20 Questions: Student loan services and debt

Susan Godreau, Head of Financial Aid at SUNY Potsdam. Christopher Lenney/ NNY Business

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Family, Finances and the Future: Cyril Mouaikel earns recognition

Managing Director and Branch Manager at RBC Wealth Management Cyril Mouaikel sits in his office. Emil Lippe/NNY Business

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What The SECURE ACT Means For Your Retirement

Sydney Schaefer/NNY Business
SECURE Act paperwork sits on a conference table at Morgia Wealth Management in Watertown. 

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Tri-County Real Estate Sales Rebound

Lance Evans

After being slightly down in 2018, overall property sales (including residential, land, multi-family and commercial properties) in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties were generally higher in 2019. The median price followed this pattern also and days on the market continued to drop. When narrowing the focus to residential units (single-family, townhouse, and condominium), the trends were similar. 

    Residential sales account for about 80 percent of property sales in the tri-county region. Most of these are single-family homes. However, our area records about a dozen townhouses or condominium sales each year which are included in the residential numbers. 

Jefferson County 

    Sales of all property in Jefferson County increased about three percent over 2018 and one percent over 2017 with 1,384 properties changing hands. The median price rose to $139,900 from $125,000 in 2018 and $120,000 in 2017 while days on the market rose slightly from 2018 to 116 days. This was down over three weeks from 2017. 

    Sales of residential properties also increased in 2019, but at a slower rate. Overall, 1,149 residential properties (up from 1,141 in 2018 and 1,135 in 2017) were sold. The median price jumped from $135,000 in 2017 and 2018 to $152,400 in 2019. Meanwhile, days on the market fell four days from 2018 to 95 days and over four weeks from 2017’s 124 day figure.  

St. Lawrence County 

    Results were similar in St. Lawrence County with sales of all properties down slightly from 2018 and up from 2017. Residential property sales rose four percent compared to both 2017 and 2018. 

    In 2019, 883 properties of all kinds changed hands. This was down 11 from 2018, but up six from 2017. The median price rose $3,000 from 2018 to $88,000 and up $9,000 compared to 2017. Days on the market fell 10 days to 181 in 2019 and over three weeks from 2017. 

    Residential sales rose four percent over 2017 and 2018 with 781 homes sold. The median price of $95,000 was about $5,000 higher than 2018 and was up over $10,000 from 2017. Days on the market fell four weeks from 2017 to 2019 and one week from 2018 with residential properties spending 170 days on the market. 

Lewis County 

    Similar to Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, Lewis County had a good year in terms of real estate sales. Unlike the other two counties, unit sales were down from 2017, but up from 2018. 

    The number of properties of all types rebounded from 2018 to 294 units. This was up six units from 2018 but down 12 properties from 2017. Similarly, median price was up over $7,000 from 2018 to $99,000. The 2017 median price was about $2,500 higher than 2019. Like the other two counties, marketing time decreased to 153 days, down from 162 days in the previous two years. 

    Residential sales followed the same pattern with 222 units sold in 2019, up 15 from 2018 but down 16 from 2017. In the reverse of other counties, median price was down from 2018 ($114,450 compared to $119,000) and up from 2017’s $94,000. Residential units spent 122 days on the market in 2019, up one day from 2018, but down a week from 2017. 

New York State 

    Only residential sales figures were available for sales in the state, which fell by a little over one percent from 2018. However the median price for a home increased by five and a half percent. Information on days on the market was not available. 

Notes on the above 

    All of the local figures come from the multiple listing systems of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. The New York State Association of Realtors provided the state numbers. Average days on the market is the amount of time between listing the property and the purchase offer being signed. Median price is the middle number of all the prices and is considered more statistically accurate than the average price. 

People First: Greeting to boost business

Brooke Rouse

Over and over again we hear that our people are our greatest asset, the communities are so strong and the people make it a very warm place, even in the depths of winter. However, locals, visitors and new residents will often comment on the contradictory nature of North Country people when it comes to business. We hear that it is common to walk into a shop or café and not receive a greeting, which automatically translates into a feeling of not being welcome. As we try to build ourselves as more diverse communities, open for business and welcoming to visitors, this lack of engagement can be perceived as prejudice, judgment or a pure lack of interest. None of these messages are good for business. 

    As a business owner or manager, it’s easy to get caught up and fully consumed in whatever you are doing, whether you are at the front desk or in a back office; cleaning the machine, entering inventory, trouble shooting an accounting hiccup. The important thing to remember is that your customer is first, no matter what. A quick pause, a greeting and a smile go a very long way. It is also critical that your entire team understands the importance.  

Here are a few suggestions to improve your customer engagement:  

Hello, is this your first time in the shop? 

    If it is their first time, you can welcome them with a quick pitch on your products and offerings, while pointing out different areas of your business (a personal tour). This is an opportunity for a free commercial that they may not know from just wandering around the store. If they have been before, you can note any new products or offerings and thank them for coming back. This does not have to be a strong sales pitch, but rather a simple tour and introduction. You can include some positive, personal remarks about how long you have been open, highlights of your physical space or business history. This is all part of the experience, which cannot be achieved by shopping online. You can follow up with – Is there anything specific you are looking for today? – Make sure that you are not doing all of the talking. By understanding their needs (why they came in!) you can help them to quickly find a solution or get an idea of what additional products or services you may want to make available.  

Do you live in the area? 

    Knowing if they are local, drive distance or visitors will allow you to make more of a personal connection to begin a business relationship. You can follow up with – What brings you to the area? – If they have moved for a job, as a student or for family, you can help orient them to the area, referring other businesses and highlights of the community that will help make their move or stay more enjoyable. If a customer sees you as a community ambassador, they immediately form a positive memory and feelings about your business, which is certain to translate into positive word of mouth. 

    If they are not from the immediate area, you can ask – How did you find out about us? – Now, this is your opportunity for some valuable feedback on your marketing tactics. If they saw you on social media, radio, tv or in the newspaper, you can start to better understand your return on marketing dollars. You will also get a sense of how far your reach is – how far people are willing to travel. 

    Share these few ideas with your team, print them out and put them by the register! You may be surprised by how a little effort will go a long way.

Trust In Your New York State Guide

Randy Young

If you are interested in fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, whitewater canoeing, rafting, or rock and ice climbing, but unfamiliar with how to get started, there is a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) licensed guide willing to make sure your experience is less stressful and more enjoyable. 

    Guides are helpful in ensuring safe travel, accomplishing the requirements to become an ADK 46er, navigating unfamiliar waters in a canoe, kayaking to set up a primitive campsite, and much more. 

    Craig L. Tryon, a New York state licensed guide, said, “Hiring a competent guide takes all the guesswork out of planning the trip. If you are a competent wilderness traveler, a guide can help you plan your trip into an area you are unfamiliar with. They can provide area tips and information that would take you weeks to get on your own. 

    In his 34 years of being a licensed guide, Craig knows that the better the experience visitors have, the more likely visitors will return for more outdoor adventures. With more than six million acres to explore in the Adirondacks, 2,000 miles of snowmobile trails, and 5,000 miles of public trails, there are plenty of activities that keep people coming to Northern New York. 

    Outdoor recreation contributes greatly to the local economy and fuels tourism — the state’s third largest industry. Tourism accounts for one in 10 jobs, $14 billion in wages and salaries, and $41.8 billion in consumer spending. 

    There are lots of choices when it comes to picking a tourism destination in New York state and DEC-licensed guides depend on helping customers navigate those choices. There are more than 2,000 licensed guides statewide, of which 209 are available for service in Region 6. 

    Most individuals engaging in the business of guiding on state lands and waters need a license issued by DEC. Environmental Program Specialist Colleen Kayser administers the state’s Licensed Guide Program as part her work in DEC’s Division of Forest Protection. “An exam is held at 10 DEC locations statewide, as well as at the New York State Outdoor Guide Association’s annual winter meeting,” said Kayser. “Once all the requirements are met, I update the applicant’s information and issue the license, which consists of a laminated license, a guides pin, and a certificate. Licenses expire every five years.” 

    Besides assisting the general public, licensed guides are often members of local search-and-rescue teams and partner with DEC to search for lost individuals. 

    Tryon said guiding has enjoyed a long and colorful history. Early surveyors and sportsmen used knowledge of local woodsmen in the area to find their way in New York’s vast uncharted wilderness. 

    Guiding became an important profession and part of the economy of Northern New York in the 1800s, due in part to the popularity of William H. H. Murray’s book “Adventures in the Wilderness, or Camp Life in the Adirondacks.” Murray made his guide, John Plumley, a central character of his adventure stories. 

    “In the 1970s, a renewed interest in environmental issues began to come to the forefront. Today licensed guides are more qualified and trained to provide an educational and enjoyable experience for travelers,” said Tryon. “There has never been a dull moment on any guide trip I have had the pleasure to lead. Clients that I have taken on trips include many typical people just looking for a getaway, police officers, a Secret Service officer, a U.S. Pentagon officer that was an imbedded reporter with troops in Iraq, doctors, an FBI agent, a U.S. Customs and Border patrol officer, a postmaster from Indiana, and even one of the actors on ‘The Young and the Restless.’ With the wide variety of clients and interests on trips, conversations around the nightly campfire are very interesting, to say the least.” 

    For more information on upcoming test dates to be a New York state licensed guide, go here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/30969.html. For the latest updates on #DEC50 and DEC’s celebration of the agency’s 50th anniversary, visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/about/9677.html. 

It’s Meeting Season

Alyssa Kealy

Winter has arrived and the holidays have come and gone for another year, which means its “meeting season”. This term is fondly used by farmers and agribusiness professionals in reference to a time of year, January-April, in which there’s plentiful opportunities for travel, networking, learning and strategizing at meetings and conferences. Agriculture is such a dynamic industry in which weather, procedures, and even regulations, can change overnight. This calls for continuous education each year to keep abreast of new and exciting research, best management practices, consumer preferences, and new legislation. 

Here is a highlight of one conference coming this spring: 

Presented by Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY and Northeast Dairy Producers Association (NEDPA), the Northeast Dairy Management Conference is a dynamic conference for all progressive dairy farmers in the Northeast. This biennial event, previously known as the NEDPA Conference, will continue to be a high-quality program with a slightly different name, yet the same mission – providing the latest information related to current trends and topics in the dairy industry through dynamic and informative sessions to re-energize businesses and improve performance. 

    The theme for this year’s conference is “Focus on the Future” and sessions will feature diverse topics such as on farm technology, protecting your brand, and environmental issues updates, as well as several presentations on navigating the changes, brought about by the new agricultural labor legislation. In addition to gaining invaluable information for dairy operations, you can also interact with other farmers and industry professionals from throughout the Northeast and beyond. 

    Some of the presenters at the 2020 conference include Jay Waldvogel – Dairy Farmers of America, Steve Bodart – Compeer Financial, Phil Plourd- Blimling and Associates, Cheryl Jones – University of Kentucky, Julio Giordano – Cornell University, Chuck Palmer – Michael Best and Friedrich LLP, Emily Stepp – National Milk Producers Federation, Karl Czymmek – Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY, Chris Wolf – Cornell University, Tom Wall – Dairy Coach LLC, and Rich Stup – Cornell University. 

    Additional conference highlights include sponsored pre-conference presentations, NEDPA Annual Meeting, Exhibitor trade show, Popp Award Presentations, Labor panel, and networking dinner. To learn more: https://prodairy.cals.cornell.edu/conferences/ne-dairy/ 

    Is your farm or agribusiness interested in receiving industry updates all year round? Consider joining the Northeast Dairy Producers Association today. With your membership, you will receive timely industry updates via e-newsletters, social media, website and a quarterly newsletter. In a recent survey of our current membership, the e-communications were one of the most valued benefit of membership. NEDPA has dedicated staff that are available to support member farms and as part of the NY Dairy Issues Team, provide assistance with crisis management. Along with its industry partners, NEDPA serves as a voice, a resource, and a network for the dairy industry in the Northeast. To learn more, visit: https://www.nedpa.org or email me at alyssa@nedpa.org 

Weather Woes

Sarah O’Connell

Al Roker, the weatherman on the Today Show for the past 40 years, was once quoted as saying, “I don’t make plans, because life is short and unpredictable – much like the weather.” While that might work for Al, it’s not a good general principle for enterprises that depend on the weather to venture plan-less. 

    I suppose we’re lucky that in the north country our weather mainly involves water – either too much of it, or not enough of it. Too much water: record snowfalls, high river and lake levels, road and field flooding, event cancellations, etc. Too little water: low river and lake levels, drought conditions for our crops, event cancellations, and so on. As we smugly say when we’re shoveling snow, sloshing through rain or mowing our dusty, dried-out lawns – at least we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes or landslides. 

    When weather presents a major economic or physical impact, that’s when the state and federal governments (e.g. U.S. Small Business Administration) may step in with disaster relief loan programs. But for smaller vacillations, business owners, particularly weather-dependent ones, need to develop a backup plan, whether a snow day, an indoor-related activity or off-season events that will bring in other revenue. 

    For example, a couple of years ago a major bass fishing tournaments on the St. Lawrence was impacted by higher water levels, but this ended up being popular with the pro fishermen who enjoyed the access into new areas. These events bring millions of dollars into the area as participants and their families and fans patronize motels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. 

    With snow conditions also unpredictable, businesses that depend on skiing and snowmobiling have had to come up with alternate ways to stay afloat, as it were. Snow Ridge in Turin has established a year-round schedule of events from music festivals to trivia nights to dirt bike races. 

    We Northern New Yorkers are resilient. We’re going to find a way to cope with whatever nature throws at us. A case in point is the business confidence survey released by the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council looking at 2019 where even higher water levels were reported than 2017. It asked local businesses along the lake and river how they felt about the season and their future outlook. In the survey, “73 percent…claimed to be either satisfied, pleased or very pleased with the business they received.” This was more than in the 2017 survey where 63 percent replied similarly. Why, when the water was even higher than two years ago, did business owners feel better? Because many businesses were able to adapt by raising docks or adding docks and pushing better marketing which offset concerns of potential visitors. The “normal” weather of 2018 didn’t hurt either, as tourists left very enthusiastic about their experience and eager to return in 2019 in spite of the high water. 

    As I write, the annual Snowtown USA event is kicking off in Watertown. Newscaster Walter Cronkite was the first to bestow that title on Watertown after the Blizzard of ’77 left the north country reeling under 220 inches of snow in 5 days. The festival, begun in the early ‘80’s featured ice skating, ice sculptures and other outdoor activities. Ironically, the festival melted away in the late 90’s because of poor weather. It was resurrected in 2013 by incorporating indoor activities like the Snowtown Film Festival, bowling tournaments, snow-related crafts at the library, pub crawls, etc. When the weather does cooperate, there are many outdoor events planned as well. 

    And by the way, in November 2014, Al Roker beat the unofficial world record for an uninterrupted live weather report of 33 hours held by a Norwegian weather broadcaster by setting an official Guinness World Record, reporting for 34 hours. 

    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. 

Legacies Come In All Shapes And Sizes

Second Lieutenant Marjorie J. Rock, U.S. Army Nurse Corps, 1942. Ms. Rock retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1970 and made St. Lawrence County her home.

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Do You Need An Environmental Lawyer?

Kevin Murphy

If you are buying or selling real estate you may need to hire an environmental lawyer.  

    If the answer is yes then you may need environmental counsel when any of the following arise:  

  • You want to obtain “bona fide prospective purchaser protection” for your property acquisition but are not sure what is required. You need assistance in drafting environmental provisions in a contract of sale in order to protect yourself from risk and future liabilities.
  • The parties to a commercial real estate deal cannot figure out a fair method for allocating the costs to clean up environmental contamination and need creative, workable solutions.
  • “Everyone knows” the property is contaminated because of a leaking tank or an asbestos problem, but no one knows what to do. The lender tells you a Phase I environmental site assessment needs to be prepared, but you know you shouldn’t rely on a Google search to find a qualified environmental consultant.
  • The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment report tells you there are “recognized environmental conditions,” and you do not know how to proceed or if you should proceed.
  • A Phase II Environmental Site Assessment confirms the presence of contamination and you do not know how to proceed or if you are required to report the findings to anyone.
  • You do not know whether environmental insurance is available to resolve some of the difficult problems in the deal.

You need an environmental attorney when you or your client wants to know:  

  • Whether and how the development of the property could meet the requirements of the New York State Brownfields Cleanup Program.
  • How to get the best estimates of the costs of, and how to evaluate the adequacy of, proposals to clean up the property.
  • Whether there is a potential claim against the prior owner for failure to disclose an environmental liability that he knew or should have known about and should have disclosed to the client/purchaser.
  • If there is a viable claim against prior owners in the chain of title.
  • Whether there is a potential claim against an adjacent property owner for contamination on the property that the client now owns. What the scope of your liability is for property damage and personal injury to nearby properties from contamination migrating from your property before and after purchase.
  • If completion of a Phase I ESA is all that needs to be done to obtain “bona fide prospective purchaser” protection.
  • How to get a “no further action” letter from a government agency to meet a lender’s requirements.
  • What the impact of contamination is on the value to your property.
  • Whether, even after cleanup, there is an actionable “stigma” attached to the property.