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.

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 14

We had completed our tour of the Finger Lakes. The two-day, one-night trip by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Ryan at The Combine

Ryan Rivard of The Combine describes the appetizers he has served the group / Photo: Melissa Collver

During our last meal together, the chef/owner of The Combine in Norfolk County, Ryan Rivard, invited the group to reconvene at his restaurant in two weeks time, to debrief and share experiences.

In the meantime, comments were gathered from the participants on the trip, who generally found value in the Finger Lakes Study Tour.

“Well organized, good itinerary, amazing inclusions! Only by working together will we be able to redevelop our area,” said one participant

“Good for local businesses and Norfolk staff to be able to experience the up and downs of economic development in small towns in the Finger Lakes area,” said another. “With such a wide selection of places to visit there was something for everyone to learn. Thank You! I have a lot of good usable info that can be incorporated in our business.”

“I learned that everyone every now and again runs into adversity. Every village, town, city or establishment has obstacles. I plan on helping to meet the challenges we have face on, to keep thinking of ways to improve.”

Menu

Participants in the Finger Lakes Study Tour reconvened at The Combine Restaurant two weeks after the trip to share ideas. Thanks Ryan for inviting us! / Photo: Melissa Collver

Asked if any bright ideas were discovered during the tour, one participant commented: “Not one particular idea, but lots of food for thought. My wheels are still turning, I have researched some of the places we visited. I haven’t stopped talking about it.”

Two weeks later, most of the group gathered at The Combine. Chef Ryan served a mind-blowing combination of dishes, including Norfolk County ingredients such as YU Ranch beef, Round Plains sweet potatoes and Pristine Gourmet oils. The food was complemented by pairings of local wine from Burning Kiln and Bonnieheath, hard cider from Villa Nova Estate Winery, and “Sweet Leaf” craft beer from the Blue Elephant Craft Brewhouse. Ryan also incorporated butternut squash seed oil from the Finger Lakes into the aioli in his Perch Tacos.

Many ideas and experiences were shared. The group also received copies of the Finger Lakes Study Tour Report, which can be downloaded at norfolkbusiness.ca/news/finger-lakes-report/.

Thanks again to Southwest Ontario Tourism Corp., and Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development, all the hosts and all the participants, for making this initiative a great success.

See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

Bonnie Preece & Ron Barr

Bonnie Preece & Ron Barr

Our friends from Rushcreek Winery, who joined the tour, wrote two excellent blog posts about their experiences. Check them out at:

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

(c) 2015 Clark Hoskin

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 13

Warfields for dinner

Our group dined at Warfields as our tour drew to a close / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Staying on the theme of supporting rural and small businesses, the final leg of our trip took us west via Highway 5/20 to the town of Clifton Springs. Instead of eating our dinner at a service centre food court on the Interstate, our last stop of the tour was Warfields, a restaurant and bakery.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

We were greeted by Jamie Noga of the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce, who thanked the group for supporting this small town, with its history of sulphur springs with curative powers. In fact, the town’s hospital is located next to the historic Clifton Springs Sanitorium Company, built in 1850 to provide primary and specialty care to the people of the Finger Lakes.

“I found it very interesting to hear that other towns have had similar problems with revitalizing what should be the hub of the community. It was good to know that it could be done with the right organizations all working together to build and promote the cores in their counties.” – comment from one of our participants

The group enjoyed an excellent meal coordinated by Warfields’ Banquet Manager, Diane Fabiaszak, and prepared by Chef Phil Yautzy. Four dinner options were provided for our group to choose from, and many guests purchased pastries and cookies at the bakery after dinner.

Finger Lakes sign

Finger Lakes sign / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Our group bade farewell to the Finger Lakes and headed back to Canada. The bus arrived at the Norfolk County Fairgrounds after 11 p.m. on March 4.

Read Part 14 to find out what happened after the tour!

See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

(c) 2015 Clark Hoskin

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 12

Seneca Falls was our next stop. This small town is working hard from many angles to revitalize its local economy and tourist attractions.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Bronze statues

Bronze statues in the Women’s Rights National Historic Park / Photo: Clark Hoskin

In 1848, Seneca Falls hosted the first women’s rights convention in the U.S., a historical event. Today, this history is celebrated at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park. Our bus arrived here, and Kimberly Szewczyk of the Park and Jeff Shipley and Mackenzie Green of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce greeted us.

After a tour around the building, we headed to the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry. The curator, Chris Podzuweit, explained that the town no longer has falls, because they were flooded to make way for an expansion of the Erie Canal in 1918. A boater on Long Point Bay in Lake Erie can sail to Seneca Falls, via the canal, and then onto the Atlantic Ocean.

Seneca Falls has developed its waterfront through landscaping and improving canal tie-up facilities, offering a “free wall” – free water, electrical service and showers to boaters. Extended stays in Seneca Falls are encouraged with the installation of a boardwalk and lighting. Almost 200 years old, the Erie Canal remains important to the town’s economy.

Don Earle, Town Supervisor for Seneca Falls, also greeted us. He explained the Town’s recent amalgamation with the village resulted in savings for taxpayers.

It's A Wonderful Life Festival

It’s A Wonderful Life Festival, 2009 – Lineup for autograph of actress who played Zsuzsu in the movie / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Seneca Falls holds the annual It’s A Wonderful Life Festival in December, celebrating the town’s curious connections to the classic holiday film. While planning the film in 1944, director Frank Capra got a haircut here on his way to visit his aunt. The town of “Bedford Falls” in the film is said to have been inspired by Capra’s stop here. The winter festival now includes the It’s A Wonderful Run 5K, a successful fundraiser. Last year, over 3,100 people completed the race. Some in our group visited the WomanMade Products store in downtown Seneca Falls, a retail shop with a T-shirt factory in the back. The store features lots of clothing celebrating the Finger Lakes, women’s rights, and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Every August, Seneca Falls hosts Empire Farm Days, an annual agricultural exhibition that began as a potato farmers’ event in 1931. Hosted on a 300-acre farm south of town, the event is the largest outdoor agricultural trade show in the Northeastern U.S.

These were just a few of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine