This year’s Strictly Business Forum, its 30th, celebrated the hard-won growth and successes and shared the challenges of 2019. With the low nationwide unemployment rate at 3.7%, and the growth of well-paid manufacturing jobs, there has never been a better time to do business in the North Country.
The discussion at my Forum table was dynamic, brisk and enterprising. It seems that 2019 was a good year where many reaped profits from their hard work. Technology was used more, and more creatively, than ever. The community is strong and collaboration continues. However, there are some challenges ahead.
Arthur LeFevre, Supervisor, Town of Plattsburgh, Retired
A lifelong resident of the North Country, LeFevre, a World War II veteran, grew up in a large family. Added to those life-shaping experiences, he draws from 40 years of working for Verizon as well as 30 years of service to the Town of Plattsburgh. He has weathered many storms and is confident of people’s ability to accommodate and be flexible.
“We were able to deal with setbacks from the Air Base closing in 1995,” he observed. “They left behind a beautiful Base and an airport. It took time and adjustment but we realized we had resources locally and adapted to change. Twenty-five years later, look what we have. Local people make a difference!”
With a nod to the important engineering feat accomplished in the decade of 1957-67, the building of Interstate 87 (the Northway), LeFevre is proud of the accomplishments of the past, and uses their industrious, visionary example, as well as his love of the North Country, to remain optimistic.
“The Northway put us on the map,” he said.“After we got the traffic rerouted and borders adjusted, we realized we needed infrastructure (Natural Gas, Broadband, Fiber Optic). Once we had those in place, we realized we needed to expand our medical services. Now we have medical services connected to Burlington, Vermont through Hudson Headwaters and the UVM Health Network.”
Sally Meisenheimer, Clinton County Coordinator, North Country Conflict Resolution Services
As a mediator at the Rural Law Center and a Contract Counselor for NYS ACCES/VR at One Work Source, Meisenheimer addresses the conflicts and employment issues of low-income, disabled and rural New York State residents. “Mediation is growing and it’s an amazing resource,” she
explained. “It is a dynamic, structured, interactive process where an impartial third person assists disputing parties in resolving conflicts by using specialized communication and negotiation techniques.”
When asked about developing potential employees, Meisenheimer responded, “I prepare my clients by focusing on and developing their strengths and asking them, ‘What are you capable of?’ as opposed to ‘What are you not able to do any longer?’ You have to be brave enough to have those conversations.”
Through her work in the field, Meisenheimer sees people who battle addiction, poverty, have life-changing injuries, and are challenged by affordable transportation, housing and child care. “Many people I work with want to be successful but it’s difficult to make the financial and emotional departure from Social Services and Disability. I partner with human service agencies to assist people with this sometimes harsh and threatening transition.”
David Coryer, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Coryer Staffing
Although he had many years of experience living and working in the North Country, it wasn’t until Coryer, with his wife Elizabeth, began Coryer Staffing in 2016, that he began to fully appreciate the area and its people. “We have the best people working for us (12 full time, two part time),” said Coryer. “This year, we’ve experienced 40% growth, and have opened a satellite office in Potsdam.”
Coryer credits the RAMP program as a critical element of the future of Coryer Staffing. RAMP is an employment program launched by the company in 2018 providing guidance and direction to high school graduates in their first year of employment in the North Country. The program includes support and coaching from the RAMP Counselors as well as access to education and training through partnerships with Clinton Community College, CITEC and other professionals in the community.
“Some people need positive role models in their lives,” explained Coryer. “As we all know, kids don’t do what we say, they do what we do. We are finding with RAMP guidance and support through our RAMP Counselors, young adults can enter the paths of lucrative, interesting careers that will keep them in the North Country.”
When organizations learn of RAMP it is overwhelmingly and positively received,” said Coryer. “In addition to our traditional staffing services, we’re doing great.”
Thomas J. Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer,Glens Falls National Bank
Currently, there are 5,000 community banks in the United States,” said Murphy, “and Glens Falls National is ranked as the 343rd bank in the country. Glens Falls is part of the North Country, serving Warren, Washington, northern Saratoga, Essex, and Clinton counties. Our locations allow us to have banking and lending products that are nimble. We’re local. This year has been very good.”
Although its banks reside in a range of communities, and offer traditional banking products and services, Glens Falls National also uses state-of-the-art mobile banking which, Murphy has discovered, appeals to a broad demographic of customers.
With 530 employees spread throughout 30 offices, Murphy identified his biggest challenge as attracting and keeping good people.
Hailing from a home base in Glens Falls, Murphy spends as much time as he can in Plattsburgh during frequent business trips. “Plattsburgh has a four-year college downtown, tourism and manufacturing. The greatest lake in the country is here. Interest rates are good and holding steady. We are much stronger than we were. The future is bright and I am cautiously optimistic,” he emphasized.
Jacqueline Madison, President, North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association
“The North Star Underground Railroad Museum, located in the town of Ausable Chasm, our motto is ‘We are lighting Freedom’s Road’,” said Madison. With 5,500 visitors in 2019, we help bring people to the community at large. We relay the positive side of history.”
As with most museums, the Underground Railroad Museum would not survive without technology. Due to its inclusion in the National Park Service, North Star receives funding and currently has an Object Theatre video featuring the John Thomas story. The museum’s location, on the Mace Chasm Road north of Keeseville, puts it along the agri-tourism circuit. (The road has a brewery, creamery and vegetable farms open to the public). Visitors need to design their own tours but Madison is hoping to see bus tours in the foreseeable future.
“We are working on a web site, and would like to develop an interactive story, partnering perhaps with SUNY Plattsburgh’s internship program,” offered Madison. “Our goals for the future? The museum can no longer be just brick and mortar. We need more reenactors and to be technologically savvy.”
“Our goals for the future? The museum can no longer be just brick and mortar. We need more reenactors and to be technologically savvy.” —Jacqueline Madison
Patrick Leary, Owner, PM Leary Restoration
“Since 2009, we’ve grown every year,” said Leary. “As a result of this, we now have 57 employees in the field and 17 in the office—and we don’t have much turnover.” Working in the restoration field has its own rewards but what challenges did Leary face in 2019? “We don’t have enough broadband. We’re in five different counties during the day,” he said. “We started with 3×5 note- pads, now we’re 100% paperless. Technology training is constant, and we spend a lot of money on software training. Our 53 vehicles all have GPS.”
Another challenge faced by Leary, and nearly every other business currently, is the availability of skilled, reliable help.\
In 2020 Leary hopes to continue the company’s steady growth throughout each “finger” of the area. “We’re staying positive. Great growth in business. Whatever happens nationally, we can weather those times,” he assured.
Michael Carpenter, President, The Northeast Group
“MHAB has been a wonderful addition to The Northeast Group of companies, “said Carpenter. “Transitional housing with support services is a key component of our community’s plan to truly help our most vulnerable citizens in their quest to improve their lives.
As a local business that employs many entry level people who may have trouble finding an opportunity elsewhere because of legal issues, mental illness or addiction, we have experienced firsthand the value of giving people a chance to make a change. Local employers have been receptive to providing similar opportunities. Everyone at MHAB who wants to be employed is employed. That’s unheard of in the rehab model.”
When asked about The Northeast Group’s business, Carpen ter responded, “Our business is solid. We do printing, mailing, warehousing, shipping, product distribution, and real estate. When one market tightens or regulations change, we can rely on another aspect of the business. We are all about employee retention. Our divisions exchange employees. We get along well with our competitors and there is a tremendous amount of collaboration.”
Like every business, The Northeast Group relies on technology. It is dependent on the Cloud for exchange of information with customers and the company has a huge social media presence, especially for Strictly Business magazine.
“When the Base closed, we were one of the first companies to buy property here. We invested in this end of town,” Carpenter emphasized. “We need to believe in ourselves. Lake Placid and Montreal are different entities. We don’t compete with them, they’re our partners.”
Advice and Wisdom
The Qualities for each that are Most Important to Business Success.
Patrick Leary: Now that we are 100% paperless, some workers are finding it a challenge to keep up with the software changes and demands. We have to respond to that with increased training and support.
Sally Meisenheimer: We have a thriving community. There’s so much love, friendship, comradery, and support. We’re a real, every day, safe, friendly, prosperous place to live. If someone wants to succeed here, they can.
Mike Carpenter: We have to become more creative to get more people in the workforce. If we take the extra time to meet special needs, we will identify wonderful employees.
Tom Murphy: It’s amazing to watch what’s happening in manufacturing in the North Country. Phenomenal! This area is the role model for businesses and employment right now.
David Coryer: With RAMP and micro-certifications from Clinton Community College we are growing that young adult pool—the first-year employee. We believe they’ll have better habits and long-term development and satisfaction in their chosen fields.
Jacqueline Madison: Museums have to move toward technology. There’s no other way for us to survive.
Arthur LeFevre: Location, location, location. I can see the future getting better and better.
“I was wrapping up a month long trip along the West Coast with my college buddy,Jed, and then settling into a basement apartment in Salt Lake City! My young professional life was just beginning!” David Coryer Coryer Staffing
“I was living in Epstein, Germany, experiencing the excitement of raising a young family in Europe.” Sally Meisenheimer ACCES/VR Contractor and Life Coach
“I was working on my Master’s degree in Library and Information Management at Emporia State University in Kansas.” Jackie Madison Underground Railroad Museum
“I was a partner in Curtis, Murphy & Jeffreys, LLP, a small CPA firm located in Glens Falls NY that the three of us had just started 15 months earlier. I was looking ahead to our second tax season—a stressful and exciting time!” Tom Murphy Glens Falls National Bank/Arrow Bankcorp
Karen Hailson Bouvier is an English Language Arts teacher at Northeast Clinton Central School.