Archive for July, 2012

If you’ve got a few minutes and care about the “big picture” of economic development in the Mohawk Valley region, please participate in the MVREDC Public Outreach Survey. Here are my answers …

1. Please rank the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council’s Strategies, according to their relative importance to the Mohawk Valley in 2012:

  1. Innovation and Entrepreneurialism
  2. Business Investment
  3. Workforce Training and Education
  4. Region-wide Infrastructure Improvements
  5. Strengthen Government and Civic Effectiveness (Including consolidation and collaboration)

2. “…”  for the next five years:

Same as above

3. Please rank the following economic goals for the Mohawk Valley Region:

  1. Create a culture of Entrepreneurialism
  2. Create jobs
  3. Upgrade aging infrastructure
  4. Education of Skilled Workers
  5. Build regional identity and regional consensus

4. Please rank the following strengths of the Mohawk Valley Region:

  1. Strategic location
  2. Post Secondary Education
  3. Key Industry Sectors
  4. K-12 Education
  5. Diversity

5. Please rank the steps that need to be taken to transform the Mohawk Valley economy:

  1. Increase opportunities for small business
  2. Venture capital investment
  3. Revitalize our urban core
  4. Align education programs with our current workforce
  5. Remove government barriers

My thinking is that focusing on small business entrepreneurs is the key to jump start the economy. These new business will attract more new businesses, create jobs and generate the increased tax revenues the government needs to rebuild the infrastructure. Education is important, but I think one needs to observe what new businesses are emerging first before we ask our schools to offer new programs. Entrepreneurs are visionary by nature, they are more inclined to see things as how they could be, rather than dwell on how things are now, which is exactly the type of people we need for this area.

Finally, I think it is worth noting that there is one loaded response here (in #1 and #2)  where it is assumed that government consolidation is will increase government and effectiveness, even though we’ve yet to see any solid evidence that this is the case. Although it may depend on what we mean when we say “effective”.

Discuss or share your own rankings in the comments section!

Reacting to some of the things I’m reading in the news today –

I think it’s useful to look at the official U.S. Dept. of Justice guidelines on the use of the AMBER alert. Here is a relevant excerpt…

AMBER plans require law enforcement to confirm an abduction prior to issuing an alert. This is essential when determining the level of risk to the child. Clearly, stranger abductions are the most dangerous for children and thus are primary to the mission of an AMBER Alert. To allow activations in the absence of significant information that an abduction has occurred could lead to abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness.

An opinion as to whether or not an AMBER alert should have been issued for Jonathan and Paul should be based on those guidelines. Either way, I don’t blame the parents one bit for wanting the APD to use every means at their disposal, I would probably would have done the same.

AMBER alert or not,  I wonder why we can’t at least publicize area missing persons reports through local media? I had no idea that the two boys were missing until I saw the story in the paper.  Distributing such information should be easy through Facebook , web sites and email.  Would a local alert system be a good idea? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

I’m all for creating new things to do for kids in Amsterdam. It’s a challenge for all parents to keep their kids occupied during summer vacation. But, it’s not like there’s nothing to do in the city.

My kids are enjoying attending the Amsterdam Library Summer Reading Program. They have stuff to do almost every single day for free! It’s a fantastic program. And don’t forget the city pool or the numerous parks that we have.

I do get a bit annoyed when parents start blaming the city for not providing things to do for their kids, as if  it’s the government’s responsibility to keep your kid occupied. There are plenty of things that parents can do on their own, or by networking with other parents to keep their kids busy and out of trouble. My wife and I bring our kids to the various parks all the time, and we are always struck by how underutilized they seem to be. I grew up in a rural area of the Town of Amsterdam, where there really wasn’t anything to do.  Sometimes I think we forget how much potential there is in this city if we just expend a little effort.

Any other ideas that you know of for kids to do? Please share in the comments!

p.s. If you don’t mind driving 20 minutes and spending a modest fee, there are  unbelievably cool science workshops for kids every week at the Schenectady Museum.

Amsterdam endured an unprecedented amount of tragic news Friday.  At the same time as we reacted with the rest of the nation to yet another senseless double-digit massacre in Colorado, we received word of tragedy closer to home; two Amsterdam teenagers shot and killed by two assailants of the same approximate age. It was one of those days that truly makes one want to utter the phrase “What’s this world coming to?”

How to help

These are the two links that were listed on the City of Amsterdam Facebook page where you can contribute to the funeral costs of each of families.

For the family of Jonathon Dejesus
For the family of Paul Damphier

I was going to hold off on blogging this week. Political commentary on any other issue would seem awfully out of touch and insensitive right now. I didn’t know the boys or the families involved but the event has saddened and affected me as it has many in the community. There are still many unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy and it’s difficult to draw any concrete conclusions as to what this means in relation to the larger issues in our city. I thought it would best to wait and reflect, giving time for emotions to settle down.

My mind changed, however, seeing that the Amsterdam Recorder had already posted a poll on their website asking “Do you think the four murders in Amsterdam so far this year are isolated incidents or is the city becoming less safe?”  (referring to both the current incident and the double homicide on Locust Ave back in March).

It seems the answer to the question “too soon?” has already been answered with a “nope”, and thus the “discussion” has already begun.  So –  I think – better to inject some perspective at this point rather than not.

In essence, the Recorder is asking us if we think these murders are indicative of a trend or not. This same question has been looked at, debated, studied, etc in different ways over the past few years whenever crime has been in the news, but yet it has never been answered definitively.  We’ve been here before folks, remember? …

http://www.vennervox.com/safe-city
http://www.vennervox.com/fighting-crime
http://www.vennervox.com/the-times-they-are-a-changin

The discussion usually consists of people citing purely anecdotal references and ends with political cat fights and good ol’ Amsterdam bashing.  Of course, the actual statistics, which is really the only rational tool we have to determine a trend, don’t seem to faze anyone, but I’ll include them for the few that are interested.

 Year

99

00

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

12

Murders

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

0

4*

Total Violent Crimes
(Murder, rape, assaults, robberies)

40

56

50

37

24

29

71

89

80

99

95

45

28

?

Source: City-Data.com, NYSDCJS
*Technically, the crime happened in the Town of Florida, so most likely, it will not officially count in Amsterdam’s statistics.

Four murders in one year is shocking, there’s no doubt about that. But I don’t see any way possible to look at these numbers and see a trend. That doesn’t mean that we’re not at the beginning of a trend, but there’s just no way to tell at this point in time. If we have a similar number of murders (God forbid) in 2013, then maybe you have an indication of a trend.

The only other way of looking at the question rationally is to look for a related motive between to the two incidents. However, the motives behind the murders this year have yet to be determined. Drugs have been mentioned in relation to both cases, but based on what I have read, nothing has been proven.  So again, there is no solid evidence for a trend here because we don’t know if the causes of the two incidents are similar.

But by all means, let’s not wait another minute to start speculating and jumping to conclusions ! Maybe the question we should be asking is who is going to be the first to try to load their political cannon by trying to spin our outrage at this incident?

I don’t think there is anyone in Amsterdam who doesn’t realize we have problems with crime in this city. I find it hard to believe that anyone would think that they are doing some sort of service to us by pointing that out anymore. Trying to label Amsterdam as “safe” or “not safe” is a ridiculous pursuit as the question is entirely relative and subjective. We’re safer than some places, not as safe as others, that’s the long and short of it. Each individual has to make their own assessment as to whether Amsterdam is safe enough for their liking.

In the meantime, there are much better and more productive questions that should be asked. Like “what can we do as a community to intervene with our youth to instill the values that make for a stable society?” or “ how can we increase the participation level and effectiveness of our Neighborhood Watch programs?”  These questions might actually have answers which could make Amsterdam a better place to live.

If you had told me five years ago that a small but thriving arts community would exist in the Amsterdam area, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But after visiting a meeting of the Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance a while back, that’s exactly what I saw.

The group has been meeting consistently since January 2011 and reports 30 active members. There were about a dozen people attending the meeting I visited. The group represented a very diverse range of backgrounds, beliefs and artistic skills. There were writers, painters, photographers and musicians. They came from all over the region including one who travelled all the way from the Albany area. Several of the attendees brought their works, based on the month’s artistic challenge (theme) for the others to experience and discuss.

You can see and read more about the MVCA here…
http://www.facebook.com/mohawkvalley.creativealliance
http://mvcreativealliance.blogspot.com/
http://gskrocki.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/mohawk-valley-creative-alliance/

I always knew that a lot of talented, creative people lived in the area. MVCA group leaders Jessica Murray and Carol Jordan have done an excellent job of creating a focal point for bringing these folks together. Their network, no doubt, extends far beyond the 30 regular members. The success of the group gives me a lot of hope, because I believe a thriving arts community is key ingredient for reviving the culture and economy in the region. The MVCA’s stated goal is to create an arts center and to locate it within Amsterdam. As the movement grows, my hope is that it begins to attract creative people to the city from the surrounding area.

It’s understandable to me that the group would latch on to Mayor Thane’s vision of converting a building on East Main St. an arts center. But I have to ask the question… Given the MVCA’s good organization and proven track record of success, why does the city need to create a separate entity, with a director and board chosen exclusively by the Mayor?  The idea of having an arts center is a good one. If there were not an organization capable of handling such a task, then I think having a city-government run center would be the next best thing. But since we do have such an organization, I would rather see the city support this effort, rather than duplicate it. Why doesn’t the city allow the MVCA to lease (or lease to own) the building, and allow them to sublet the space to other groups as they see fit?

A government-run arts program, by definition, will be affected by politics and public opinion. That’s far from the ideal environment for a vibrant, independent arts community to grow in.