and growing, with an email open rate larger than your biggest competitor. You have everything you need to achieve this: the website, the perfect opt-in, a high-demand product, everything.

    Or doooo you?

    If your traffic is nil and your numbers on Google Analytics are making you cry, you need to find out why, most ricky-tick. Based on past clients who have struggled with this very issue, we have compiled the top five reasons why no one is visiting your website, and what you can do to turn things around.

1) Your Branding is Lackluster

Branding is often misunderstood. Ask someone about their brand, and you might hear them talk about their logo. This is because the traditional definition of branding is based on the color, shape, size, and font used to create a logo.

    But my friends, branding is so much more.

    While the logo is certainly an element of your brand, it isn’t the end-all, be-all. Branding is how you are able to control the way people think and feel when they see your logo or hear your company’s name. That means when they visit your site, they need to be pulled in by your message and your mission. One should know within five seconds of landing on your home page what it is you do. If this isn’t happening, your branding may be out of sync. Maybe even non-existent.

    Clear, crisp branding also makes you stand out like an expert. If you were to visit a website that lacked character versus a website that pulled you in with plenty of character, which site would you peruse?

    Get clear on your branding and invest in the change. The sharper you look, the more traffic you’ll see.

2) You’re Not Blogging

I saw that eye roll. I see it quite often, actually. Business owners think blogging is for the birds. Some are under the misconception that blogging is a complete and total waste of time.

    But what if I told you that a single blog post could be your ticket to a sale?

    Blogging is a highly encouraged form of inbound marketing that uses targeted content. Targeted content is the kind of content internet users seek when they sit down with Google. For example, if someone Googles the term “need website visitors,” Google will send out a bunch of bots to find legitimate, purposeful content that matches that search.

    By writing blog posts with targeted content, you’re essentially opening the door to your website to invite people in. The more you blog, the more you become BFFs with Google.

3) Your Website is Clunky

Think about the way you navigate a website when you land on it. You see the home page first, look for the menu bar second and click on your desired location third. Sometimes you might see an image you want to click on, so you head over to it. Other times you might get distracted by an opt-in, so you sign up for the offer and move on.

    No matter where you go or what you might get distracted by, the website you land on should be navigable at all times from all angles. It should be easy to look at and easy to search.

    If your website is poorly designed, doesn’t load quickly, and gets people lost almost immediately, you’re compromising one of the most important pieces of your business.

    The truth is, you have approximately seven seconds to grab the attention of your visitor or they’re gone. They’ll zip back out into cyberspace to find a website that is user-friendly, easy to navigate, and doesn’t look like a fifth-grader built it.

    Your website is most often your first impression. If it’s clunky, your visitors will think the work you deliver is clunky, too.

4) You’re Not Sharing on Social Media

Social media can be a bear. With so many social channels to choose from, it can be overwhelming for some. As a result, we resist sharing and eventually give up because we think it does no good.

    I encourage you to not give up.

    Creating a presence on social media takes time. But even if you have a small following, sharing and engaging with others is the secret sauce to your success. Start by choosing three social channels that resonate with the work you do. Decide to put a few hours a week into posting your content. But coupled with this, decide to like, share and comment on others’ content.

    Make friends with others. Play nice. Build relationships. If you stick to this strategy, you’ll soon discover that many people out there are on your side and happy to share your content. Before you know it, your Google Analytics numbers will increase, and you’ll be a happy camper.

5) You’re Using the Wrong Keywords

Keywords are tricky. We get it. Over the past 10 years or so, the use of keywords in web content has changed. Site builders used to use a method now dubbed as keyword stuffing, where they would stuff the same word (or series of words) over and over again into as much content as possible all over the site.

    Google won’t let you pull this stunt anymore. That’s why using long-tail keywords to help narrow down a search is where it’s at. This is because these keywords are associated with more qualified traffic.

    For example, thousands of search options will pop up if you use the words “cake maker.” But if someone is searching for a cake maker in Virginia, using keywords in blog posts like “cake maker in Virginia” will knock other prospects out of the way and shoot you to the top of a Google search.

    Using keyword research tools is helpful, too. Don’t go it alone.

Tax Breaks You Can Only Claim as a Homeowner

Lance Evans

There are many benefits associated with homeownership. The American Dream offers financial gain, stability, and many social benefits.   One of the biggest benefits associated with homeownership can be found when filing your taxes and, depending on your situation, there may be thousands of dollars coming back your way.

    “Homeownership is an investment in your future,” said Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors President Vickie Staie. “It is where we make memories and feel comfortable and secure, it strengthens communities, and it offers homeowners financial security. Tax breaks are just one of many benefits of being a homeowner, and even those who have owned a home for years may be unaware of all of the opportunities for savings.”

    As the deadline to file taxes approaches, the Jefferson-Lewis and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors want to remind homeowners of the many tax benefits, savings and deductions they can take advantage of simply by owning a home.

The mortgage interest deduction (MID)

    This may be the most notable and advantageous tax benefit that homeowners enjoy. The MID allows homeowners to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage debt of up to $1 million on a primary residence and one additional residence. It is especially helpful in the early years of a mortgage when the monthly payment goes largely toward interest.

Property taxes

    It is widely known that being a homeowner means paying taxes on your property to local government, whether it is the city, county or state. What you might not know is that these taxes are entirely deductible from your federal income tax, which is more great tax news for homeowners.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction

    Homeowners with incomes of no more than $100,000 can deduct their mortgage insurance premiums if they were required to obtain insurance as a condition of receiving financing for the home. With the current obstacles that prospective homebuyers face, such as student loan debt, the deduction is a benefit that can save homeowners a great deal of money.

    “If you are on the fence about buying a home, taking advantage of these tax benefits can help put your dream home within reach,” said Debbie Gilson, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. “By working with a Realtor, a member of the National Association of Realtors, you can better understand the home-buying process and the many benefits that come with owning a home.”

    Congress is considering eliminating or curtailing some or all of these tax benefits.  Members of Congress from both Houses and both parties have expressed a high level of interest in reforming the tax system. Many Washington observers point to Republican-control of the House, Senate, and White House as the primary reason a version of tax reform may finally be enacted. Much work remains before any tax reform plan comes up for any votes. This ongoing debate places a variety of tax laws, including those affecting commercial and residential real estate, under increased scrutiny.

    Realtors are working to preserve these benefits.  American homeowners already pay between 80 and 90 percent of all federal income taxes. Without the MID, for instance, that figure could rise to 95 percent. It’s particularly troubling considering the fact that more than half of families who claim the MID earn less than $100,000 per year.

    The state and local property tax deduction is essential to homeowners as well. While paying property taxes is a part of owning a home, knowing that those payments to state and local governments can be deducted from their federal income tax brings some peace of mind.  Without that deduction, homeowners would get taxed on the income used to pay their property taxes. This is a form of “double taxation” that hits home for lower- and middle-income households.

    The value of these tax incentives is already figured into home prices, meaning there’s a very real likelihood that eliminating those benefits could cause home values to plummet.  Please contact Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and let them know that these deductions are important and need to be preserved.

Agriculture Gearing Up for the Event Season

 

Jay Matteson

   Warm weather is on the way! At least by July the snow will be gone and it’ll be time to get outside. If you visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and click on the calendar tab at the top, you’ll be taken to our calendar of agriculture for Jefferson County and Northern New York. Here are a few of the many events, found on the website, which you can look forward to in 2017.
     On April 21, the annual Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown. From 9 to 10:45 a.m., Chris Lorence from Christopher A. Lorence PR & Marketing Services will provide a workshop on advanced use of social media for marketing and advertising in agriculture. Mr. Lawrence will take course participants on a journey exploring how to use social media for advanced advertising of products and services offered by farms and agribusinesses. The workshop is free, but participants must register in advance due to limited seating capacity.
     Following Mr. Lorence at 11a.m., Christine Watkins, executive director of Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation, will provide a presentation on the environmental stewardship efforts of our agricultural industry, highlighting the tremendous work and expense our farms put forward to maintain and improve the quality of the environment in which we live. Mrs. Watkins presentation will be geared both for the public and farm community. Following Mrs. Watkins there will be a light lunch for conference participants. During lunch, I will present my annual overview of our agricultural industry report, discussing the challenges and highlights from 2016 and looking forward into 2018.
     Our keynote presentation at the Agricultural Development Conference will feature a panel presentation from Nichole Hirt and William Stowell. Mrs. Hirt is the agricultural program teacher from Indian River High School and Indian River FFA advisor. Mr. Stowell is the South Jefferson High School agricultural teacher and FFA advisor. Together Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Hirt will look at agricultural education in our local area and across New York State and share with our audience their thoughts on how agricultural education in our classrooms relates to workforce development in the agricultural industry and the challenges and opportunities we face.
     While the Agricultural Development Conference is free, advanced registration is required by April 14. Those interested may register by calling 315-782-5865 or emailing coordinator@comefarmwithus.com.
     On Saturday, May 6, Old McDonald’s Farm Agricultural Education Center near Sackets Harbor will open its doors for the season, weather permitting. If you have not visited Old McDonald’s Farm, it is a real treat. As one of the largest agricultural education centers in New York state, it is a fantastic place to take your children to have fun and learn about agriculture. Visit their website at www.oldmcdonaldhasafarm.com.
     Planning has started for the Jefferson County Dairyland Festival and Parade on Friday, June 2. The festival kicks off at 9 a.m. at the Dulles State Office Building on Washington Street in Watertown. The festival is geared for children ages pre-school through sixth grade. The festival includes interactive exhibits, displays and demonstrations related to our dairy industry and agriculture. Schools may register their classes by visiting www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and clicking on the festival link on the right hand side of the home page. Classes must register to attend before May 5. The second part of the exciting celebration is the Dairy Parade which kicks off at 7 p.m. The parade lines up at Watertown High School and proceeds down Washington Street, ending at the State Office Building. The judging stand is directly in front of the State Office Building, where our Master of Ceremonies provides live narration of the entire parade. The parade is full of exciting and fun entries, including marching bands, HUGE farm equipment, fire trucks, live animals, floats, youth groups and businesses. Anyone wishing to enter the parade may also visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and follow the directions on the festival page. Entry forms must be submitted by May 22. The parade is a “points parade” for local fire departments. At 8 p.m., the Jefferson County Dairy Princess and her court will dish out free ice cream sundaes in the Dulles State Office Building for everyone as long as supplies last.
     There are many more events, activities, workshops and meetings that may be of interest to you. Check the calendar on our website to keep track of what is happening that you might be interested in. There is a lot to do in our great agricultural community!

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

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.

NNY Healthy Women: A special supplement to NNY Business

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