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Will Tax Free Back-to-School Shopping Become A Reality Again This Summer?

Legislation to eliminate the county portion of sales tax in Putnam during 10 days in August, requested by Putnam County government, has been approved by the state Senate. This would mean shoppers enjoy an almost 50 percent sales tax reduction, from 8.38 percent to 4.38 percent (3/8 % is the MTA surcharge), when shopping in the county from August 20th-31st, for clothing and footwear under $110.

Due to high taxes and with Connecticut retail centers less than 20 minutes away, Putnam County retail businesses are up against the stiffest competition in New York State. Our retail stores rise to the occasion with excellent customer service and unique offerings. This sales tax free week would give them an edge on sales and be an effective “thank you” for their commitment to our county. However, the Assembly still needs to vote on the measure.

“We still need the Assembly to pass the bill,” says Putnam County Executive Maryellen Odell. “Putnam has requested the tax holiday in previous years, but it has not been OK’ed by the Assembly. This year, we hope they will vote in accordance with the needs of Putnam constituents.” The County Executive has made a major portion of her platform this year the continued revitalization and support of the Putnam business community. With strong efforts being undertaken in neighboring communities, we must not lose our focus on making sure area businesses have the best chance to succeed in an ever more challenging environment.

Of the total 8.38 percent sales tax rate in Putnam County, 4.38 percent of the generated revenue goes to the state and the MTA and the remaining 4 percent goes to the county. This bill would eliminate the local share during the 10-day period, dropping rates by almost half. County government and business leaders agree that we need this tax relief to maintain competitiveness at a crucial time of year.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Assessing The Business Value Of Divided Government

When (if ever) is it acceptable for business community leaders to weigh in on the political makeup of the state Legislature? According to a recent article by POLITICO New York’s Jimmy Veilkind, Heather Briccetti thinks the time is now. The leader of the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS) has maintained for awhile that preserving an upstate-downstate balance in state government means supporting Republicans in upstate districts in order to offset the predominantly Democratic representation downstate.

Last fall at the BCNYS annual meeting, Briccetti pointed out that “Republicans, generally speaking, are from Upstate and from Long Island and the Democrats – the vast majority are from the metropolitan New York City area.” Veilkind’s September report forecast potentially difficult circumstances for upstate, as Briccetti said “if the Democrats regain control of the Senate, that means both houses of the Legislature will be controlled by leadership from New York City, which means Upstate and Long Island will be in the minority.”

As the 2016 legislative session concluded, she again expressed concern about this upstate-downstate political disparity, saying “I don’t think there’s a full awareness of the stark differences in the economic conditions of Upstate versus New York City,” according to Veilkind’s latest POLITICO article. Despite the tension between the Republican and Democratic camps, the BCNYS President/CEO views this as a geographic and not a political issue, and this seems reasonable given the unique and divergent needs of the different communities.

Navigating such treacherous political waters is not easy for any business community leader, but Heather Briccetti has proven to be particularly adept at such matters. An accomplished lawyer who lives on a farm in the Capital Region, she has been willing to take criticism while pushing fervently for causes deemed important to her organization. We would do well to pay attention to her guidance regarding upstate-downstate balance in our legislature.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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The Indian Point Debate: Safety Concerns Versus Energy Access

At a recent hearing regarding the NRC’s assessment report on Indian Point’s safety performance in 2015, a large number of speakers weighed in with their views on the plant’s future. Attendees were fairly evenly split between the pro- and anti-Indian Point viewpoint, and Putnam County Chamber President/CEO Bill Nulk visited the proceedings and made several observations.

A NRC panel of presenters comprised of veteran servicemen from the US Navy nuclear program explained the findings of the NRC regarding Safety Performance at Indian Point during the previous year. They described processes and procedures, and also addressed the recent tritium leaks, the transformer fire and the Algonquin Pipeline concerns. A public comment period followed.

Certain points of view seemed to be the most prominent. The “anti” speakers tended to discredit the competency and bias of the NRC panel and the accuracy of the report; “neutrals” commented on the importance of Indian Point to the economic and social aspects of the community; and the “pros” were complimentary regarding the stated dedication to safety by the Nuclear Energy industry.

In the end, the main issues were (1) is the reactor safe, or are the recent tritium link and other issues indicators of larger problems down the road, and (2) is Indian Point capable of being adequately replaced any time soon? Many of the anti-Indian Point people held signs saying “Shut It Down”, but what would be the result? Other energy sources have been considered, and one interesting estimate showed that a windmill farm to replace the plant would fill all of Westchester County!

Indian Point has a good record of safety and response to incidents. It would be expensive and probably not even practical to close Indian Point and still supply sufficient power to the lower Hudson Valley. For this reason, the Chamber feels that until alternative energy is sufficiently developed, Indian Point remains an indispensable part of our energy delivery system.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Teaming Up For A Successful “Year of Business Development”

At Putnam County’s annual “State of the County” event, County Executive Maryellen Odell announced a special “Year of Business Development”. Given that lofty goal, various elements of our business community are working together to help bring about the vision of a stronger, more economically sustainable Putnam County business community. On Thursday, June 23, from 8:00-9:30AM at the Putnam County Golf Club, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors – CID Division, NYSCAR and the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation will come together for an annual meeting and breakfast to further advance the cause.

No surprise given her ambitious declaration, the speaker for the event will be County Executive Odell herself, and she will further outline her thoughts regarding why companies should call Putnam County their home. This collaboration of the county’s chamber of commerce, lead economic development agency and its leading real estate professionals is designed to help showcase available properties, spur business expansion and help new and existing businesses gain the tools and advocacy needed to succeed in today’s very challenging economic climate.

We believe that Putnam County’s economic fortunes are on an upswing, but the economy remains tight and all available resources and expertise need to be brought to bear to achieve measurable improvements. Our Putnam Industrial Development Agency has been revived, and initiatives were announced at last month’s Legislative Economic Development Committee meeting to clean up litter and promote a “hospitality attitude” throughout our county. Working together with skilled, trusted colleagues and supported by dedicated public servants, we can and will make a positive difference. Please consider attending this all-important business development event.

To RSVP for the event, email Bill Nulk at bnulk@putnamchamberny.org or 845 228-8595.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Women Take The Lead At The Greater Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce

Putnam County’s largest local chamber of commerce became a showcase for the talents of strong female leadership this month as Faith Ann Butcher, of Mahopac News – Halston Media, and Amy Sayegh, of Putnam Community Cares, became Chairwoman and Vice Chairwoman, joining CEO & Executive Director Erin Meagher in key leadership roles. This marks the first time the chamber has seen so many women in these capacities.

Ms. Butcher has been an active member and board member of the organization for several years and her volunteerism in the community has made a major difference in not only promoting business but also in cementing community spirit. “I think running a business-minded organization or being passionate about the issue of economic development is no longer taboo for a woman, thanks to women like Dr. Marsha Gordon, Meghan Taylor and Jennifer Maher. It is no longer the all-boys club. The fact that The Greater Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce has women in its CEO, chair and vice chair positions shows that what matters to the membership is that you are solution-oriented, driven and ready to roll up your sleeves and work.”

Likewise, Ms. Sayegh, whose very business embodies the sense of caring for the needy in our community, brings years of experience as both a local entrepreneur and a participating chamber member to her leadership role.

Ms. Meagher is pleased with the makeup of the entire board, male and female, as well as the election of her two chief bosses: “I’m proud to work with the great women in leadership of the Greater Mahopac Carmel Chamber of Commerce. For over 65 years, the Chamber has been the leader as a business advocacy group in Putnam County and I look forward to working with our local leaders to ensure Putnam County, and especially the Greater Mahopac Carmel area is open for business for years to come.”

Women have been ascending to many key leadership roles in area chambers of commerce in recent years. Joyce Minard led the New Paltz Regional Chamber until her 2012 retirement, while Marsha Gordon continues to excel at the helm of the Business Council of Westchester. Rose Aglieco serves as Executive Director over in Brewster, Lynn Cione took over the Orange County Chamber when longtime President Dr. John D’Ambrosio retired, and Kathy Prizzia is the Executive Director in New Paltz.

The Greater Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce continues to be an effective community business organization – now is the time to get involved and help shape our economic future!

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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A Business Perspective On Donald Trump

With news that the billionaire New York businessman is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, it seems worthwhile to see how the race has progressed to this point and what it may mean from a business perspective.

In the wake of the decisive Indiana primary, pollster Nate Silver of FiveThiryEight made the comment that “Republican voters…intervened to wrestle control of the nomination back from the delegates” starting April 19 when Trump began his unbroken string of winning majorities in 7 consecutive contests. This is an interesting observation, especially in context of an article that this phenomenon represents a “failure of a political institution.” Regardless of one’s political persuasion it would seem that a political system is at its best when the voters can express themselves through the fair, legitimate casting of their votes.

Trump (and to be fair, Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side) seems to have tapped into a groundswell of concern by an extraordinary number of citizens that not only is the country headed in a problematic direction, but that something is sorely lacking in terms of economic opportunity at all levels. Take for example the devastation of many industries such as coal mining. Trump’s steadfast assertion that he will reverse this trend has resonated strongly with affected voters.   The case can be made that this is a very reasonable economic policy, because making energy more available and economical will broaden options for economic development and help free businesses from the shackles of overburdening and overreaching regulations.

At the same time, Trump’s naysayers, including likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, point to his brash personality, blunt statements and seemingly contradictory stances on many issues as reason to oppose his candidacy, and they will do so vigorously. This election is by no means in the bag for either candidate. The takeaway for New York: our state factors heavily into the campaigns of both parties, and that is good news indeed!

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Mixed Perspectives On The New York Budget

New York State adopted its budget this week, and, predictably, the level of enthusiasm for its contents varied depending on political perspective.   The New York State Executive Chamber extolled the virtues of having come “together as New Yorkers, Democrats and Republicans alike, to make our state stronger, safer and fairer now and for years to come. “Governor Cuomo’s representatives pointed to the raising of the minimum wage to $15, the implementing of 12 week paid family leave, holding growth in state spending to the 2% cap, massive amounts of school aid and expanded funding for infrastructure improvements.

On the other side of the coin, the Business Council of Westchester, represented by Executive VP John Ravitz, felt that “the Governor and leaders of the Senate and Assembly resorted to an all too familiar pattern. The final negotiations were held through the night, behind closed doors with virtually no public transparency and no opportunity for legislators to review it.” Ravitz claimed success in that the minimum wage increase will not be “in a one-shot manner as originally proposed” and that the BCW “played an important role in slowing down the implementation which in Westchester will take place over five-years.  Further, if the economy weakens, the increases will be curtailed.” Putnam County is somewhat fortunate in being realistically considered an “upstate” county and will be included in the $12.50 minimum wage mandate for our area.

Ravitz also mentioned the BCW’s advocacy in obtaining “increased funding for infrastructure repairs that is provided in the new budget. It is critically important in attracting and retaining businesses that our roads, bridges and mass transit are well-maintained and safe. The funding in the budget for infrastructure is a step in the right direction.” This seems to be a very good idea – New York State’s infrastructure is a mess, and desperately needs attention. On balance, I would conclude that this is an imperfect budget, which may well hurt many of our businesses, but the compromise was deemed the best possible by those involved.

Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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The Year of Business Development

As your passionate local advocate for area businesses and entrepreneurs, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce is excited that County Executive Maryellen Odell has proclaimed 2016 the Year of Business Development.  Her actions will place an all-important focus on the need to push forward with an aggressive agenda to not only identify areas to improve the business climate but to implement practical strategies to get things done and achieve tangible results.

We have 2 events coming up to plan and implement this concept.  First, a discussion of the Putnam County Chamber’s legislative priorities at  a lunch meeting – Tuesday, April 5th, 11:30 – 1:00 pm at Cornerstone Park in Carmel, open to all in the business community.   Later in the month, there will be annual Elected Officials’ forum Sunday, April 17, from 1 to 3, pm, also at Cornerstone Park.

At these meetings, we hope to lay the foundation for all the work that needs to be done, in order to drive economic development forward. The list of priorities is, but not limited to the following:  Infrastructure, identifying shovel ready projects, filling commercial vacancies, developing a healthy business climate by developing our workforce, improving public transportation and steering legislative priorities, getting on the radar for NYS Economic development project opportunities, and opposing New York State mandates.

We must act.  The chamber is going to be inviting the heads of the Economic team to the table; EDC, IDA, Tourism, Legislative reps and the local chambers to have a frank conversation on what we need to do to get our economic development into high gear.  With the state’s seemingly antibusiness quest for a “Campaign for Economic Justice” and the dramatic presidential campaign making the Federal future uncertain, it is more important than ever to dig deep locally and get things done!

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Here’s A New Hashtag, Let’s Help Workers #Find15

A few weeks ago we discussed how a consortium of over 50 business groups, chambers of commerce and economic development agencies have developed a campaign called the Minimum Wage Reality Check (www.minimumwagerealitycheck.com) to share real world examples of businesses and organizations which are fearful of the negative impact of the minimum wage legislation. The Business Council of Westchester put out an additional memo this week clearly demonstrating how an ill-conceived push to impose an arbitrary and economically unsustainable $15/hour minimum wage will hurt not only businesses but the very workers it was intended to support!

According to a February survey sanctioned by the BCW of those opposing the $15 wage:

  • 97% said it would decrease their hiring from youth workforce development programs.
  • 91% would likely or definitely hire fewer employees.
  • 47% said it would somewhat or significantly drive up wages for other employees.
  • 46% would likely or definitely curtail expansion plans.
  • 42% would likely or definitely reduce employee benefits to make up for the increase.
  • 37% said it would likely or definitely cause layoffs.
  • 15% said they would need to close their businesses.

That is hardly a recipe for success! Plus it runs counter to the very advice we should be giving unskilled workers, which is to get the readily available training necessary to get better paying jobs which are available throughout the Hudson Valley. Granted we don’t have as many $15 and up jobs here that other parts of the state enjoy, but the more collective skills we obtain the better chances of attracting more employers to Putnam County which will pay competitive wages. That’s why some of us think the correct hashtag should be #Find15 – if you are looking to find a better job, we think we can help you get there!

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Keeping Legislative Priorities at the Forefront

The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce continues to focus its efforts on reducing the burdens placed on our small businesses, and also reducing the cost of conducting business wherever possible.  This involves advocacy at the local, State and even Federal level.

There is still a great need for countywide planning with an emphasis on basic infrastructure. A Master Plan still needs to be developed, encompassing the local municipalities for a total look at where we are and what we plan for the future.  We urge our municipalities to adopt business-friendly attitudes regarding zoning and signage. Additional and thriving businesses will grow our county’s sales tax revenue and a reduction of the tax, to dispel the perception of Putnam as having the highest shopping cost.  The renegotiation of the Watershed Agreement and reorganization of our County’s Economic Development team should be seen as common sense steps toward better efficiency.

State mandates continue to be very burdensome, and we need relief from the constraints on our municipalities and school districts that limit their flexibility to provide the necessary services in ways appropriate for their constituents.  This might allow for creative approaches that serve better at lower cost.  Simply put – our taxes are driving businesses out of New York.  New York must also repeal outdated laws and regulations like the Wicks Law and the Scaffold Law, and the SEQRA process and Workers Comp guidelines need to be reformed or eliminated.

We need energy too – we seek new, “green” sources of energy but as a matter of practicality, it’s time to get the Indian Point relicensing approved and Spectra Gas Line renovations built while we get realistic alternative energy sources developed.  Windmills and the hope of conservation won’t get us through the next decade or two, but smartly planned conventional power plants, pipelines and transmission systems will help relieve pressure on our energy infrastructure and allow new sources of power to develop naturally.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce