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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

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Annual Trailblazer Awards Event To Recognize Over 100 Past Recipients

Another year with many positive achievements is ending, and a new one with much promise is about to begin for Putnam County. To help get things off to a fast start, we are changing things up a bit. We are moving the venue to the Bull and Barrel Brew Pub in Brewster and we have chosen to celebrate all of our past Trailblazer Award recipients of the past 6 years. That is well over 100 Putnam County business leaders to recognize and celebrate!

“We are looking to create the only true county wide networking opportunity while showcasing many great business leaders. We always sell out at close to 350 people at this event. Given its networking potential, we hope to see even more attendees at this one!”, says Trailblazer award chairwoman Julie Boyd.

A Trailblazer Award is a great honor, honoring the recipient as someone who has striven to positively impact our business communities. The event will be on February 25th; so Save the Date!

Dinner, live music and entertainment while creating new business opportunities is the setup at this marquee occasion which attracts business owners and community leaders from throughout the County. It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together and share in the richness of our communities, our commerce districts, and our culture.

Tickets will be available soon – for more information visit www.putnamchamberny.org or call Putnam County Chambers of Commerce President Bill Nulk at (845) 228-8595 for assistance.

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

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Real Estate Market Helps Explain Our Local Economy

According to data from the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, with a footprint of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties, the Putnam County housing market is trailing Orange but leads Rockland and Westchester with an increase of sales up 21% during the 3rd Quarter of 2015 vs 2014.  All in all 2015 has been a strong market for Putnam County. Median sales price show increases in Single family home, Condos and co-ops. Our inventory shows a slight decrease as do all neighboring counties over 2014, thus trending in the direction of steady recovery.

One area for concern for Putnam County is that real estate experts are reporting younger populations are returning to downtown, urban areas. Inman news said that “Many cities nationwide have undergone a cultural renaissance of sorts. City planners and business owners have transformed urban spaces into 18- and 24-hour locales that attract the younger buyers mentioned earlier into the cities. No longer is it acceptable that only the great coastal cities can be alive around the clock and on weekends. The 18-hour city is emerging across the country, and the urban core is competing again.”  

With senior citizens being our only rising population in Putnam County a serious effort focusing on our downtown areas, convenient Public transportation, walkability and an easy commute is a must. However, overlooking the younger generations doesn’t support the new information economy, nor does it strengthen our workforce which is crucial in attracting industries. As Medicaid costs continue to rise, a balance in age demographics is crucial.

As stated in future market reports, Putnam County does possess some things in its favor when it comes to property values.

  • We have a low unemployment rate of 4.4%.
  • We are an affluent community with a median household income of $92,711.
  • Since 2009, Putnam County’s crime rate has decreased 34.2% making it the most improved county in New York State in this metric.
  • Our home ownership rate is 83.4% which is much higher than surrounding counties.
  • We are still a small, closely knit community with our population just under 100,000.

There is room for even more optimism. Our current Administration works hand in hand with our EDC/IDA, Chambers of Commerce, and Tourism and is focused on quality of life issues such as infrastructure improvements, revitalization, smart development, and transportation improvements. The county continues to partner with local Realtors to sell county-owned properties. We have astutely avoided over development and over commercialization and instead are famous for scenic bodies of water, parks and mountains. Plus, Putnam County still lies within a short, easy commute to Manhattan.

The fact that Putnam County shares the region’s continually increasing taxes, offers fewer services than neighboring counties, and has a less developed infrastructure makes it a challenge to attract more buyers to the county. Luckily, these issues are balanced by the pleasant lifestyle offered by the open, green spaces, bodies of water and privacy we have to offer. Putnam County is poised for growth. We have many revitalization and infrastructure improvements in the works such as Envision Brewster, a new sewer district in Kent, improvements in downtown Mahopac, hopeful municipal water for Putnam Valley’s Oregon corners and slated projects for Southeast, Coupled with our beautiful surroundings and demographics we will continue on our path of housing recovery. This is where we, the community at large come in. I encourage more fellow community members to get involved at a local level to monitor municipal governments and partner with our elected officials to slow down the tax increases, and foster sustainable improvement to the quality of life.

Future development must encourage millennials to move to Putnam County, bring industry that keeps them working and provide transportation for them to live the lifestyles they desire. We can make a difference. While we face our challenges, Putnam County should enjoy a favorable real estate market in the near future, benefiting from collaborative efforts to build an even stronger community and an attractive place to live, work and play.

– Jennifer Maher, Vice President Hudson Gateway Of Realtors

2016 Vice President Hudson Valley Chapter New York State Commercial Association of Realtors.

Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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Shopping Small At The Holidays

For Small Business Saturday, Putnam County Executive Maryellen Odell and I did some shopping as we usually do, visiting small businesses throughout the area and enjoying the experience of supporting our neighborhood shops which mean so much to the local economy. Spending time in the businesses gave us an opportunity to see how things were going on this important shopping day, but also to demonstrate that your countywide Chamber of Commerce is working closely with officials to ensure healthy, steady growth and opportunity for businesspeople as well as current and future employees.

“It was a real super way to kick off the holiday season by checking on all our “small shops ” and to wish them all a very healthy and prosperous Christmas and Hanukah,” said County Executive Odell, “and get a good deal of my holiday list checked off!” I felt the same. There are quality shops with great products, some of them locally made, to fill out your holiday list. We visited the following stores: Kismet in Cold Spring, which specializes in “gifts for her”, then the General Store in Cold Spring which has a variety of gifts for adults. Next we stopped at Swing in Cold Spring, which serves both children and women. Carmel Flower Shop has gifts for all, as does Verizon Wireless Zone in Brewster. Then we drove through Patterson to the Patterson Greenhouse, offering gifts for the “green thumbs” in our lives, and finished up at Lynn’s Card Smart in Mahopac which has a variety of holiday cards and gifts.

This was just a sampling of the many possibilities to shop locally. You can buy everything from cards and small gifts to cars and boats, without crossing out of our county’s borders. There truly are many reasons to “Shop Putnam”, and our County Executive and I were proud to help lead the way for area shoppers.

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

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Small Business Saturday Brings Opportunity to Putnam Entrepreneurs

Each year, an event designed to support and promote the approximately 80 million independent businesses in this country has grown larger and stronger. Known as Small Business Saturday, the event takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving (this year it’s Saturday, November 28) and continues to draw attention on the need to support local small business entrepreneurs despite living in the era of the big box stores. Admittedly in Putnam County it’s a lot easier to support small business since the overwhelming majority of businesses in our county are run by families.

To support the initiative, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce is once again coordinating a group effort in conjunction with County Executive Maryellen Odell and business leaders from throughout the County (Brewster, Carmel-Kent, Cold Spring Area, Greater Mahopac-Carmel, Patterson, and Putnam Valley). Members of the Chambers and our County Executive will be visiting businesses in each of our commerce districts in a “cash mob” style, making purchases and helping instill a little extra excitement in our communities. Stores in each commerce district will be visited, as designated by each of the participating local Chambers. Last year, it was so exciting to be able to participate in such a powerful marketing tool, directly helping some but indirectly focusing attention on all of Putnam’s independently owned businesses.

You can make a difference in helping support small businesses – simply Think Local First when choosing where to purchase items. With a little research you’ll be surprised at how many needed items you can get here, from a local merchant, where your dollars stay here in the county and help your neighbors support their families. Given the time to prepare, perhaps you can support our Small Business Saturday initiative – plan ahead as to where you might begin your holiday shopping, and after putting the Thanksgiving dishes away, come spend a Saturday shopping locally in Putnam County!

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

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Industry Cluster Effort Paying Off For Hudson Valley

A few short years ago the concept of Industry Clusters in and around our area was a very foreign one, indeed. We simply didn’t recognize the impact that attracting groups of similar businesses might have on Putnam County’s economic future. More recently, however, the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp lead by Larry Gottlieb and the work done by the Regional Economic Development Council has greatly advanced this concept to the point where several key groups are taking root on the other ( western) side of the River, fueling optimism that this can be done here as well.

I recently had the chance to listen to Larry Gottlieb speak at the November meeting of the New York State Commercial Association of Realtors. His passion and vision for the region and all the counties he covers is evident in his speech and actions. He filled us in on the areas where economic development efforts seem to be paying off , such as food and beverage, 3D printing, and Meds and Eds (hospitals and universities). SUNY New Paltz’s ground breaking 3D printing initiative garnered over $12 million in state and private funding and this spells real opportunity for Orange and Ulster Counties to capitalize on a major investment. The 3D initiative also promoted collaboration among students, faculty and regional businesses.

One advantage the communities benefiting from these newly formed and successful industry clusters get to take advantage of, except of course Putnam County, is a local college. We still lack a post-secondary education resource of any kind within our borders, and this means all the major grant money being awarded all across the State of New York for expanding learning initiatives and research is ending up elsewhere. We need to find a way to get such a school here, opening the door to both public and private investment dollars, which would in turn boost our efforts to create an R&D center and build those long-sought industry clusters.

Real economic success in attracting industries to the Hudson Valley is happening tantalizingly close to our borders. The challenge is to make some of it possible right here in Putnam County. I am confident we can achieve this if we keep pursuing these objectives.

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

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Remember Our Veterans…. And Hire Them

As told by the Putnam County Veterans’ Services Agency, “on the morning of November 11, 1918, after four years of war,   Allied and German powers met in Rethondes, France, to sign an armistice that halted the hostilities of World War I. The agreement was signed shortly after 5:00 a.m. and went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, finally bringing to an end the carnage of the Great War—the war thought by many to be the war that would end all wars. This date was designated as Armistice Day to honor the Veterans of that war…”

Sadly, it wasn’t the end but rather the beginning of a very violent period of nearly 100 years. Veterans of all ages have returned from overseas conflicts to a barren job market, and as we remember our veterans on Veterans Day, Wednesday, November 11th, please consider hiring a vet or supporting their efforts to start a new business.

Veterans deserve our thanks for serving to defend our freedom and our way of life, and are ready for our workplace, demonstrating maturity and an understanding of teamwork often lacking in other young citizens.  They volunteered for service with a good basic education and then were well trained in a variety of skills – not just to point and fire a rifle.  Today’s battlefield is a place of high-tech communications, logistics, mechanics, medicine and more.

Some vets struggle with the transition into civilian life, and our concern and support is needed.  However, most are more than ready to take their place in our general society with a little assistance. The Putnam County Chambers of Commerce works with our local Veterans’ Services Agency to promote awareness and assist in their transition to civilian life.  For information contact Karl Rohde, Director, Putnam County Veterans’ Services Agency at (845) 808-1620, email  karl.rohde@putnamcountyny.gov

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

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Please Be Informed…. And Vote…. On November 3

The 2015 elections are coming up next Tuesday, essentially “hiring” our Elected Officials to make important decisions on our taxes and the other policies.  Yet only 11% of the eligible voters turned out for the Primary Elections back in September.  Low turnouts mean the votes of a very few can determine the outcome that affects everyone.

Why is this election significant?  The positions of Town Supervisor and some of the Town Council are being decided in each of our 6 towns; as well as the Mayor and some Trustees in the Village of Brewster.  The District Attorney race and 3 of our County Legislators – representing parts of 5 towns (Scuccimarra/Osborne: Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley; Nacerino: Patterson; Castellano/Riley: part of Southeast and Carmel).  Town Clerks, Town Justices, Highway Superintendents are also on the ballots, as is a choice for Judge in the NYS Supreme Court-9th Judicial District.

People in many different countries in just the last few years celebrated when they had their first chance to vote in free elections – remember the purple thumbs?  Yet Americans know so many people who don’t bother to vote, saying, “My vote doesn’t count.”  Really?  In 2013 an upstate election for Town Supervisor was decided by one vote, after two disputed votes for the opponent were thrown out in court.  Perhaps there were a few people in that community kicking themselves the day after for not showing up at the polls!

Even a vote for an unopposed candidate is a vote of confidence and thanks for their service.  If you submit a ballot but did not vote for an unopposed candidate, that fact will show up as a poor response from the total number of voters.  That sends a message too.

Every voter’s ballot counts.  Please exercise your right and the privilege of casting a vote on Tuesday, November 3rd.

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