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Tenacity, Resilience and Optimism

by Justine Parkinson

As the crowd gathered and settled into their tables, we listened to The Northeast Group President and co-founder of MHAB’s convivial and sometimes caustic anecdotes as he brought us all together. The lively leaders at my table provided a wealth of knowledge and insight and an earnest commitment to community.

We welcomed two first time attendees.

Jennifer Boyer, Finance, Central Dispatch, HR & Marketing Manager-KCB Inc. dba Warren Tire Service Center joined the family business 20 years ago, filling in temporarily during the absence of a key employee, and found a passion for all things tire and service. The community also knows her for her driving commitment to the Plattsburgh Half Marathon and Destination Downtown events.

Brendan Owens, Partner, Stafford, Owens, Murnane, Kelleher, Miller, Meyer, Zedick, PLLC, second-generation attorney at the Stafford Owens Law Firm, follows his father, former US Congressman Bill Owens, as a great contributor to the Forum. Brendan’s eleven years at the firm has allowed him to grow in both his professional craft as well as his commitment to the region through a broad range of community activities.

Two other dynamic leaders returned for repeat visits to the Forum.

Molly Ryan, Executive Director, Clinton County Industrial Development Agency, returned for her second year. A dynamic characteristic is Molly’s dedication to excellence and confidence. Her career experience in politics, non-profits and now, industrial development brought a broad lens to the dynamics that face our region.

Alexandra Barie, NYS Assoc. Real Estate Broker at CDC Real Estate Inc., second-generation Forum attendee, third time participant, displays a youthful energy to all that she does. An accomplished realtor, Board Chair of the North Country Chamber of Commerce and founder/president of Horses in Motion, Alex demonstrates a wisdom beyond her years.

Rounding out our table were two community “institutions.”

John Bernardi, President & CEO, United Way of the Adirondack Region, Inc., affectionately known as the North Country’s non-profit godfather, brought his lifetime love for the Adirondacks and his passion for helping people in need when they need it most. An anchor participant of the SB Forum, John returned for his 16th consecutive event.

Rick Martindale, CPA/Managing Partner of Martindale Keysor & Co PLLC celebrates the 38th year of serving our region as one of the most reliable, steadfast accountants while his firm celebrates its 25th year in business. Rick enjoyed his 15th visit to the forum.

The Results Are In

By popular vote, the discussion at our table was kicked off by John Bernardi who emphasized, “Our organization was able to help a record number of families in-need, through our extensive network of nonprofit, faith-based and government agencies, amid increasing needs across the region.”

Molly Ryan was pleased to share her update on agency mandates. ”We fared extremely well. We closed several lucrative deals this year and have a healthy pipeline with several active applications that will result in large earnings in 2024.” Ryan brings a wealth of knowledge and down state experience to her position and understands businesses have reason to hold industrial development agencies at arms-length. She acknowledged the strength of her proven integrity and resolve show the county and its partnering agencies that things are different now — her commitment to transparency is a currency that fuels change.

Staying with the subject of commercial growth Barie shared, “CDC Real Estate enjoyed an excellent year in 2023, in large part because several local businesses continued their expansion and looked to us for assistance. And it’s not too early to predict that 2024 will also be a good year.”

Martindale offered, “We fared well. Despite some staffing challenges and an office relocation that was somewhat disruptive, we were able to match or slightly surpass the prior year.”

Boyer was pleased to announce that Warren Tire expanded in 2023 and will be opening a second location in January 2024. The company purchased Parrotte’s garage, the service station located at the corner of North Catherine and Broad Street in Plattsburgh. The two-bay garage will offer similar services to their Broad Street location.

Owens added, “Stafford Owens had a strong 2023. Our relationships with existing clients grew because of our timely and high standard of service. We met many new clients and worked hard to develop those relationships. The transactional practice area was particularly strong. However, we had interesting and rewarding projects across all practice areas.”

It is About People

Workforce challenges were a common theme. Bernardi shared how the United Way has been ahead of the curve, “Pre-pandemic, we began implementing flexible schedules, family friendly practices and competitive pay. Many employers have begun to do this, but we were out ahead of it a few years ago.” Ryan echoed that sentiment and asked her partner agencies what they needed from CCIDA. Industry needs someone to advocate for them. “We developed partnerships with different Boards to determine how we could financially contribute to workforce development and sponsor them at the APTA (American Public Transportation Association) conference.”

Boyer added to comments about staffing shortages in 2023, “Although we are still short staffed in many areas, we are fortunate to have a solid core group of employees who have been with us well over a decade. They are committed to us and have pitched in when needed so that our customers are taken care of. We hope in 2024 we see a turn in the workforce and that we are able to hire more people…”

Owens reflected optimistically, “The workforce constriction appeared to ease for us somewhat in 2023 with non-professional hires. We were able to hire several experienced paralegals and support staff. It has not eased with regard to professional hires. It remains difficult to recruit professional candidates into the region. Stafford Owens will be changing some of its hiring and compensation models in 2024 to experiment with ways to increase professional hires.”

Our table was resolute that both internal and external things need to been done differently and those who are willing to think out of the box will be rewarded for their efforts. Barie summarized our discussion. “One of the first questions we receive from new companies looking to move here is how difficult will it be to hire new employees. And while we, like the rest of the country, are struggling with workforce challenges, the North Country has made the employers’ job easier. The private-public partnerships between our local colleges, schools and the business community are exceptional. We have streamlined the process for healthcare workers beginning at CV -TEC and moving on to both Clinton Community College and SUNY Plattsburgh. Another great example is CV-TEC’s Aircraft Painting program designed specifically for BETA Technologies. It is the first of its kind in the world! So, while I think workforce issues will continue to dominate our economic landscape, no one is better prepared to meet that challenge than the

Back Row: Brendan Owens, Justine Parkinson, Alex Barie Front Row: Jennifer Boyer, John Bernardi, Rick Martindale

North Country!”

Perhaps what is most remarkable is that our community continues to work together and not only share successes, but share challenges and best practices. Our discussion about diversity, equity and inclusion focused on gender and socio-economic challenges. Advancing that narrative, participants noted that for the first time in recent memory the majority of people at the Forum tables were women. The table participants emphasized the best value we can add is to stay vigilant in our inclusivity and acknowledge there is strength in our differences in all aspects of our lives.

In his closing remarks, Mike Carpenter emphasized that the tenacity, resilience and optimism of the North Country business community is accomplishing great things and that while some issue may be problematic, we are stronger when we stand together. Our strength is in our diversity of experience and our common goal of making our community better for our families, our neighbors and our businesses.

Justine Parkinson is the Director of Internships & Career Opportunities at SUNY Plattsburgh’s School of Business & Economics

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