Open Topic: Take a S.W.O.T. at Amsterdam

Posted: December 10, 2011 in Social & Economic Dynamics, Vision

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!

  1. robert purtell says:

    OK, I guess the best start would be to take them one at a time, In my opinoin here are the top strengths I see associated with Amsterdam.

    1. Amsterdam has a good position on the east coast, along with the highways, in 4 hours, by driving, you can be in 4 significant cities, New York, Boston, Montreal and Buffalo. Amsterdam has Rail service and the barge canal.

    2. An ample workforce, reasonably priced labor pool, with a wide range of skills and training.

    3. Amsterdam has a large supply of good quality water as well as a up to date water filteration system.

    4. Amsterdam iswithin 30 minutes of a large amount of some very good schools, colleges and a university.

    5. Amsterdam appears to be a safe community, not a large amount of more serious crimes.

    6. The Mohawks and Shuttleworth park.

    7. The river front.

    I hope that we can count on others to add to the list.

  2. robert purtell says:

    Ok, that worked out well, seems to be alot of interest.

    Now some of the weaknesses.

    1. Aging housing stock.

    2. Aging infrastructure.

    3. High tax rate.

    4. Declining tax base.

    5. lower perfororming school district.

    6. Pigeon poop.

    7. Declining property values.

    8. High energy cost.

    9. poor self esteem.

    10. Lack of commitment from individuals to get involved and Make Amsterdam a better place.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Give it another few days – I’ve noticed sometimes traffic on my blog is slow over the weekends and picks up during the weekdays.

      I know you are in the real estate business so I hesitate to say this, but every chart I’ve looked at online, such as this one, indicates that property values have held steady or risen in the city over the past 5-10 years. Which is kind of amazing considering the housing market crash that has occurred on the national level. Am I missing something?

      I know what you mean by “low self esteem.” I wonder sometimes if the Amsterdam psyche (and I’m painting with broad strokes here) begins with a high level of community pride and sense of competitiveness, which then leads to shame or embarrassment as some people look toward Niskayuna, others Saratoga Springs, and feel that we don’t measure up.

      • robert purtell says:

        The graphs indicate a declining market in 2011, which is indicative of the rest of the world, the declining market is not something that Amsterdam soley owns.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Sure, but over a longer timeframe, it seems to me that prices hold up fairly well. I suppose inflation has to factored in though.

  3. flippinamsterdam says:

    – Livable neighborhoods
    – Proximity to Capital District
    – Historic architecture
    – Rebounding ever slightly with an uptick in population
    – A once proud city
    – Rich fabric of ethnicities
    – Large stock of repurposable buildings
    – Landscape and scenery — river, bike trails, parks, hills
    -South Side development
    – Dearterialization of downtown

    – Unlivable neighborhoods due to blight, neglect, quality of life
    – Aged, less desirable housing stock
    – Fear of change, lack of innovation , risk-aversion as cultural mindset and values
    – Lack of growth (note different take than ‘high taxes’)
    – Dysfunctional economic development
    – Xenophobia
    – Bottom tier School district performance in relation to neighboring areas
    – Subservicence to town development at city’s expense
    – Poor internal and external Perception of Amsterdam amplified by local opinion makers and media
    – Entrenched cronyism and anachronistic mindset in public and private sector institutions
    – Lack of a city core
    – Demolition trumps development

    – Ride the rebirth of cities trend
    – Piggyback technology development in atlernative energy and nano tech in Capital District
    – Leverage South Side development and build South Side as destination and even the city core
    – Leverage the river as a destination
    – Revive historic “feel” and restore/preserve historic assets
    – Many small initiatives versus one massive initiative might yield more net positive outcomes
    – Growth at FMCC
    – Given uptick in popultion, perhaps we are moving off the bottom onto the uptrend?
    – Retool and restart from scratch

    – Nearby localities much more aggressive in economic development and “get it” in terms of technology changes
    – Nearby cities already embrace need to rebuild cities; Amsterdam way behind
    – Willingness of local policy and decision makers to cede the city’s interests to towns and county
    – Property tax cap and consolidation mindset means zero investment in programs and staff to turnaround school district performance–> no foresseable shift in school performance in near term
    – Marginal housing stock likely to convert to demolition without growth/investment
    – Continued paralysis to execute against the large-scale issues facing the city; aka, “deer in the headlights” effect
    – “The Usual Suspects” and Low Information Voters who hand-in-hand assure nothing changes and mutually guarantee decline versus progress; this also falls under a cultural mindset
    – Tulips (sorry, couldn’t help myself…)

    • robert purtell says:

      So here are some of the opportunities I see:

      1. Amsterdam has a great opportunity to continue with the riverfront development on both side of the river.

      2. Amsterdam has the opportunity to develop around its’ vast amounts of good quality water, for indusry and housing.

      3. Amsterdam has the opportunity to develop the bilingual community for industry or communications.

      4.Amsterdam does have some land that can be further developed or repurposed.

      5 . Amsterdam has the opportunity because of its location to be a central location for wharehousing and transportation.

      6. Amsterdam has the opportunity to take advantage of its rich history and architectural significance.

      • robert purtell says:

        And here are some of the threats that I see:
        1. Without a plan to upgrade, standardize, modernize and rebuild the infrastructure, we will always be looking backward not forward.

        2. If we cannot improve the school system, we will remain stagnent.

        3. If we cannot improve the quality of life in the eyes of our suitors we will not be attractive.

        4. If we do not take care of our housing stock, it will continue to desintigrate.

        5. If we do not make Amsterdam attractive to the next generation, they will find somewhere to live.

        6 6

  4. “Poor internal and external Perception of Amsterdam amplified by local opinion makers and media.”

    Y’all need to get off this “shoot the messenger” kick. Sorry, but if there’s a fire, an accident, acts of political buffoonery or whatever happening in town, it’s going to be reported, regardless of how it makes the city “look.” It’s called news.

    • At the same time, ideas like moving the train station downtown, grants awarded to regional development councils and other ideas and plans designed to spur growth will receive equal coverage.

      • flippinamsterdam says:

        I apologize if this is redundant but my reply errored so I’m not sure it went through. Anyway, Tim is correct in the direction of my criticism at opinion versus news. I was very explicit in my statement with the word opinion. My criticism extends beyond the Recorder and especially onto local radio as at least the Recorder has a news function in tandem with an editorial function while local radio has no counterbalance. I do not count reading the headlines from the Recorder or Gazette on the airwaves as ‘news’ or parroting talking points from Fox & Friends as news either.

        That said, I agree with Tim’s statement that the editorial pages do play a role in local perception and as I point out many times on my blog, the Recorder has embraced a secondary role for the city to the towns and steadfastly disputes that the city even merits marketing or pursuing its own initiatives. Or, a city tax hike above 3% will cause people to (paraphrase of editorial) “leave in droves” while multiples of 3% from the county or school district get no such editorial. This is a matter of printed record. As I’ve posted, my view is the city does not win by ceding its interests to the towns and counties as a default strategy.

        I have no qualms with the Recorder covering the recent stabbings with photos and copy; I have qualms when that incident gets cast through local media (of which blogs count too) as Amsterdam is “unsafe” and we should be afraid to leave our homes. There is a substantive difference between facts (a stabbing) and how we interpret said facts — it’s a “crime wave”. My issue is with the latter, not the former, and this type of nonsense extends well beyond crime. And let’s be blunt: the driver for much of it is political posturing and power hardly meant to serve the city-at-large’s interests. Quite the opposite actually.

        I also agree with Tim that you are conflating us with Dan Weaver in your debate as to what defines journalism and news. My comment has nothing to do with the role of journalism or news and unlikely as it seems, I meant no critique of the news side of the Recorder’s house nor that the Recorder solely defines local media — the subject of my criticism.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Well, I won’t speak for Flippin’, but I don’t think it’s the reporting on accidents and fires that is the issue (go pick that bone with Dan Weaver if you want). I think the Recorder does a decent job of providing objective reporting.

      But as I’ve written many times on this blog, the Recorder’s editorials constantly suggest that we should close up shop being a city and all but mock the idea that we have anything here that is worth marketing. The Recorder, being the only newspaper primarily focused on Amsterdam, plays a large role in shaping public opinion. So the way I see it, the Recorder does contribute to a poor internal peception of Amsterdam.

      Talking about external perceptions, I think people tend to have something like a “fishbowl” mentality here. Like when some crime or other gets reported on YNN, people think that everyone in Saratoga is laughing at us. My hunch is that most people in the Capital Region don’t give two hoots about Amsterdam, which is itself a problem.

      • Actually, Tim, that’s not true. I refer you to this editorial of Dec. 13 (subscription required at this point):

        Why would we advocate for moving the train station downtown as a means to spur growth and development in that corridor, as well as the waterfront, if it would be better to just shut the city down? Just because there was opposition to keeping Chalmers up or favors efforts to consolidate services doesn’t mean the newspaper wants to see the city fold.

        You’re right about the external perceptions of Amsterdam. I was up in Wells yesterday and they still call the city “Amsterico,” and most of the televisions stations still can’t find City Hall without a map.

      • Tim Becker says:

        My impression is based on a number of editorials over the past couple years which I’ve dealt with indepth in previous articles. But the one that comes to mind is the recent endorsement for common coucil with the line “And if Amsterdam and its elected leaders are going to continue believing the way into the future is by remaining as an incorporated city, its leadership has to start picking up the pace…” which comes across to me as saying “We don’t think Amsterdam has a future as an incorporated city, but if elected leaders continue to subscribe to this fantasy then…”

        As with all editorials, it’s hard to say whose voice we are hearing. Do the editorials reflect mainly the publisher’s view or do they truly represent a consensus among all the editors?

    • robert purtell says:

      So how about participating in our swot analysis? I would be intersted in your input.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Yes, please take a SWOT Charlie : )

      • Sure. This is a great topic for conversation. Obviously these are just observations of mine and shouldn’t be considered expert analysis, and are listed in no particular order.

        Strengths: The river. A multicultural community. The Thruway. The railroad. Available workforce. Cheaper housing then you would find elsewhere. Proximity to the Capitol Region. A proud community. Local sports (the Rugged Rams and Mohawks are huge draws, especially for cities this size). Available water.

        Weaknesses: Deteriorating infrastructure. Deteriorating housing stock. The arterials (which will soon corrected when they change some of the traffic patterns). Racism (re: “those people,” or “it’s like [the Buddhists] are taking over”). Decreasing tax base. An underperforming school district. Lack of recreational outlets.

        Opportunities: Having actual, solid economic and waterfront development plans in place. Improvements on the South Side (opportunities for development will increase once Chalmers is down, and note, development doesn’t mean “Stewart’s”). A local media willing to not only cover but engage the community (if you think I’m not being objective here, take a look at the local media covering struggling places like Little Falls or Herkimer). A legitimate shot at revitalizing downtown with actual plans in place, beyond random ideas being tossed out at a forum.

        Threats: An unwillingness by some to accept that it’s not 1950. Disengagement of a local electorate. An unwillingness by some to get their hands out of the proverbial cookie jar. Childish behavior on the part of some elected and appointed representatives. A continued reliance on service industries to spur the local economy. Calls to basically “go at it alone” instead of forming meaningful partnerships on a regional level. A failure to play to the community’s strengths (Amsterdam is Amsterdam. It’s not Saratoga. It doesn’t have to be Saratoga. Not being Saratoga doesn’t have to be a bad thing).

        There are probably more things that could be listed but that’s what I’ve come up with off the top of my head. The “strengths” list is shorter and more concise, but I believe those strengths far outweigh the weaknesses.

  5. Tim, Flip,
    I should probably clarify something here (sorry if it seems like I’m hijacking this thread. That’s not my intention at all).
    My comments about the local media actually intended to be a direct response to what is being discussed here and not as a reaction to anything Dan Weaver wrote on his blog.
    The thing is, we’ve been told that stories about crime, fires, council squabbling, etc. add to the negative external perception of Amsterdam. Of course, no one thinks that maybe less crime and less idiocy would result in fewer “Drug raid” or “Dysfunction junction” headlines.
    I obviously can only speak from the media side of the discussion when it comes to this topic, but has anyone ever thought that the local birdcage liner could actually be a partner in efforts to move things ahead? Yeah, our primary function is to cover the community, but a healthy community means a healthier newspaper, too.
    Example: Last year, the city put on a downtown holiday mixer. Great event. Good for the city. Lots of advance publicity in the paper. In fact, we even put a special insert in the paper advertising the event at the last possible moment. For free, despite the fact one of the main goals of last year’s event was to boost traffic at the businesses down there.
    This year, there hasn’t be nada. Zip. Despite me asking repeatedly to allow the paper to be involved with community stuff like this, we haven’t even received a formal press release about next week’s event. All we got was basically the minutes of a planning meeting that we turned into a short story. Yeah, there have been scattered posts about the event on Facebook and some of the blogs about this … but seriously, in this town the paper is still the best way to get the word out. And we shouldn’t have to troll through random Facebook posts for information like this.

    I don’t want to turn this into a discussion about the pros and cons of the paper because I don’t want to distract from the overall SWOT topic, which is very good and worthy of intelligent discussion (y’all know I see the value of sites like this). But if internal and external perception is to be moved from the negative into the positive part of the chart, a stronger partnership should be forged with the local media, which doesn’t mean “only write about everything that supports my position.” The editorials may not always agree with the course that’s being taken, but it doesn’t mean we’re trying to be the bad guys.

    Sorry for the ramble. I get passionate about topics like this. Combine that with the fact that I’m the son of a one-time Baptist preacher … it makes me get a little long-winded.

  6. diane says:

    Since I moved here 11 years ago, I rarely hear the word “Amsterico” used. When I first moved here, it was in very prominent use. It was even on a race car at the Fonda track. Since I find it demeaning to the community, as many others do, I am glad it is rarely used to describe us anymore.

    I see that as a big positive for the city.

    • robert purtell says:

      Diane: I would be interested in your SWOT analysis, as well as others.
      Thanks in advance.

      • diane says:

        Robert Purtell and all,

        I agree with so many of the points you listed Bob, many of which were covered in my campaign flyer. Frankly, when I posted my comments about “Amstercio” I was waiting for someone to come back and say it was racist. I truly believe that we have moved beyond that term since I moved here.

        On the other hand I think our city is falling into continued disrepair. Infrastructure is the primary issue, but so is code enforcement. While the employees are out tackling what they can, it doesn’t do any good when the corp council has hijacked the legal process for 4 years.

        My concern also goes to the school district and our low test scores. Unless this district can bring the 4th grade ELAs up to that of Saratoga, we will never get the quality of families to move here, that we need to move this city forward. You all can ignore this issue along with the school district, but it is a driving factor when new businesses move to the capital district. When they send their advance scouts out they look at things like those ELAs and when you do not fall in the “right” category, you get no support from their advance people. They will not recommend this city as a place to live. Therefore the city itself can set a course for change, but it must include the school district. (Flowers will not move this group of individuals here)

        When the school district decides to move in the “right” direction, then you will get the educated and better off individuals we need to come in and fix up the older homes and essentially you can force the absentee landlords to move on. This would also include enforcing a segment of the master plan which talks about “density reduction”, reducing multiples to more singles in housing.

        In addition we need to set a time line to make changes in our housing stock similar to what Saratoga did. ie: doing away with central space heaters, gas stoves that are allowed to heat rental units; and asphalt siding. You do this on a time line, like requiring parking lots to be
        paved, even the grandfathered ones, you can set a 2-3 year timeline and you will see city changes. If you want to be a city you have to act like one. There is too much negativity in the appearance of our city because we have way too many slumlords.

        These are the same issues I have been addressing for years. There seems to be a small core of people interested in moving the city forward. One other thing I recommend is an update
        committee of the master plan to see what has been accomplished and where do we go from here. All of that is quite relevant to the above.

    • robert purtell says:

      Thanks Diane for your post om the weaknesses you see, I would be interestaed though in what you see as the strengths, opportunities and threats

      • diane says:

        Threats: Education or the lack thereof. As I said above, there has to be a consensus to bring these kids into school and educate them properly. They also need wood working, auto mechanics and home ec back in the schools. It will give them an outlet, and a career coming out of high school and the home ec will teach them the basics of cooking and the importance of a good diet, reducing the obesity factor.

        As I drive by the old Dunlop Tire store on West Main next to the American Legion, I see bays rented out to these wanna be mechanics doing repair work on their vehicles and those of others. There are so many of these mechanics around working in their driveways, usually illegally, why not rent out a bay to them and do the work legally. With proper supervision and training they could earn a good salary to support themselves and a family. You could rent it out for certain times of the day, say just evenings, weekends or whatever. Just a thought. And it would put a building back on the tax rolls. There has to be jobs, but there also has to be possibilities for a future. With that comes self respect and hopefully more respect for the community, which is woefully lacking, as demostrated by the latest vandalisum in the city.

        More on strengths and opportunities later. Have a meeting.

  7. flippinamsterdam says:

    I agree with many of your points and I think your suggestion of the Recorder as a partner to the process makes sense. Why we would not leverage the Recorder’s involvement I cannot answer; unfortunately, that creates a lose-lose.

    As far as “bad guys”, I view it as a critique of positions and platforms, nothing more; personally, I think some of the Recorder’s editorial positions take us down the wrong path and I think that merits a counterargument. But then, I expect that my views likewise make me one of the “bad guys” in terms of what I advocate.

    I’m actually against your desire to see “less idiocy” as we would then have nothing to blog about. And yes, I support less crime.


  8. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Kraebel’s SWOT analysis as well as his opinion concerning the role of local media. There is a responsibility to report the news good or bad. You can’t just ignore the bad. Those that choose to jump on the “ignore all contrary opinion” bandwagon are in for a rude awakening. Norman Vincent Peale was a con man and a fraud. The positive thinking mantra was proven to be a falsehood.

    I do believe communication is key to bringing our city together. Every resident of Amsterdam has something of value to offer and it is time the city administrators stop catering to local business and start considering the needs of the residents as well.

  9. robert purtell says:

    If I could suggest that unless there are others that are willing to give us their opinoin on the 4 basics of the swot analysis, That maybe we could take it to the next step, getting feedback from anyone that is interested. After reveiwing the data and choosing the 5 strongest points of every category to see what rises to the top. if we can come close to agreeing, that should be the start of some sort of direction.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I’m not sure what you mean entirely, are you suggesting opening the discussion up to any single idea, rather than asking for a complete list? Or getting input from other sources other than on this blog? Or something else? I’m up for anything!

      • robert purtell says:

        What I would suggest is to boil down the answers to each category to a list of the top 5 for each category, This should be a list that comes from looking at all the contributors comments, digesting what others are saying and reducing to a list of the top five.

        You should have several top five list that you can now boil down to a “final top five list”.

        I would think that it would be easiest if there was a post for each category, one at a time.

        I guess the goal here would be to come up with a final ist of each category that can be forwarded on .

      • Tim Becker says:

        Looking at the lists, it doesn’t seem possible to condense everyone’s ideas to five without throwing out at least a few. What I was thinking is I might look for common viewpoints, as that might indicate what ideas have widespread support and what ideas need more time to build agreement on. If you would like to try condensing everyone’s lists, please go right ahead, I’ll post whatever you submit : )

  10. diane says:

    I attended the Planning Board meeting last night and we have three new small businesses in town.
    We have a new clothing store across from Stewarts on Market Hill. He sells North Face Jackets of the non ski variety therefore not competing with Alpin Haus. Will also be selling Uggs and a competitor boot that is made much better and is cheaper. All of his products are first quality and not knock offs. He sells the same product that Macy’s does only for less due to less overhead.

    Next door to him is a small cell phone company.

    On East Main in the old Camacho’s take out will be a new bar. The building owners that operate a tax filing place upstairs are expanding and opening a bar downstairs. Opening will depend on the length of approval for the liquor application. They will be hiring a part time bartender to help out.

    What i see is that people do want to open a business here and the process has been simple and I am not seeing complicated. There are other buildings available in the downtown area, and I see the bar as a win win in both tax dollars and bringing people in to downtown. We have the buildings available but again, people have to try us out. The clothing store owner has done his homework having studied the demographics and knows his customers. He is also offering a layaway plan at no cost, with defined terms which can help those during these tough economic times. He is doing better than expected. He will also be setting up a web page and using e bay to sell his products.

    We do have spaces all over the city that can be readily redeveloped for small operations. Trying to bring someone large in when we really do not have the space right now would be difficult. I do not think it is difficult to work in this city unless you are a slumlord or business owner who is trying to skirt the law. The planning board goes out of their way to work with businesses to get them to work towards something instead of demanding everything at once. The same is true of our code officials.

    We will have two large parcels to market this spring, the Mohawk Mills property and the Chalmers property. Esquire will be coming down in the next two years, due to structural issues. I have heard that the mills in the East end may be back in the city’s hands, if that is true, I recommend taking them down and turning it over to AIDA for new on story operations. Back of the house call center maybe.

    Additional strengths would be what has already been mentioned: abundant housing stock, some historic; the creation of an Historic League for guidance; water; new sewer treatment and water treatment plants currently up to code; the canal and the new south side. In addition are the numerous historic sites within miles and the institutions of higher learning. We are centrally located and close to the airport. It takes 30 minutes to get from here to ALB, and it took me 30-45 minutes in Charlotte to go from the airport to my home on the south side of town, and I was always in the city limits. That is why I see us as a bedroom community to the capital district, as this drive is nothing compared to others downstate and around the country.

    I also believe that we should be working with AIDA on what properties are coming into the city’s hands and make sure that certain properties are not otherwise sold just to raise money.

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