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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

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Putnam County’s IDA Needs A Reboot

The board of the Putnam County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) resigned en-masse on Tuesday evening, January 12, 2016, over a situation that has been building for some time. IDAs are local municipal (County, city, village) entities organized under the mandates and regulations of the State. As government entities, they differ from economic development corporations (EDCs).

The EDC operated as a marketing force, utilizing IDA resources as a “tool box” of incentives to facilitate deals. A few years ago, requirements placed on IDAs became more specific and costly to comply with, and financing capabilities such as bonding were hampered by an unattractive bond market as well as more cumbersome rules and regulations. Financing through the IDAs often requires more time and effort than a business is willing to expend, especially with commercial financial institutions aggressively seeking to fulfil their needs.

Putnam’s EDC/IDA team had personnel issues a couple of years ago and the IDA was without an Executive Director, run by a volunteer board. A 2013 audit by the New York State Comptroller found some points of non-compliance and made 11 recommendations for correction. The IDA board, under the leadership of Acting Chairman Richard Ruchala, corrected those deficiencies.  Still, the IDA was not generating sufficient funding through its traditional means due to the changes in the regulatory requirements and the decline in economic activity to fulfil its operations. It requested funding from the County – administration and legislature. Such funding was not forthcoming, and the board resigned, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

New York State’s changing mandates, requirements and priorities have caused the termination of many IDAs. Perhaps it’s time for a reboot – a smaller county, such as Putnam, would probably be better served with a reconfigured team of EDC – IDA – Tourism and, perhaps the Chamber of Commerce, to market, incentivize, and facilitate the right mix of business for our unique circumstances.

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

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Setting the 2016 Legislative Agenda

The Business Council of New York State has set another aggressive agenda this year, calling for various legislative reforms in Albany and for infrastructure, education and workforce development investment to bring our state’s economy forward. The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce is setting a legislative priority plan that additionally focuses on our local and county-wide concerns.

To help build our economic future, Putnam County, in a county-wide partnership with its 6 towns and 3 villages, applied through the Governor’s Consolidated Funding Application process to prepare a feasibility study. This study would involve collaborative problem solving to offer solutions for the infrastructure development we need to make Putnam a viable place for businesses to become established or expand – especially emphasizing tourism and arts-and-culture. We requested funding for a $250,000 study; however the State Award came back as $50,000. Putnam County Planner Barbara Barosa and a team of knowledgeable people will now be working with these funds to put together the basis for future applications for projects that will, hopefully, be funded in the next round of the CFA process. The Mid-Hudson Region did not win one of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative awards, but did receive over $90 million for 2015’s project applications. Putnam received $475,500 and shared in a couple of regional program awards.

We now look forward to pulling together this county-wide feasibility plan. With new people in the leadership roles in our County Legislature and new Supervisors in Patterson and Putnam Valley as well as some new faces on Town Boards, we can look forward to continuing our positive relations with our elected officials. We will be holding our annual Elected Officials Forum on March 13th. Each year these collaborative get-togethers have resulted in building better communication among our leaders at the local, county, state and federal level. The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce will continue to work with our elected officials to promote business-friendly, community-conscious development so we can all enjoy and prosper in this 21st Century.

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

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Minimum Wage Increases And Other Regulations Pressuring Small Business

To tackle a difficult subject, I enlisted the opinions and help of a friend, past CEO of the Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce and present President/CEO, the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County Pete Bardunias.

From time to time we have teamed up to share business insights from both ends of Tech Valley and the Hudson Valley on important issues, and 2016 has brought quite a few new regulations to small business owners. We believe that the minimum wage increases now going into effect are presenting special challenges to our business communities.

Imran Siddiqui, owner of a Domino’s Pizza franchise in Halfmoon, NY (Saratoga County) mentioned recently that small businesses like his may be in danger of closure, because “my payroll will go up by $1500 per week without any additional increase in sales.” Similar sentiments exist here in Putnam County, where small business drives the local economy. The main issue is whether the mandated increases can safely be absorbed by local businesses without forcing cutbacks in staff size and/or services. In Saratoga County, where some farms compete with fast-food franchises for workers, they have moved away from hiring 14 and 15 year olds who have used those jobs to gain work experience, in favor of experienced immigrant workers. Also, some industries struggle to find workers right now, even though they already pay the wages the “Fight For 15” movement seeks. Manufacturing companies need workers with a minimal amount of training who wish to pursue careers in industry, and report considerable frustration in not being able to obtain them. It begs the question – with all these good quality jobs available, why incentivize workers not to gain the necessary training to pursue living wages in manufacturing companies, especially given that many of these companies will actually pay for the training?

In Putnam County, entrepreneur and owner of several Verizon Wireless zones, David Robles says the increases have actually had the exact opposite results. His employees are paid minimum wage plus commission to wind up around $18-$20 an hour average. He used to give raises on the the minimum wage portion based on performance reviews. “As a result of the increases, we have had to stop giving the raises. We have also had to eliminate our entry level and part time jobs. We have also had to lower our commission payout to get the employees to the same $18-$20 an hour. This effects the sales motivation, causes higher turn over, less jobs, less sales. The result? my employees actually make less with the increases in minimum wage and my bottom-line is effected. This on top of tax increases, inventory cost increases, rent increases, health insurance costs increases. We need small business and health care reform or we wont last”

Regulations are mounting on small business, due to State and Federal decrees regarding taxes, employee relations, health and safety requirements, the Affordable Care Act and now the minimum wage. We understand that our organization represent members whose opinions may differ on these subjects, but wanted to recognize the very real burden this mountain of government requirements is placing on the business community.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce, and Pete Bardunias, President/CEO, the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County