Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Posted: December 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to everyone reading the Pars Nova blog.

A special thank you to all those who contributed regularly to the discussion this past year:
(Roughly ordered by frequency of posts)

Diane Hatzenbuhler
Robert Purtell
Gerald Skrocki
Karin Hetrick
Ann Thane
Rob Millan
Bill Wills
Charlie Kraebel

Thank you for caring about our community enough to debate the difficult issues in a public forum. I’m looking forward to another year of  challenging conversation!

Let Me Put It Another Way

Posted: December 23, 2011 in City Marketing

This is the way I see the perceptions of Amsterdam being handled by various persons.
There are no direct quotes here, just my perceptions and paraphrasing:

News Story: Amsterdam Downtown Mixer A Success
Recorder: Print it
Fox: Where’s Amsterdam again?
YNN: Ho hum

News Story: Trade Center Pillar Arrives in Amsterdam
Recorder: Print it
WNYT: Pass
WTEN: European News?

News Story: Man Drops Pants in Target Parking Lot in Amsterdam
Recorder: Print it
Fox: Juicy!
WRGB: Shocking! We’ll run  it.

News Story: Riverlink Park in Amsterdam hit by Vandals
Recorder: Print it
YNN: So sad, we’ll run it!
WNYT: Details at eleven!

Real Estate agent: There’s a beautiful house available in Amsterdam for a great price
Prospective home buyer: I’ve heard Amsterdam is a crime-ridden dump
Real Estate agent: I really don’t know much about Amsterdam
Prospective home buyer: What else do you have?

Mayor Thane: Amsterdam is a great place to live with many aspects that would be attractive to businesses and homebuyers. Let’s develop a marketing strategy that promotes the positive aspects of Amsterdam to the rest of the region

Recorder EDITORIAL  1/18/09:  All the roads in Amsterdam need to be fixed first, only then can we market the city
Recorder EDITORIAL  2/15/09: The city is not enticing to anyone. Put the marketing plan on hold until we can offer more
Recorder EDITORIAL 1/21/10:  Even if you get someone to visit Amsterdam, they’ll run away once they see it.
Recorder EDITORIAL  4/25/10:  It’s not the Mayor’s job to market the city, it’s not what she was elected to do
Recorder EDITORIAL  9/5/10: The county should market the city, not the city.

Me (who just bought a home in the city this year): ?????????!!!!!!??????!!!!!!!!!

Hope that clears things up!

Good News, Bad News

Posted: December 21, 2011 in City Marketing

I thought it was ironic that last week we saw a string of crime-related stories come out at the same time as we were discussing the role of the local media in shaping Amsterdam’s perception of itself. The bad news started with vandalism in the Riverlink Park, then attempted robbery of a pizza delivery person, a stabbing, hate-filled graffiti, and finally a guy at Target exposing himself in public. This was not the greatest week for Amsterdam from a news perspective!

Now I am absolutely not going criticize the local media for their coverage, even when these types of stories, without fail, generate demoralizing comments such as the one left on the Recorder’s Facebook page that reads:

I think The Recorder generally does a fair job of covering both positive and negative events in Amsterdam. But what I do want to point out is that these stories pretty much all got picked up by Capital Region television news stations and the Times Union – media outlets that rarely, if ever, put out positive stories about Amsterdam. This example leaves no doubt: shocking and negative news spreads quickly and easily. Positive news, however, seems to take some work.

So it’s with this point in mind that I want to expand on the assertion I made in the previous post. I believe The Recorder contributes to a negative external and internal perception of Amsterdam because its editorial articles have consistently and vehemently opposed the idea of promoting a positive image of Amsterdam.  That is why I believe they deserve a place in the “weaknesses” area of the S.W.O.T. analysis. Here’s just a sampling of what I mean…

Yes, the city is making progress, but has it made enough to be truly enticing?…Our advice to the mayor and Common Council is to put the implementation of the “Small City. Big Heart” marketing campaign on hold until we have more to offer visitors.

… we’re not sure the city is ready to be marketed…People intrigued by the marketing campaign still won’t buy a house here without checking the city out first. Right now, it’s like having friends over to check out your new big-screen TV, but you didn’t finish cleaning the house.

Being that neither the publisher of The Recorder, nor its editors currently reside in the city (yep, I’m bringing that up!), I’m willing to bet that none of them have taken a good look recently at the overall condition of the city’s neighborhoods. If they had, I think they would have come to a different conclusion. I’ve walked all over the city over the past few years, and there are plenty of great looking neighborhoods in the West End, upper Locust Ave area, Market Hill area, Henrietta Ave area, Church St/Rockton area, the South Side and others. These are areas with lots of well maintained housing that any middle class home buyer would be proud to own. The fact is that year after year, people do in fact (with no gun to their head) decide to start businesses or own a homes in Amsterdam.

But that message doesn’t get out there. The crime and profanity does. Mayor Thane has taken up the task of working to get the positive message out to prospective businesses and residents because no one else has. Why does The Recorder constantly speak out against this? (I counted at least 5 editorials in the space of 2 years.)  Is it because marketing the city runs counter to their pro-consolidation stance? Or might their stance be influenced by the bleak outlook of the print news industry?  Should we as a community take economic advice from an organization that stands a good chance of becoming extinct in 10 to 20 years?

If anyone doubts the importance of promoting a positive image, I would ask why corporations spend billions of dollars every year on advertising to make sure their products have a favorable image. The answer is simple: because they know it works. They wouldn’t spend the money if it didn’t.

The Recorder certainly does their fair share of reporting on the positive events and that is to be commended. But it’s obvious that the good news rarely gets picked up on it’s own by other news organizations in the region. If The Recorder truly believes in Amsterdam as a city, then the least it could do is stop trying to shoot down anyone working to get the positive news out. At best, they could decide to actively support the effort to market the city to potential residents and businesses, contributing to the effort to improve Amsterdam’s perception of itself and in the surrounding region, rather than working against it.

By request, I’ve created an open topic where anyone may post their own S.W.O.T. analysis of the City of Amsterdam. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the concept of S.W.O.T. by looking at the graphic below. Please try to be as objective as possible. Let’s see what ideas are out there!

In the comments section of my last post, we began to discuss ideas for future business development in Amsterdam. I’d like to get into this topic in a little more detail because I believe that our current “default” strategy in this area is incomplete and out of date. I believe that there are great opportunities for Amsterdam to take advantage of the trends in the current economic climate, but to do so requires an entirely new game plan.

Our current situation has us relying on the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency (AIDA) to lead in the area of business development.  AIDA’s benefit to the city can be seen primarily by the ten or so businesses that occupy the Edson St. Industrial Park which is administered by AIDA, as well their role in helping several other larger businesses within the city.

A majority of the companies in the park, such as Fiber Glass Industries, Breton Industries, Power and Composite TechnologiesSaratoga Horseworks,  Mohawk Sign Systems, and Fort Miller Company, are manufacturing businesses.  All the buildings in the park are very large in size, and I would venture to guess that most of the businesses employ 100 people or more (either at their Amsterdam locations alone or the total for all their locations).

Based on these observations, I think it is safe to say that our city’s “default” strategy for business development is currently geared toward larger manufacturing (ie “industrial”) companies. This is precisely what I believe needs to change in order to jumpstart our city’s economy. We need to broaden the scope of the types of businesses that we work to attract.

Most people are aware that manufacturing jobs have been declining in America. This graph illustrates just how steeply they have plummeted since 2001. Going forward, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of manufacturing jobs will continue to decrease.  Overall GDP of the manufacturing sector continues to rise due to increasing productivity (that’s a whole other topic), and no doubt manufacturing will continue to be an important and sizable part of our economy. But based on the employment numbers, it should become obvious that we cannot continue to look at only manufacturing companies to create jobs.

According to the BLS, the types of jobs that will be growing in numbers include those in the fields of healthcare, science and information technology (especially network systems, data communications, computer software and application engineers).  In the area of healthcare, we have St. Mary’s Healthcare as the largest employer in the area which provides a base for this industry in the region. My hunch is that this industry will continue to grow just fine in Amsterdam on its own.  What I don’t see is any progress toward or vision for attracting science or information technology jobs.

The other problem is the size of businesses that AIDA appears to be geared for. Crucial to creating new jobs are new business startups. According to research done by The Kauffman Foundation, most startups average between 5-8 employees, and the trend shows that number has been getting smaller over the past few years. What resources does AIDA have to attract and assist this type of small business?

Another emerging trend in businesses startups in the increasing percentage of sole proprietorships, otherwise know as self-employed workers or “freelancers”. According to the same research done by the Kauffman Foundation (cited above), single employee businesses now make up more than 27% of new business startups, and the number of multi-employee startups has actually fallen in comparison. So the question has to be asked again: what resources does AIDA have to attract and assist these types of new businesses?

The Kauffman Foundation sums up their research this way…

… policymakers’ focus on big changes in employment because of events such as a new manufacturing plant or the recruitment of a business to a community ignore the more important fact that our jobs outlook will be driven more by the collective decisions of the millions of young and small businesses whose changing employment patterns are not as easy to see or influence.

Given that idea, I believe our city can become more attractive to smaller science and information technology based businesses. Here’s what I believe needs to be done…

  1. Clearly define AIDA’s mission to focus on large manufacturing businesses (or other large businesses). Pursue integration of AIDA with the Montgomery County IDA to facilitate funding of larger projects.
  2. Create a separate entity to attract and assist small business. The incubator center that Flippin proposes as part of his Big A initiative is exactly what we need. While other incubator projects in the area have had less than desirable results, I think Flippin hits the nail on the head as to how this idea would be different:

    Where will companies come to occupy the incubator? They will originate from various venture and startup programs at local universities. The incubator will recruit firms from the surrounding area (even westward) as it will have what startups want: dollars to invest and space. The fact that funding exists acts as a big differentiator to other programs.

  3. In addition to an inventory of the larger structures and property available for business use, an inventory of smaller spaces, including rentable space (such as in the Clock Tower and Noteworthy buildings) must be made available online and updated regularly.
  4. In order to attract self-employed entrepreneurs, fund the formation of a co-working facility such as this one in Fort Collins,  Colorado.
  5. Form a business organization similar to a Chamber of Commerce, but exclusive to the city and which facilitates more structured networking between businesses, markets the city’s business opportunities, and serves as “welcome wagon” to new businesses moving into the area.

I believe these initiatives will put our city on the right track to taking full advantage of the emerging economy. Other ideas? Post them in the comments section!