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Is Putnam Business Ready for 2018?

The Small Business Administration continues to report that most net new jobs created in our economy come from the independent entrepreneurs that comprise the backbone of counties such as Putnam. Area small businesses need to adapt to the rapidly progressing technology that is moving our world forward, and it’s a continual transformation process to remain competitive and, indeed, to survive.

Businesses must budget to take advantage of whatever changes are happening in their industry, for example online shopping with smart phone capability is a MUST for retailers. The online and offline customer experiences are merging – one can no longer be just brick and mortar or just online. You must be all things. Creativity, and engaging the community online has helped many small businesses grow at rapid rates.

Interactivity on websites and social media using chat bots should soon become the norm for small businesses, to engage, provide information and answer questions in real time. Easy payment options such as the application of a fingerprint or a few clicks is vital to the rapid pace of today’s busy customer. Interactive marketing is something we can really take advantage of in Putnam County. Sponsoring a local event or festival helps build your brand and provides familiarity. Collaborative marketing of such events, for example #hashtags and interactive posts between vendors helps to extend one’s brand out to a much larger audience.

Investing in new, millennial leadership and staff is also crucial. Consider hiring and training promising young talent now. Millennials will soon be the majority of the workforce. With the housing trend now moving back to more rural areas there is huge potential to attract millennials to move here, work and raise their families. Given millennials’ natural desire to learn, grow and develop, this is a winning situation for all. Embracing these goals will pave the way for a bright business future!

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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To Survive, Local Retailers Must Make The Shift To Online Sales

On Small Business Saturday, the county executive and I conducted our 5th annual tour of Putnam County small businesses. Stores were filled with great selections, beaming with community pride and the kind of service only small town retail can provide. We visited flower shops, gift shops, boutiques, liquor stores and more. It’s amazing how much you can buy locally!

However, in the past 2 years I have made a shift in my shopping habits, now doing about 80% of my shopping online. Being a shop local advocate, I fought this for a long time, but my busy lifestyle has made it nearly impossible to keep up with the demands of my household as well my office. There simply is no time to “go out” shopping.

According to Forbes magazine “For the first time ever, shoppers are going to the web for most of their purchases.” An annual survey by analytics firm comScore and UPS found that consumers are now buying more things online than in stores.” Based on a poll of over 5,000 online purchasers, there has been an increasing trend of online purchases, from 47% in 2014, 48% in 2015 and 51% last year, with corresponding increases in smartphone purchases too.

The local implications are clear: to be competitive, shopkeepers need to enable customers to find them online, via “apps”, their website, smartphones, etc. The shift needs to happen NOW, and already has in some industries. For example, car or boat dealers rarely help customers decide on vehicle, upgrades and price. People show up already knowing the packages they want and the price they are willing to pay. If they come at all – one can buy a car from their living room if they choose to do so. Similar shifts have taken place in real estate (Zillow, Trulia) and in the taxi business (Uber, Lyft).

Remember…. to keep things local you must make it simple for people to buy your goods in a couple of clicks, wherever possible!

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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Stick To Solutions – Not Bickering!

Recently I came across a Facebook post by one of our county legislators, entitled “RTE. 6 – MAHOPAC SEWER PROJECT OVER BEFORE IT BEGINS”.  The post was expressing delight over how a County-led attempt to build a sewer line which would run down Rte. 6 in Mahopac, through Union Valley Road, Lovell Street, and eventually the Heritage Hills Sewage Treatment Plant, utilizing over 3.2 million dollars of state grants, had been a failure.

The legislator’s allegations continued: “In a letter from the Town of Somers Supervisor, Rick Morrissey, to Carmel Town Supervisor Ken Schmitt, Morrissey stated the County never notified the Somers officials of this sewer project which runs through their town. Instead they had to read about in the paper and press releases.”  The post also alleged that the County “did not do their due diligence” by verifying the capacity at the Somers plant nor gauging their interest.  The legislator lamented that the County lacks a Commissioner of Planning which “had been the subject of many heated debates.”  The legislator then boasted of being the only “NO” vote when the Putnam County Legislature approved a $160,000 feasibility study back in April, and how the sewer would have served the controversial Union Place and a possible hotel.

Several things strike me about this post. WHY would a member of any board be bragging about a failure of the board?  Not only is this counterproductive, but is it not the job of the entire board to seek options for infrastructure improvement?  Nowhere in this post does it speak about solutions, options nor praising the county for their efforts in this attempt to put a sewer down Route 6.

I participated in the meetings on this sewer extension.  Due diligence was done on the capacity for Heritage Hills, however, because Heritage Hills is privately owned, conversations took place directly with Heritage Hills.  The Town of Somers does have a district formed for Heritage Hills which was not obvious until a bit later on. The good news? Action was taken to improve the infrastructure in our county and money for studies have already been approved. Being controversial for the sake of being viewed a hero and for political gain as opposed to working as a team to improve the county is not what we elect our officials to do. More action and less negativity is what is in order.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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When Will People Realize The Golden Opportunity Right In Front Of Us?

Jobs.  Local jobs.  Local jobs with minimal college debt.  Some of us keep repeating the mantra over and over, but it often seems to fall on deaf ears.   With all the talk of burdensome student debt, free college, minimum wages and even a proposed (ugh!) Universal Basic Income, the fact is that right here in the Hudson Valley are opportunities for young people (and their parents!) to alter their expectations and take advantage of the demand for moderately-skilled, technically savvy workers at factories, on farms, and in the trades.

Did you know that tech giant GLOBALFOUNDRIES, now in East Fishkill as well as upstate Malta, NY and Burlington, VT, is hiring?  Much news has been made of the jobs that were lost as the company restructured after the IBM deal, but this is a hot industry, and local talent willing to be trained in the technical work of the semiconductor industry is always welcome to apply.   Other such companies with varying degrees of technical advancement are also seeking help.  Please don’t let the word “technical” scare you.  Can you turn a wrench?  Are you willing to get your hands dirty?   Is your driving license clean?   You may possess the necessary qualifications.

Here in Putnam County we have some great opportunities developing as well.  For example, take the developments at Tilly Foster Farm.  The BOCES culinary program helps students learn a valuable trade that can help find jobs at Hudson Valley restaurants, caterers, and other establishments.  And the demand is high for such skills.   Meanwhile the 4H and Cornell Cooperative Extension are collaborating to offer a Junior Vet course at the Farm, with future courses in Veterinary Science and Agriculture planned.  Again, these are useful skills that can translate into great local careers.  Please consider these options when helping to plan your child’s future studies.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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Supporting Local Charities Through A New Initiative

The Putnam County business community is very generous when it comes to charity. We have the highest amount of fundraisers, walks and relays per capita than any other County.

For example, the Mahopac Relay for life is coming up June 3rd, a wonderful community event and a great opportunity for local businesses to support the Cancer society.  There are 655 not-for-profit organizations not including local sports teams, Girl Scouts and schools in Putnam County.  The nonstop stream of organizations asking for financial air or other donations can be overwhelming, potentially putting a small business owner in a precarious position.  Saying “No” to a local team or school fundraiser can be a very unpopular decision and be harmful to one’s business!
The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce is considering the establishment of a not-for-profit council, designed specifically to help those such organizations which join the Chamber.  Such a council would allow for more promotional opportunity for the businesses that support these not-for-profits.  Charitable organizations operate to fulfill their missions, not to make money, but are allowed to create and maintain a strong reserve. These organizations are a huge part of the Putnam County economy and culture, with Hospital, healthcare providers, cultural organizations charitable foundations, non-government social agencies all making our county a better place to work and live.  The council could assist in dealing with the tax laws, regulatory burdens, workforce training and more that impact the success of nonprofit organizations.   If interested in being a part of this council please call me.

Some businesses aggressively support charities on their own.  This July 8, Mahopac Marine is hosting an annual Armed Forces Appreciation Festival, to raise donations for local disabled American veterans and to show appreciation for all the men and women who serve in our armed forces, both active duty and veterans. There will be activities all day long including free food for military personnel and veterans. Sponsorship and donation opportunities are available. Email Charlie Melchner for more details mahopacmarine@gmail.com or call 845 628-6550.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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Superstars of the Putnam County Workforce

With the untimely passing of Jason “Jay” Shenkman who had built a following as a bartender at the Chophouse Grille in Mahopac, I got to thinking about some of the amazing people who work for our Putnam County businesses. Customers were attracted to the fun atmosphere he fostered at the Chophouse.  We tend to focus on the business owners and the entrepreneurs. Jason left behind such a legacy in the Putnam County business community, it seemed worthwhile to dedicate this article to hima and other star employees in Putnam County.

You know a star employee the minute you meet one. He or she possesses the ability to change someone’s mood and make a transactional experience to a personal one.  A few come to mind in Putnam County.  For example, Rob Breidster of the service department at Park Ford is by far the most amazing customer service person I have ever dealt with. People buy cars from Park Ford just so their vehicles will be serviced by Rob.  Or take Pam Zacotinsky, ad executive for Quarterly magazine.  She has as much passion and client relationships as any dedicated owner would.  There are also many food establishments where the entire staff go above and beyond to make people feel at home, such as Florrie Kays in Carmel, or Buccis and Ramiro’s in Mahopac.

Putnam County has so many examples of star employees that it makes the flip side all the more frustrating. Among local business owners’ largest complaints is the difficulty of hiring and then keeping good employees and staff. I make a personal promise for the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce to give this issue more attention. We have partnerships with such groups as the Putnam Workforce Partnership, the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Board Career Center and the Department of Labor and need to further collaborate to develop our workforce.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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Advocating For Business Friendly Legislation

Economic success requires an environment with comparatively little regulation, lower operating costs and reasonable taxes. Here in New York, it seems that we continue to face a regulatory climate that hampers business development, especially in Putnam which relies heavily on family owned small businesses to fuel the county’s economy.

For example, there is legislation before a NYS Senate committee (S4343) to be voted on May 9th which would allow restaurants to purchase their liquor through local liquor stores. In NYS there are very limited distributors who are known to charge higher than retail prices. The ability to purchase locally will also add more cash flow into our economy. “This is the first step towards changing the system for buying wine and spirits,” says Senator Bailey, “but if it does not pass the committee then we’re stopped in our tracks. We need you to call and/or email the members of the committee, whether they represent you or not, before Tuesday to express your support for the bill.”

New York State needs to lighten up on restrictive business legislation, and this starts with our local senators!   Other laws enacted in 2016-‘17 prove that NYS has not shifted its position in favor of business. The window tinting law, for instance, signed by the Governor in November, requires auto shops to verify that tinted windows allow at least 70% of light into the vehicle to pass inspection, adding a time-consuming, unfunded reporting procedure of thousands of dollars to the annual cost of operation of these shops. These “little things” keep adding up.

The ongoing Minimum Wage hikes continue adding burdens to small business owners. Putnam County workers will see their minimum wage increase to $9.70 and another 70 cents every year until it reaches $12.50. Then it will increase based on an index until reaching $15. Many local business owners claim this burden may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The bottom line: we need to be communicating with state representatives to ensure they are concerned about our business climate.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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Consolidated Funding Applications, 2017 Edition

“CFA” has been a buzz word in politics for awhile, yet few seem to understand it.  With the process now in its 7th year, the NYS website says, “The CFA process marks a fundamental shift in the way state resources are allocated, ensuring less bureaucracy and greater efficiency to fulfill local economic development needs.  Utilizing the CFA serving as the single entry point for access to economic development funding, applicants will no longer have to slowly navigate multiple agencies and sources without any mechanism for coordination…”

Especially in Putnam County there are questions as to the real effectiveness of the program. We have seen small amounts of money coming into the county, but simply not enough. It seemed easier to bring NYS money home to Putnam County under the old system, despite its flaws and allegations of corruption.

This year’s REDC initiatives will award over $800 million across the 10 economic development regions of the state, including up to $225 million in performance based grants and tax credits from Empire State Development, and about $575 million from two dozen state agency programs.  The state is emphasizing the life sciences, workforce development strategies (including collaboration with industry and educational institutions), implementation of area strategic plans with buy-in from local stakeholders (business, education, local governments, not-for-profits, etc.) and offering additional incentives to encourage such action.

The only information session for those considering the 2017 round of CFA grants to be held in Putnam County will be Monday, May 22, 2017 at 9AM at the Putnam County Training Operations Center, Donald Smith Campus, 112 Old Route 6, Carmel.  Attendees will hear this years’ current criteria, receive direction in successful preparation for their project and have questions answered by the NYS Mid Hudson’s Regional Office. Meghan Taylor, Director and Putnam County’s agent, Eric Warren will be reviewing the details.

Please let us know if you are attending as seating is limited – (845) 228-8595 or info@putnamchamberny.org .

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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Carmel “Reval”: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance claims that municipal-wide reassessments are the best way to ensure that assessments are fair and accurate, and that such assessments are designed to ensure you pay only your fair share of taxes.  The Town of Carmel went 20 years or so without a reassessment, and therefore some properties have been over-assessed and some under-assessed over the years.  This is because some properties will have increased in value, while others may have decreased or stayed the same.  This is where some of the havoc has come from, especially since some things were not taken into consideration before taking on the task of a Town wide Reassessment.  Some thoughts:

  1. It is not the property owners fault that the reassessment has not been done for 20 years, and some people’s tax bills are going to nearly triple. How is it fair to expect any property owner come up with in some cases $10,000 to $60,000 more for a tax payment in 1 year?
  2. The impact of the reduction on watershed and utility property taxes should have been calculated.  Millions of dollars has been lost through an arrangement that has held us hostage to NYC.  This handicaps us greatly from building up our own rateable properties to highest and best use.  Commercial development would substantially ease the burden on area taxpayers.
  3. The search continues for balance between taxes and services.  County and town taxes are minimal, burdened with a 2% cap and state mandates.  We need to put more town money towards beautification and economic development, plus vital county services.  School taxes are exorbitant, and need a new funding model.  We should be going after CFAs and other available resources for main street revitalization and infrastructure improvements.

The Carmel Town Board should be commended for making a brave and tough decision, in most ways it is the proper thing to do and was very necessary. I just think some wise adjustments need to be made.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”

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CALLING ALL BUSINESS LEADERS!!

The inspiration for this week’s column came as I reflected on the brunch supporting our County Executive’s campaign. Maryellen Odell is someone that I respect, and I truly feel she cares about the business community and is passionate about the economic well-being of our county.  During the meeting, she spoke about the need to make words like sewer and infrastructure into “buzz words” as these are the biggest challenges to our economic development.  Her words prompted some thought about road blocks. People tell me every day their opinions on what should be done to make things better. Well, this is my challenge to those people: GET INVOLVED.  Get involved today, join our board, get on a committee, help write our legislative priorities for 2017. Below are some roadblocks in doing business in this county that you and I can overcome together.

  1. Communicating who you are and what you do. The chambers, tourism, EDC/IDA and the county need a streamlined process for a new or existing business to post events, grand openings, specials, sales etc.
  2. Workforce development. This is the number one issue I hear from business owners. We need training and education and one place to find out who is hiring.
  3. A hotel is so needed for us to attract people to come to our events, attractions, parks, commercial recreation, shops and dining. We have so much to offer, but people either leave the county to get away with friends and family or drive right past us seeking destinations like Beacon or New Paltz that have overnight accommodations.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind. We need fresh blood to get mobilized and ensure a great future for Putnam County businesses. We cannot sit around and complain about our elected officials if we are not willing to help ourselves.  Please…. Get involved!

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, “A business advocacy group”