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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

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Standing Up For New York’s Small Business

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a recent report summing up the contributions of small business to the New York State economy, and the numbers are incredible: “451,000 entrepreneurs covering a vast spectrum from neighborhood coffee shops to specialized tech firms. These businesses generate more than $950 billion in annual revenue and 3.9 million jobs, or just over half of all private sector employment in the state.” He also touted the $150 billion in payroll supported by the small businesses of our state.

The Comptroller went on to say that “state government has a responsibility to help small businesses prosper and create jobs.” This is a very commendable assertion; however recent events have called into question the state’s commitment to this very premise. The Governor has already imposed sweeping health care mandates, is pushing to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and institute paid family leave, all of which are having a deep impact on the viability of small business in New York State. Under the proposed requirements, many of the jobs that the Comptroller touts in his report would be lost, younger and less skilled workers would struggle to find a pathway to the training they need to succeed, and the quality of life for all in our state would be adversely affected.

Recently, 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) which is sharing real world examples of businesses and organizations which are fearful of the negative impact of the minimum wage legislation. Surely our leaders have good intentions in attempting to make these changes, but the practical reality of adding massive new government regulation and expense on small businesses will be very detrimental to our economic future.

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

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It’s Time For Less Talk And More Action On Business Concerns

Prior to the recent Trailblazer Alumni Networking event on Thursday, February 25, County Executive MaryEllen Odell and I were collaborating on new business strategies while she was teeing up her State of the County Speech which will be held on March 10th, at the Putnam County Golf Course. She plans to announce that this year’s focus will be on business development, allocating resources properly to foster the best possible environment for economic growth throughout Putnam County.   Implementation of her vision will involve collaborative effort on the part of various agencies and organizations.

“It’s time to put all the stakeholders to the challenge of making sure that infrastructure projects become a priority for our towns and villages,” says Odell.   “It also means creating stronger relationships with the East of Hudson Corporation, who has identified where projects that fall under the Clean Water guidelines, and who can help facilitate and help fund some of our sewer and water projects that are critical for economic growth that safe for the environment.” The county executive clearly feels that getting everyone together will stop the finger-pointing and potential isolation that often plagues efforts such as this, where built-in bureaucracy preserves the status quo at the expense of getting anything done in terms of actual progress.

MaryEllen was unable to make the Trailblazer event due to travel delays, but sent the above message to be shared with attendees. It was the perfect forum, since the honorees for the evening included the business leaders who have been recognized during the Chambers’ 6 year existence. There were over 130 people in attendance who all share the same vision for Putnam County’s business climate.

At the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, we strongly feel that our mission this year is to partner with the county to gather the EDC, IDA, Tourism and all other economic development partners together to develop an immediate, actionable plan to attract businesses that support the existing commerce and our Main Street communities. Essentially, that means no more economic development in “low gear” – it’s time to upshift!

For more information please visit www.putnamchamberny.com or call President/CEO Bill Nulk at (845) 228-8595.

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

 

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Should Internet Transactions Be Taxed?

We have talked about the sales tax issues in past columns, and how acute the concern is for Putnam County to be able to bring in sufficient tax revenue as a result of sales being made within our borders. Another consideration is the effect Internet sales are having on local sales tax receipts. Last year, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives, aimed at leveling the playing field for local retailers by closing the so-called “online tax loophole”.

The idea behind the tax, as illustrated in H.R. 2775, is to create a Federal standard whereby the sales tax wherever the buyer is located would be charged on the internet transaction, much as if the buyer went to a local store to purchase. Hopefully it would be beneficial in making it less advantageous for people to buy online to avoid skipping out on paying sales tax.

There are some concerns over this approach, however. Many local businesses sell online too, and have adapted to the new paradigm caused by the Internet marketplace over the years. For those businesses, it is possible that this new regulation could create a burdensome accounting challenge and also place them at a continued price disadvantage over larger chains. There is also the question of how foreign sales and purchases would be handled. And would every individual who sells something on eBay have to collect sales tax?

It is laudable for our legislators to seek answers to this very important question. While the abovementioned bill may or may not solve the problem, it’s good to see some attention being paid to the question of how to give our small business communities the best chance to compete fairly and equitably in an increasingly global marketplace.

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

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A Stronger Business Community Is The Key To Prosperity

Judging from the sales tax receipts, Putnam County is facing a pretty strong economic challenge. In 2015, we were the only county in the Hudson Valley that saw sales tax collections decrease more than 3 percent. This is a distressing trend, and it’s important to draw the right conclusions from the data.

Putnam’s sales tax levy is relatively high, at 8.375%. It’s possible to draw the conclusion that the higher tax rate is part of the problem – after all, some upstate counties like Saratoga, with its 7% tax levy, posted substantial increases in tax receipts last year. But Ulster County, which increased its tax to 8% in 2014, saw one of the largest revenue increases also, bringing in 4% more into their coffers than in the past year.

The formula for higher sales tax receipts would thus seem to be more complex. It’s surely not a simple matter of raising rates to increase revenue, and it might not be wise to lower them either. Some attribute the lower sales tax revenue to lower gas prices, because there has been a substantial drop in the taxes paid on a gallon of gas. In Putnam alone that accounted for a $ 2 million decrease, enough to account for the shortfall in this year’s numbers.

I submit that relying on gas station revenues is not a good plan for a healthy county economy. We need to promote industry, bringing in a larger and more diverse business base that is more resilient to the quirks of the economy. Our communities need to welcome commercial enterprises and not handicap them with zoning and signage restrictions, and we need to better cultivate the tourism potential of being so close to 8 million potential customers in NYC and its suburbs. We’ve been driving the economic train with the brakes on for far too long.

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

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The Best Of Where The Country Begins

Over the last 6 years, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce has honored local business owners with the 40 under 40 award and the Trailblazer awards.   This year we are pulling together the alumni recipients for the largest networking event in Putnam County!

“This opportunity to spotlight and showcase Putnam County businesses is the best opportunity for business owners and leaders to increase their reach throughout the county. A true county wide networking opportunity”, says County Executive MaryEllen Odell.

The Trailblazer Alumni Event will be held on Thursday February 25th at the Bull and Barrel Brew Pub in Brewster from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $50 until February 15th and at $65 after February 15th at www.PutnamChamberNY.org or send a check to Putnam County Chamber of Commerce at 953 South Lake Boulevard, Mahopac, NY 10541.

Sponsorship opportunities are available (deadline February 11, 2016).   $500 purchases ¼ page in the event program and the company logo on invitations.   $1000 adds a display table and a “Principle” Membership level in the Chamber for 2016. $2500 takes the above but upgrades to a “Distinguished” Membership level, also a 30 second video spot on cable TV and 5 tickets to the event. Finally, the $5000 level includes the logo on invitations, a display table, a “Guardian” membership in the Chamber, 5 minutes to speak at the Trailblazer Alumni Event and 10 tickets.

The above represent some great opportunities to not only promote your business but also give much needed support to our County’s premier business organization.   The Chamber is growing more and more influential each year because of the increasing involvement of our local business community.   We are a force to be reckoned with in the Hudson Valley, and this means good news for Putnam County in attracting more business, better jobs, a broader tax base, enhanced grant monies, and raising the quality of life for us all.

So please come out to the Trailblazer Alumni Event! We look forward to seeing you at this event to help us celebrate the best of Putnam County.

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