Taking Care Of Business

Sarah O’Connell

As I write this, we are in the fifth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses in the North Country region have gradually been reopening through the four phases under specific guidelines and with many restrictions. 

    However, for businesses that deal with health and wellness, many are still not allowed to reopen yet due to the level of physical contact or proximity that is part of their normal customer interaction. 

    As the North Country region entered Phase 3, massage therapy businesses were allowed to reopen, as were hair salons and some other personal care services. As we all struggled with the isolation and anxiety produced by the crisis, this was a much welcomed development for those who needed the comfort and care that was beyond essential survival. At the same time, the operators of these businesses had to prepare rigorous safety plans for the state of New York and develop schedules and strategies to minimize risk to their customers. 

    On the other hand, physical fitness businesses like fitness centers and group yoga classes continue to be under additional scrutiny due to the risks inherent in gathering people together in activities that might increase transmission of the virus. Some exercise-related businesses have pivoted to offering virtual or online classes, particularly those with certain instructors who have a dedicated following who are willing to pay through an online payment portal to participate in a Zoom or similar digital meetup. 

    While doctors’ offices and medical clinics were open all along for emergency visits or telemedicine, dentists were not generally allowed to open until June 1 except for emergency situations. However, many of our local providers have noticed that their patients are delaying some appointments like routine checkups until later on in the year. The procedure for entering a medical office often involves waiting in one’s car until called, answering questions about recent health issues, possible contacts with ill people and travel outside the area, and undergoing temperature checks. 

    Some mental health providers who already offered online or telephone counseling have been able to continue to offer that support and have even expanded their customer base due to need. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has gathered a pool of volunteer mental health counselors to handle calls from people feeling especially stressed or anxious during the pandemic. (1-800-950-6264). It can also offer connections to local resources. 

    As with all businesses reopened or reopening in the various phases that the state allows, the key to getting customers, clients or patients to return is to demonstrate clear and well-thought out approaches to providing as safe an experience as possible. Surveys and anecdotal evidence have shown that many people are still very wary of venturing out into situations that might expose them to the virus. Reports of uneven or absent compliance will only delay the process of economic recovery. Recent spikes in infection were directly related to unsafe gatherings during July 4th celebrations leading to the reclosing of some area businesses. Enforcement of the safety guidelines needs to be universal to bolster the confidence of the general public. 

    As of this writing, the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program was still open and the application window for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans was open until Aug. 8. Go to www.sba.gov for more information. The SBDC advisors are here to help you through the application process and beyond. We are also available to help you with any other business needs, whether it’s ideas for recovering, marketing, or opening, expanding or buying a business. We are available by phone and email and can have video sessions as well. As the JCC campus begins its reopening process, we will keep you informed if and when we can resume in-person appointments. 

    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 

SBDC Offers Assistance To Small Businesses, Disaster Loans

Sarah O’Connell

I had another topic planned for this month, but things have taken a wild swing in the small business world with the COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts to suppress the spread which have included widespread business closures.   Hopefully by the time this issue hits, things will have calmed down, but at this point, we really don’t know how long this challenge will last. The Small Business Development Center however, will assist you wherever possible, and listen to your concerns and your efforts to gear back up to where you need to be. 

     What we do know is that the SBA will be offering their direct loan program called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.  As of the date I’m writing this, loan applications are not available but should be very soon.  

Here are some key points to consider:  

  1. It is imperative that you keep accurate, detailed records of your revenues and expenses during the duration of the disaster.  Monthly profit and loss statements are one way to generate this.
  2. You will need to demonstrate that there has been a significant drop in profits over the same period a year ago, again, with the best documentation you can provide.
  3. To access the loan program, you have to first apply to a commercial lender and have your loan request denied.  You will then include the declination letter with your application.
  4. The interest rate is 3.75% for small for-profit businesses and 2.75% for non-profits.
  5. Loan terms will be set on a case-by-case business determined by the business’s ability to repay but are meant to be as affordable as possible for the business; thus, some loan terms may be as long as 30 years. 
  6. The loans may be used for payroll, accounts payable, fixed debt and other expenses that can’t be paid due to the disaster.
  7. The applicant will have to provide 3 years past tax returns where possible, a personal financial statement, and a year to date profit and loss.  It is recommended that businesses have completed and filed their 2019 tax returns to accompany the application.

    The SBA noted in its press release that it will continue to assist businesses with counseling through their district offices and resource partners.    The Small Business Development Center is one of those partners. Many of our New York State advisors have worked in the past with businesses impacted with physical or economic loss such as post-9/11 in 2001, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.    

    We’d also like to encourage you to contact your bank, your vendors and any creditors to let them know that your business is being affected so your ability to pay will also be impacted.  Don’t leave this important step until you are already behind in payments.  We’re sure that this will not come as a surprise, but keeping the lines of communication open will help them know what to expect. 

    We encourage everyone in the small business community and the global community to stay strong and to stay healthy. 

    For more assistance, get in touch with your local New York Small Business Development Center.  We are free, confidential, and always available to help. You can reach the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262.  We’d love to help. 

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. 

In Family They Trust

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / NNY BUSINESS
The Garlock family poses for a portrait inside the Garlocks Design Center in Alexandria Bay.

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Change Is Gonna Come

Sarah O’Connell

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always stayed the same and we old dogs didn’t have to keep learning new tricks?  But unfortunately, things don’t happen that way.  I think more often than not, changes, while hard to push through at first, end up making our lives more efficient. We’ve seen a lot of things changing the past couple of years with small businesses.  

Social Media

                Of course, we know that social media evolves almost daily.   Remember MySpace, then Facebook?  Now Instagram and Twitter are where it’s at, and although we seem to be slow adopters up here, businesses need to know how to use these platforms to keep up.  The same thing is true when developing a website.  We have to make sure it’s mobile-friendly.  I only look up a business once or twice on my phone, and if they haven’t gotten with it, I probably won’t go back.  Posted hours?  Check.  Menu if a restaurant?  Check.  Quick response to a message?  Check.

Cybersecurity   

                If you do business with the federal government, you already know that cybersecurity rules related to the Defense Acquisition Regulations System have been heavily tightened.  As for doing business with the government, just the process of registering as a federal contractor in the System for Awards Management has gotten more complex; new and existing businesses now have to send a notarized letter by snail mail(!) to the General Services Administration confirming the authorized Entity Administrator.   

Data Protection

                The new General Data Protection Regulation concerning data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) is being implemented this year. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.  It is going to impact any U.S. company doing business with counterparts and customers in Europe.

Taxes 

                No one is exactly sure how the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that took effect in 2018 is going to affect individuals and small businesses, but we’re going to be finding out pretty soon.

                The main effect on small businesses, the mom and pops and DBAs, is the same one that’s going to benefit individuals in that the individual tax rates will be lower, leaving business owners presumably with more money in their pockets.  At the same time, some traditional deductions will be disallowed. 

                At the SBDC, we try to keep up with all these changes as best we can so we can give our clients the most up-to-date information as possible.  We’re currently revamping our Entrepreneurial Training courses to expand on some of these areas, particularly social media and taxes.    We rely on our guest presenters who are professionals in these fields to bring our participants timely information.  Of course, any individual business can also contact us to try to find out how they will be impacted because they may be getting conflicting answers from the internet, from friends, family and other business owners.  We can access our research network in Albany or our statewide network of advisors to assist.

                We like to say that our Entrepreneurial Training Courses help would-be and existing entrepreneurs learn the necessary steps to building and growing a stronger business. Both the seven weekly sessions of the class held on the Jefferson Community College campus or the online version are coming up in early October.  If you are interested in learning more about the courses for yourself or a family member, please give us a call or check out our website at http://watertown.nyssbdc.org.

                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 SUNY Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu.

Small Business Success: Agriculture 2.0

Sarah O’Connell

In rural Northern New York, agriculture has been one of the major economic drivers of the region since it was first settled by European immigrants.  According to a 2015 article cited in Wikipedia, New York is “one of the top five states for agricultural products, including dairy, cattle, apples, cabbages, potatoes, beets, viniculture, onions, maple syrup and many others.”  But for a variety of reasons including declining milk prices, global competition, and so on, the iconic small family farms are disappearing.  Or are they?

                What we’ve been seeing in the past few years is a variety of new ways to keep young people on the farm.  They are discovering new opportunities, improved technology, and niche markets as ways to stay (or move here) and earn a living.  As I mentioned in my May column, there are several distinctive ag-related enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, maple, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors) or ag-tourism (the American Maple Museum, farm tours, bed and breakfasts on operating farms, edible or flower garden tours, etc.).

                At the most recent Business Leaders’ Breakfast sponsored by Lewis County Economic Development, some local food producers were spotlighted.  Cedar Hedge Farm, owned by Jan Virkler and Jeff Van Arsdale, has been producing artisanal goat cheeses: feta, sharp feta and unsalted chèvre as well as a variety of jams, jellies and breads using their cheese products.  Two things that really stood out for me in their presentation.  One is that, although it’s a third-generation farm in the Virkler family, Jan decided to move back  here in 2012 with Jeff from professional jobs in New Jersey to embrace the ag life. The other thing I loved was its motto:  “If we don’t grow it, we don’t make it.”

                If you’ve been at any local events or craft fairs or farmers markets in the past couple of years, you’ve probably seen (and hopefully tasted) the caffeinated creations from Tug Hill Artisan Roasters.  Their various roast blends are also carried by and served in several area restaurants and shops. The company is the brainchild of brothers Ian and Scott Gilbert and friend Gregory Widrick and opened in April 2017.  It meets a couple of the marks of current trends – artisanal coffee represents a unique niche as well as a locally produced product, although of course, we haven’t yet figured out how to grow coffee beans in  Northern New York.  But who knows – no one thought we could grow grapes hardy enough for local wines a few years ago! Two transplants from the New York City area, Julian Mangano and Alice Waite, recently founded Of the Earth for the Soul company, which operates Della Terra as a small, bio-intensive farm in Castorland. In their “About” section on their Facebook page, the farmers note, “We are dedicated to providing food with integrity, engaging in organic, non-chemical, non-GMO practices.”  While not certified organic, they do not use herbicides or pesticides and grow an amazing quantity and quality of vegetables in a very small space called square foot gardening.

                It’s impossible to talk about Lewis County agriculture without mentioning maple syrup.  One of the newer local maple syrup businesses is Silver Sap Maple, owned by Cassandra Buell, who also happens to be the Lewis County planner, and her husband, Brian.  While still very new to the maple business, they are adding their taps by leaps and bounds each year and successfully selling their sweet wares.

                We’re now officially in the summer season.   Just as we encourage people to shop small and local in the winter holidays, we hope everyone will pledge to support our local food (and beverage) producers this summer and EAT local!

                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.

Branding for Success

Sarah O’Connell

In April, Jefferson Community College presented its annual Jefferson Business Symposium for high school and college students and members of the community.  This year’s theme was “Build Brand U” and featured a variety of presentations during the day about developing yourself a brand as a student, a job seeker, a leader or a businessperson.   Keynote speakers for the event were Jody and Doreen Garrett, founders of several successful local businesses.

    During the day, I gave a presentation called “Building a Winning Brand for Your North Country Business.”  I talked about what it means to be an entrepreneur as well as how to choose what kind of business you might want to start here in Northern New York.   Besides the usual “how to start a business” information, I also highlighted determining what local business opportunities exist in our area and then making sure it suits your passion, your personality and your pocketbook. 

    For example, are you the type of person who would be happy with someone else giving you a blueprint for your business model? In other words, would you be a better fit as a franchisee, or as an independent business that creates your own path?  

    Maybe you’re a fan of the emerging disruptor or collaborative/sharing economy.   Uber, Lyft and AirBnB are examples of this, and they are turning many traditional industries upside down (mass transportation and accommodations) and requiring municipal entities to figure out how to capture licensing and taxation revenues from these new models.

    Again, in a broader sense, there are opportunities in the technology fields as the need for new products and services changes rapidly – software, ecommerce, cybersecurity, digital marketing, games, apps and so on.    The retiring Baby Boomers need services in property maintenance, senior care, etc.  The mobile Fort Drum community and young professionals are markets looking for upcoming trends they would like to see here, such as niche clothing shops and different dining experiences. The resurgence of Watertown’s downtown also offers a refreshing assortment of shopping – fashion eyewear, yoga studios, juice bars, an art gallery, craft brewpubs, wine lounges, spas, thrift and vinyl record shops.  Some of these have been around for quite a while but are seeing an uptick because of increased foot traffic from the new businesses and events designed to bring people to downtown.

    Last but not least, take a look at the distinctive enterprises that make our own north country marketable, whether it’s locally sourced foods (meats, cheese, honey) and beverages (wine, beer, cider, liquors), crafts made by artisans (wood items, candles), tourism and agri-tourism venues and winter/summer sports.

    Still not sure what business to start?  Each year Jefferson Community College’s Center for Community Studies undertakes a Survey of the Community for Jefferson and Lewis counties (available on the JCC website).   Viewing the responses to the survey questions on what people feel is missing may just give you an idea of a need waiting to be filled.

    What’s the next step?   Do a target market analysis, come up with a business plan and then develop a sense of the startup costs.  This is where your purse or wallet comes into play, because it needs to be a concept that you can afford to invest in with or without the assistance of a commercial bank and/or a public lender. (Check out what funds might be available through jcida.com under “Financing Assistance Applications.”)  The SBDC can assist you in developing the business plan and creating financial forecasts for your loan package.  Building a strong business brand will point you on the way to success.

    Note: Planning is underway for our 14th annual Business of Women networking conference in June.  Watch facebook.com/BusinessofWomen/ for more information.

    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.

Opportunities Found

Sarah O’Connell

The federal government and New York state are committed to ensuring that economically or socially disadvantaged businesses have an opportunity to participate in direct contracts or subcontracts with government agencies and/or prime contractors. They have instituted specific programs to give these firms an opportunity to certify and register. For some contracts, there is even a specific percentage goal that must include small businesses from these designations (called set-asides).  These designations may include women, minority or service-disabled veteran firms.

    For specific federal programs, the SBA.gov website is an excellent resource. Specifically for women-owned businesses, the federal government offers the Women-Owned Small Business designation (WOSB). Doing any business with the government requires registration in the System for Award Management (SAM), and women can self-certify their company as women-owned. However, to get access to what are considered “underserved” industries, women must apply specifically to be a WOSB company. These industries are identified in the WOSB section of the Small Business Association’s website. If the company is determined to be eligible (more on that later) it can work its way through the process at certify.sba.gov.

    In the New York State MWBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises) program, the woman-owned business must already have been in operation for a minimum of one year. The process is fairly rigorous and calls for uploading of a number of documents as part of the application process, followed by an interview by the agency to confirm the business is truly woman-owned and operated. (Note: the OGS – Office of Government Services – oversees the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business program.)

    How is a business determined to be woman-owned? Some of the basic requirements include at least 51% ownership (where one partner is not female) and meeting the benchmarks that determine that a company is considered a “small business.” These may include reporting that annual sales fall below a certain mark and that personal assets also fall below a certain mark.

    The business must also prove that the business is truly woman-owned and operated, so that a male owner can’t just designate or add a female owner to take advantage of the system.  It must show that the female owner had financial investment in the start-up and continues to have an integral role in the operation of the business. Being the “keeper of the books” is not enough – the woman owner has to have knowledge of and show control over all facets of the business which may include bid estimating, contract writing, control over ordering, etc.  The female owner must spend the majority if not all work hours involved in the business; employment in another workplace is a red flag and may result in rejection of the application.

    The advisors at the Small Business Development Center can help steer companies through the certification processes for both WOSB and MWBE.  Once the requirements are met, opportunities open up for the woman-owned small business. In Jefferson County, 31 companies are certified in the federal WOSB program (according to the Dynamic Small Business Search at sba.gov). The New York State Contract System identifies 108 women-owned business enterprises (WBEs) in the North country region which covers Plattsburgh to Watertown to Oswego.

    Once a business is certified as woman-owned, it can start exploring opportunities that exist within its service area. Many of our businesses work closely with the local PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center), located at the Greater Watertown-North country Chamber of Commerce to identify potential projects to bid. The north country PTAC will be offering a matchmaker event on April 4 where all small (not just women-owned) businesses interested in government contracts can meet with key people from government agencies and prime contractors to introduce themselves and share their capabilities. Visit http://www.northcountryptac.com

for details.

    Planning is underway for our 14th Annual Business of Women networking conference in May. Watch facebook.com/BusinessofWomen/ for more information.

    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.

A River between us and the largest population in Canada

Sarah O’Connell

By Sarah O’Connell

Every spring, the Ottawa Travel and Vacation Show attracts over 17,000 people to explore destinations; St. Lawrence County was among them. Caribbean, African, Canadian, U.S. and East Asian destinations handed out brochures, provided tastings and talked with people, spreading awareness, ensuring their destination was top of mind in the traveler’s decision-making process.

    The St. Lawrence County booth included a display on the expanded Ogdensburg International Airport, which caught the eye of many. They were very interested in the low-cost direct flights, the opportunity to clear customs at the border and fly a domestic flight to their final US destination.  For many of them, Ogdensburg is closer than Ottawa, so price and convenience are selling points.  They were interested in the opportunity to spend the night before they flew, to take advantage of park- and-ride opportunities, have a nice meal and then do their shopping on their return drive.  Likewise, they were excited to hear that you can now get to Baltimore from the Massena Airport.

    It was interesting to talk to Canadians about what brings them over the border, what discourages them, and what excites them. Like many of us, Canadians are very sensitive about their dollars. Given the current value of their dollar, they still expressed their continued visits to shop for groceries, gas up their vehicles, and take advantage of discounted retail shopping and shipping! Not everything is cheaper, but some things still are.  The year-round Vermont ski area exhibiting next to us had a sign that read ‘Canadian at Par’. I asked them how maintaining that promise has impacted their business. He said that Canadian customers are too important to their company, they need to continue that loyalty and offering that commitment is the best marketing message they can send.

    Some expressed concern over discrimination at the border, while others mentioned ease. People were especially excited about golfing here, the price and ability to get tee times.  Nearly every rack card promoting cycling was taken. The wide shoulders, minimal traffic and beautiful scenery is desirable to them.  They were interested in the diversity and affordability of live entertainment offered through Ogdensburg Command Performance, the Orchestra of Northern New York, Community Performance Series at SUNY Potsdam and all of the festivals going on. They expressed that the closeness made it possible to take a drive to explore new places.  Several families were thrilled by the idea of a short drive with the kids to get away, and feel like they are ‘in a different country’. Robert Moses State Park in Massena  with the soon-to- be- open Nature Center, the Eisenhower Locks, Hawkins Point Visitors Center, campgrounds and cabins, trails and safe cycling all sounded idyllic as a summer escape from the city.

    Approximately 40 percent of Canada’s population lives within 200 miles of our border. In St. Lawrence County, we have two international bridges (Prescott-Ogdensburg and Cornwall-Massena).  What an opportunity?

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.