The Wine Trails in the 1980’s
In 1986 a study was conducted associated with the wine trails. At the time of the survey 360,000 people went through the New York State wine trails. The same study was conducted again in 2006 and found that 4.7 million people went through the wine trails that year. Randazzo said, Currently the wine business is a $3.7 billion industry. Forty-six of the 62 counties in New York now have wineries. We are at the beginning of a growth cycle business and its very exciting. Randazzo, now president of the Northern New York Grape Growers Association, is working to double the size of that organization over the next two years. He is also a member of a new committee, USDA-Scri/NERA Cold-Climate Viticulture Research Project with members from 13 Northern states and Cornell University, University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Grape Growers Association.
Randazzo concluded, saying, This is becoming a family business with my daughter moving here last year and my son moving here full time in April. Colello took center stage to tell us about Frontenac Crystal Springs. The organization goes to the early 1900s, at a resort called, of course, Crystal Springs Resort, which featured a natural spring. A man named Mr. Tips started a barroom at the Frontenac Hotel on Round Island. He began making his own root beer and soda, using water from the spring. He also cooled his beer with the cold running water. Eventually he got into the water bottling business, and, in the late 70s, a group of businessmen from Clayton got involved.
Colellos father bought the business with a partner 30 years ago, purchased more trucks and started bottling water. Mike got involved about 20 years ago. As everyone knows, the business of bottled water took off. Colello said, The bad economy has taken a toll. The business was good for a long, long time, but, when things are not quite as good, bottled water is one of the things that people give up.. Frontenac Springs sells to homes, offices, to construction sites and to Ft. Drum, to name just a outlets. They distribute their product in Massena, Malone, Syracuse, and to other water bottlers in Syracuse and Rochester, etc.. Colon was the last to answer our first question, and began by explaining that Upstate Construction Services is a prime and sub-contractor business. Colon is involved in the quality control end of the business, with the safety aspect for the employees and with monitoring construction safety as the project develops and come to fruition. His background includes design development, long range planning and construction management.
Upstate Construction is involved with several projects with the Corp of Engineers at Ft. Drum and elsewhere around the state. Colon said, I am looking forward, as Upstate grows, to using all my background and experience, whether it is to help implement design construction management or bring the construction phase to fruition.
We moved to the second question?how did your business/industry fare in 2009 locally, regionally, and internationally? Foster began, saying, Working backwards, the zoo industry is very weather dependent. If you have great weather, everybody goes and if it rains, everybody stays home. This year has been a little different. Although the weather was bad in many areas of the country, zoo attendance was up because people were not traveling as much due to the economy. In fact, he said, zoos across the nation, and the region, are reporting record attendance.
Issues in Early 2009
He addresses another issue, saying that, in early 2009, zoos that were heavily dependent on municipal funds were hurting because of the cut backs and began cutting staff. Zoos that were not heavily dependent on that funding, such as the New York State Zoo, fared much better. Nationwide, while zoos are seeing more people coming, they are not spending as much. According to Foster, The New York State Zoo did not have to cut staff, but they did do some reorganizing. Attendance went up and the per capita went up. Part of it was because of the new events, new exhibits (such as the otter exhibit), and other new programs. It was a good year for the New York State Zoo.
Aikins commented that 2009 was a year of change for the chamber. Chamber membership had been increasing, but Aikins said there was a growing fear factor about how the recession was going to affect the North Country. She said, People began to pull in, tighten up, look at their budgets, look at the bottom line and really make critical decisions based on what that budget forecast was. So we didnt see an increase in new members. That challenged the Chamber and Aikins, as the membership development director, to come up with more value for that Chamber membership. Businesses also took another look at the Chambers Energy Alliance where they can save up to nine percent of their energy costs, which resulted in a significant rise in the use of that program. The Chamber also started reviewing their programs to see what their members need help with. Aikins believes there are several areas that members are looking closely at, including the use of new technology.
Darling jumped right in saying, Nationally the advertising industry took a really big hit, led by the automotive declines and the financial decline. Locally, the political arena saved the year for advertising. A lot of money was pumped into the system for elections by politicians, interest groups, and political action committees. This helped the broadcast industry and advertising. Darling said the worst year he had seen previously since he got into the business was 1991. This year, 2009, nationally, was as bad as 1991 if not worse because of the decline in the automotive industry. Darling believes that, locally, 2009 was an OK year. It wasnt a real bad year and it was not a real good year.
Randazzo offered a positive comment, saying, With regard to the home building industry locally, it was just fine, but he added that the company went to more moderate forms of construction to keep prices down. And, he said, Nationally, they got clobbered. Randazzo sounded a cautionary note, saying, We have to be realistic about it. We are going to have double digit unemployment rate before this thing is all over and we need to prepare ourselves for another downturn. It probably will not be as severe as the last one, but it will be the kind that will put the fear in the consumer for quite some time.
While he believes that Ft. Drum offers the area some insulation from the pain felt in other areas, Randazzo said, We need to plan as business people for that eventuality, and I am conducting my business that way. Colello said, Nationally and regionally the water industry took a pretty good hit in the last year. He continued, We are in a tough time and everybody understands we are in a bad economy. In the past people did not see the reason for cutting back and undergoing layoffs. Now that everyone sees it and accepts it, they have a real fear of it.
Colello noted that Frontenac has not had to lay anyone off, but did have to adjust their health insurance policy. We never had our employees pay for health insurance until this year, he said, but added, We were able to improve their insurance and are employees are happy to have health insurance because they know what it costs. Colon said, In the construction field, prices have spiked and now they are starting to come down. Thats good news, but the question remains, he continued, Will it sustain itself to the point where bigger jobs start opening up? Upstate has had small jobs that keeps people active and have been able to keep insurance for all employees.
The discussion then centered on the third question?what are the most important issues facing the North Country business community? According to Foster, one of the biggest issues is how to foster and nurture the smaller organizations that may have grown from a larger company shedding employees.
Colello noted, The North Country is a bargain to come to and visit. Unfortunately, because of the weather, the ideal time period for that is limited. We have to find a way to get our products out of the area! Colon commented that things run in a cycle and everything seems to happen within this cycle. He states that; Right now, he said, we are not being impacted locally just by the federal budget reorganization and modification, but we are also being impacted similarly by the State. As a result, many companies are going to have to think about fiscal reorganization, adaptability and responsiveness to Ft. Drum based on the degree of return and or deployment of the soldiers.
Finally, we took a look at the last question?what is your view of the future for your organization and for business in general in the North Country? Foster feels positive about where the zoo is headed, but warns against laziness. You have to be very, very strategic in every decision you make and you have to be able to support every decision you make, Foster said.. Aikins said the Chamber must be vigilant to the needs of its members and should also be the stage from which its members voices may be heard. She said, if we are addressing those needs, if we are becoming that stage for local voices to be heard in Albany and in Washington DC and if we really address some of the critical issues, I predict success for the Chamber. Darling predicted that 2010 will be a watch-and-wait year. Businesses will be cautious with spending and they will wait to see what happens, Darling said. I think it is going to be, in general, a tough year. As far as my business is concerned, however, it is going to be phenomenal because it is a major political year. Randazzo thinks his organization will see substantial growth because it is new and unique in the North Country. Then he added, We need to keep our eye on Ft. Drum for the health of the North Country. The war will continue to play a role and how our leaders react to the global threat will really affect our economy in the North country.
Colello commented, I think, for our organization, it will be single digit growth. Over the past twelve months. Frontenac has been able to cut enough costs successfully, but does not yet see adding employees. Instead, Colello said, We have shifted people around and reorganized. Hopefully they can move product out of the area to generate sales.
Colon brought our discussion to an end, summarizing that everyone at the table was pretty much on the same wave length. We have to remember what the government, state or federal, has given, they can take away very quickly, he said. Budget reductions will impact everybody in the area. But, he continued, As (Colello) just said, there is growth here and I think we will be able to sustain these next three years. However, everyone has got to find a way to keep their companys key personnel.