Going mobile: rural opportunities

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Mobile third spaces are among the “trends you need to know to be relevant” in 2017, according to the ad agency sparks & honey.

Why should rural people give any thought to forecasting by urbanites? These ideas offer food for thought about rural opportunities. Many entrepreneurs in rural areas are already acting on these trends.

Food trucks are so 2016. There are many more business opportunities that can be located in an old VW bus, panel van or Airstream trailer. Shopping and leisure activities appear to be the focus when the vehicle isn’t just selling food.

Mobile Cigar Lounge

Mobile Cigar Lounge Co. / mobilecigarlounge.com

From a mobile knitting yarn boutique in California to a mobile cigar lounge in central Texas (“have cigars, will travel”), if you think of a business, you can probably put wheels under it. The American Mobile Retail Association offers tips to creating a new business in a vehicle.

In Norfolk County, Canada, there are many food trucks. But there are also two new mobile businesses that focus on promoting leisure. Red Apple Rides is a vehicle packed with bicycles ready to connect your group with amazing experiences. Ride the Bine is more than a tour bus. It is operated by two women with deep connections to local terroir, food and wine.

Sparks & honey predicts many more mobile third spaces will open.

“Third spaces like cafes – places that are neither home or office – provide us with opportunities for socializing and learning,” says the ad agency. “Expect to see growing numbers of mobile third spaces emerge.”

Some examples of new mobile third spaces include an art gallery in a car in Portland, Oregon. A spin class housed on a bus in the U.K. is currently still conceptual, but over 24,000 people have registered to use it when it launches.

For a mobile business to stay viable in a rural area, it is advisable to avoid wacky offerings. Instead, put a spin on an experience that is authentic to the region, one that will appeal to many demographics.

You can read more about the sparks & honey A-Z Culture Glossary here.

© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Artist residence program boosts county’s culture

Artist residence program boosts county’s culture

Small but mighty Yates County in upstate New York has many inspirational stories for rural advocates. In this case, art lovers and culture mavens can learn from Sunny Point – a property and a program coordinated by the local arts centre.

Sunny Point, located on Keuka Lake south of Penn Yan, is owned by the Arts Centre of Yates County. During our Finger Lakes study tour last spring, we met Kris Pearson, Executive Director, and Sandy Murrin, Board President, who explained that the property was bequeathed to ACYC by Dr. Annie Smith of Toronto, a former cottager on the lake.

The Host Residency program allows artists to host their own students for a week at a time. The Artist in Residence program is open to professional visual, literary and performance artists. The ten-day residency is an award made by ACYC twice per year. Residence and studio space are provided at no cost to the artist, but travel and meals are not included.

Sunny Point ACYC

The Red Barn at Sunny Point

When we visited, the “red barn” was undergoing interior renovation to expand the space for workshops. The “white cottage” provides accommodation for up to eight people, is offered as an Artist Retreat on an as-available basis, and includes linens and full kitchen. There is a rental charge and a non-refundable deposit. The boathouse will be used as a seasonal ceramics studio. By summer 2016, Sunny Point had hosted many classes.

ACYC’s artist-in-residence program encourages artists to come to the area, which adds depth to the cultural tourism product on offer in this community. Sunny Point also provides an additional revenue stream for the Arts Centre, which hopefully will help the program sustain itself.

Farm-to-bistro college program

Farm-to-bistro college program

Tompkins Cortland Community College or “TC3” has a Farm to Bistro program that gives students hands-on experience in every aspect of the food-production system.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-32-45-pmIn Ithaca (pop. 30,000), the College owns and operates TC3 Farm which supplies fresh produce to Coltivare Restaurant, a 17,000 square-foot culinary center including a full- service restaurant, amphitheater, wine cellar and event space.

Coltivare is located on the ground level of a parking garage in downtown Ithaca.

A group of Canadians learned about this innovative initiative in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, while gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

TC3 Curriculum includes Culinary Arts, Sustainable Farming and Food Systems, Wine Marketing and Hotel and Restaurant Management. In the near future, the farm will be run using only renewable energy.

Read the full story on page 27 of the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016 Report.

Town’s sincere commitment to downtown excellence

Town’s sincere commitment to downtown excellence

When looking for examples of towns that get the concept of delivering a quality experience, look no further than Corning, New York.

A group of Canadians on a business study tour last spring learned about the town’s sincere commitment to excellence, and their determination to collaborate.

Key observations in Corning was the philosophy that “Collaboration is everything – there is no them, there is only us”.  That’s what Coleen Fabrizi, Executive Director of the Gaffer District, told the group, adding that tapping into local business resources is crucial.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-22-09-pmKeeping the downtown vibrant means putting the resources behind it, including 11 staff, with merchandising designers among them. The majority of funding for the Gaffer District comes from private-sector corporate investment, primarily from the city’s largest employer.

The town hosts the world headquarters of Corning, Inc., which employs 5,100 workers in the region and 35,000 worldwide. Annual sales for Corning, Inc. are approximately $10 billion. The company no longer makes cookware and now specializes in advanced optics and glass applications for aerospace, defence, pharmaceutical and consumer applications.

The town is also home to the Corning Museum of Glass, which employs 130 staff and recently completed a $64-million expansion. There were 460,000 museum visitors in 2015 providing $4.1 million in admission revenue. More than 60,000 visitors participate annually in Make Your Own Glass Experiences at the museum, generating another $1.5 million in revenue.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-21-59-pmThe Gaffer District of Corning is the operating name of the “Corning Intown District Management Corporation, Inc.”, a downtown business improvement area in the City of Corning, New York (population 6,500).

“Developing more networks within the community is important,” observed one of the participants. “Upselling our community rather than downplaying what we have to offer, because things will change with time.”

The Canadians were touring the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

Read the entire story starting on page 22 of the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016 Report.

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

When a group of Canadians visited Greenstar Coop in Ithaca, New York, they observed how a commitment to selling local food can be lucrative.

GreenStar is a member-owned, community consumer cooperative with over 11,000 members in a city of 30,000. Joe Romano, Director of Marketing, showed the Canadians around and provided background about the organization and its activities.

Local LabelGreenStar celebrates fresh, whole foods, sustainable living and the transformative power of a strong local economy. Sales in 2015 were approximately $19.5 million.

GreenStar carries more than 4,100 local products (within 100 miles) and 3,300 regional products (within 300 miles), resulting in over $4.9 million reinvested into the local economy, and over $1.7 million reinvested into the regional economy.

The Canadians were touring the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

Greenstar“[It’s] amazing that they can compete with the larger scale grocers and it works! Grassroots and that deep local feel that everyone craves,” said one of the participants.

Supporting local builds strong relationships with vendors and customers. Even stronger bonds are created when member-volunteers earn discounts by working in the store.

In 2015, GreenStar had 81 full-time employees and 53 part-time employees. GreenStar provides opportunities for its members to act as “SuperWorkers” or in-store volunteers. By committing to work 2 hours weekly at designate times for a 4 month minimum, the SuperWorker receives a 15.5% discount in addition to the 2% standard member discount on most purchases.

In 2015, 480 member-owners (and their share partners) saved $187,455 through their participation in the Member Labor Program, an average savings of $391 per member-worker.

“Co-op Markets at their best … saw so many members filling shelves,” said another participant. “Although expensive, found the concept fascinating.”

For the full story on GreenStar, start reading on page 19 of the Finger Lakes 2016 Study Tour Report.

Downtown insights in Penn Yan, New York

Downtown insights in Penn Yan, New York

A walking tour last spring of Penn Yan, New York, yielded some interesting insights of downtown revitalization for a group of Canadians from Norfolk County.

Among the key observations: second-floor apartments can be converted into higher revenue overnight tourist accommodation.

Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center led the walking tour of Penn Yan (pop. 5,200). His organization is the sole economic development agency responsible for Yates County (pop. 25,000).

Penn Yan downtown Clark HoskinOur first stop was Chris Wright’s second-floor apartments, which he renovated with assistance from the town’s façade improvement program. The 800-square-foot two-bedroom apartment is now advertised as tourist accommodation. Chris can now rent the space out for $300 per night to tourists, as opposed to $400 per month to low-income tenants.

One tour participant would later write that the key take-away for them was “how important it is to have lived-in downtowns.”

Next stop was Birkett Landing, a project by developer Chris Iversen. The former historic industrial building has been gutted and renovated into a mixed-use development containing 13 residential market-rate apartments and about 4,600 square feet of commercial space.

To read the full article, download the Finger Lakes Study Tour PDF and go to page 9.

More about the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016

5 learning moments on the Finger Lakes Study Tour

In the Finger Lakes Study Tour Report, you can read all ten learning moments. To keep this read short, let’s concentrate on the first five. The next five are listed in my August 25 post.

FLX Group shot

This friendly group of Canadians spent two days together learning about businesses and communities in Upstate NY in April 2016

Here are just a few of the ideas and concepts the group from Norfolk County and Ontario’s Southwest learned during the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016:

  1. Enabling Neighbourhood projects: The city of Geneva operates a “center for neighbourhood initiatives” that encourages and supports projects and volunteers that revitalize all parts of the city. Musical porch parties and concerts in the cemetery engage residents and get them communicating and working together.
  2. Upselling second-floor apartments: Chris Wright in Penn Yan upgraded his second-floor apartment in the downtown core and listed it as overnight tourist accommodation on Air BnB. He’s now earning $300 a night for an apartment that used to take in $500 a month.
  3. Story-telling for Business: Telling your story is the most important thing you can do when you are operating a business whose target market is consumers. Ports of New York in Ithaca is a small business but offers a powerful, memorable experience because the owner narrates his family’s story so well.
  4. Social Enterprise: Social enterprises can address community needs by raising money from tourists and consumers. Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan and the GreenStar Coop in Ithaca are great examples of non-profit organizations that rely on income from one stream of business to subsidize the costs of a social need in the community.
  5. Collaboration and Community Mindfulness: Collaboration is everything – there is no “them”, there is only “us”. It was clear in most communities – Corning being a good model – that work got done when people rowed in the same direction, especially if a major corporate sponsor is on board. There was acknowledgment that all players in the community have a role. When everyone respects one another, a lot gets accomplished. As one participant put it: “I love that every place we went was community minded.” This kind of collaboration enabled the ‘Race for Space’ program in Geneva, where entrepreneurs competed for a discounted downtown storefront lease.

The goal of the study tour was to learn from people at similar businesses in communities similar to those in Norfolk County and other parts of Ontario. A report prepared by Norfolk County staff, based on a survey of those who attended the tour, summarizes the learning moments that participants experienced in the Finger Lakes. The report has detailed information about each stop along the way, including key observations and learning moments.

 

Another insightful Finger Lakes tour

“Back by popular demand…”

It’s such a cliché, but in the case of the Finger Lakes Study Tour, it is so true.

Finger Lakes_96

It was my pleasure and honour to guide the tour, both years, with our driver Harvey (right). He got us there and back safely – even through freezing rain and grumpy border guards. Photo: Tracy Haskett

With help from Southwest Ontario Tourism and Norfolk County, I had the great pleasure and honour to guide 40+ business and community leaders through the Finger Lakes in March 2015. It was a great success. The tour concept won the award for Cross Border Cooperation and Regionalism from the Economic Developer’s Council of Ontario.

Participants enjoyed it and learned so much – they asked me to organize another tour. So, Finger Lakes Study Tour II happened in April 2016.

So, again this year, I wrote up a summary report about what we learned, based on a survey of participants. Over the course of a few blog posts, I’ll break the report down into manageable chunks.

Or – feel free to download the entire report at norfolkbusiness.ca.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about the 10 “learning moments” we experienced: enabling neighbourhood projects, upselling second-floor apartments, story-telling for business, social enterprise, and so on.

You can also read about last year’s Finger Lakes tour starting at Finger Lakes 2015 – Post #1

But first, special thanks to the many people who made the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016 a success:

  • Andrew Tompkins, Finger Lakes Boating Museum
  • Brandon Kane and Joe Romano, GreenStar Cooperative Market
  • Chef Richard Larman
  • Chris Iversen, Birkett Landing
  • Chris Wright, Penn Yan
  • Christine Peacock and staff, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
  • Coleen Fabrizi, Corning’s Gaffer District
  • Debra Loehnert and staff, Three Birds Restaurant
  • Frédéric Bouché, Ports of New York
  • Harvey the Driver, Attridge Transportation Inc.
  • Jeremy Coffey and staff, Hermann Wiemer Vineyards
  • Joanne Wolnik and Jen Moore, Southwest Ontario Tourism Corp.
  • Joe Myer, Myer Farm Distillers
  • John Johnson, The Technology Farm
  • Karen Taft, Amanda Vinson and staff, New York State Wine & Culinary Centre
  • Katharine Korona and staff, Three Brothers Winery
  • Kris Pearson and Sandy Murrin, Arts Centre Yates County
  • Lauren Lowman and staff, Coltivare
  • Lorin Hostetler, Shtayburne Farm
  • Patrick Gaffney and John Jensen, Greater Hammondsport Chamber of Commerce
  • Phyllisa DeSarno, JoAnn Cornish and Annie Sherman, City of Ithaca
  • Sage Gerling, City of Geneva
  • Steve Griffin, Finger Lakes Economic Development Center
  • Suzan Richards, Susan Wolff, George and Carolyn Schaeffer, Milly’s Pantry
  • Trevor Davis and staff, Rooster Fish Brewery
  • Zach and Laura Cutlip, Winewagen Tours
  • Plus … Gail Bouw, Fritz Enzlin, Tracy Haskett for their photos in the report

 

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Porch music, Race for Space: cool ideas from Geneva

Porch music, Race for Space: cool ideas from Geneva

When our group of Canadians from Norfolk County explored the Finger Lakes on a business study tour last spring, little did we know we would happen upon a town that was bursting with ideas and enthusiasm to revitalize itself.

Geneva (population 3,300) is located on the northern end of Seneca Lake. Local government operates the Geneva Neighbourhood Resource Centre, a one-stop-shop for information to help residents become more active, involved and connected to their town and neighborhood.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-11-01-46-pmWe met Sage Gerling, Director of Neighbourhood Initiatives. She provided a guided tour of the downtown area and spoke about some of the unique projects that Geneva’s citizen-led neighbourhood associations have undertaken.

Some ideas are not new, such as street closures for events. But other ideas captivated us.

For example, the Race for Space Contest was set up to encourage entrepreneurs to start up a business and locate it in downtown core.

Musical porches provided residents the opportunity to showcase local amateur musicians on the front stoops of homes, encouraging neighbours to interact.

The creative use of neighbourhood associations has spurred the development of butterfly garden, garden walks, music concert in cemetery, neighbourhood cleanup events and porch light-up events to promote community safety.

Read the full story starting on page 25 of the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016 Report.

Five more learning moments

In my August 12 post about the 2016 Finger Lakes Study Tour, the first five of ten learning moments were outlined. Here are the other five:

Three Brothers sign post

Three Brothers Winery has several destinations on one property

  1. Multiple Revenue Streams: Several stops showcased the many ways multiple revenue sources were maximized. Three Brothers Winery tapped into merchandise, featuring lots of clothing, trinkets and souvenirs. Arts Centre of Yates County rents out a lakeside property to artists and their students. Shtayburne Farm built a cheese factory and shop so the next generation could move back home to the farm. The Make Your Own Glass experience at the Corning Museum of Glass generates $1.5 million in revenue annually. (This is actually Rule #3 in the very good book, Small Town Rules, by Barry J. Moltz & Becky McCray.)
  2. Tax Incentives: Yates County’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) program offers an average of 68% property tax abatement over 14 years on a business capital investment or job enabling project for commercial, industrial, manufacturing and service oriented firms. For retail and destination tourism firms, the average percentage is 60% over 10 years.
  3. Regional Support, Local Direction, Big Dollars: Numerous times during the trip we were reminded that New York State has a healthy regional economic development grant system in place. Not only do the grants often benefit private-sector projects, but they are large in size and utilize direction from local and regional stakeholders. That said, local communities didn’t wait for the white knight to charge in on his horse. For example, the group was surprised at how much emphasis the Gaffer District of Corning puts on making its storefronts and windows look good. That level of dedication takes financial commitment.
  4. Tolerance for Risk and Failure: The incubator program at The Tech Farm highlighted how risky it is for an entrepreneur to develop a product for the food industry.  Investors and supporters of such new businesses must be patient and tolerant. There is a high probability of failure in this sector, which seems to be tolerated more often here.
  5. Paradigm Shift: From an Ontario perspective, many ideas and ventures along the route were perceived to be “colouring outside the lines” or “bending the rules”. The fact is that New York legislation appears to enable innovation to take place. Examples include the Farm Distillery Act, which lets farmers like the Myer Family start a small-batch distillery and tasting room.

The goal of the study tour was to learn from people at similar businesses in communities similar to those in Norfolk County and other parts of Ontario. A report prepared by Norfolk County staff, based on a survey of those who attended the tour, summarizes the learning moments that participants experienced in the Finger Lakes. The report has detailed information about each stop along the way, including key observations and learning moments.