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.

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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 excellence

Town’s sincere commitment to 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

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.

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.