First and foremost, businesses are about the individuals who run them.
Some of those people get up hours before the roosters crow, and others have taken a simple idea and built it into a business — or even a chain — that is standing the test of time.
They are entrepreneurs, family members and corporate executives, and taken together they and their passions give the Capital Region much of the flavor that makes our communities what they are, a part of upstate New York that people who have seen the rest of the country — and even the world — want to call home.
In this year’s Outlook section, the Gazette is talking with dozens of those leaders and entrepreneurs, learning their unique stories and the insights that being in business — whether for a few years or most of a lifetime —has given them. Many of them are women — women who in some cases have moved up the ladder at some of the largest corporations in the world, and in others have made something out of nothing more than an idea.
We’ve profiled some of the executives who wrestle on a daily basis with complexity of managing and paying for health care, with managing physicians, overseeing a health insurance company, or overseeing the complex institutions that provide health care, and must figure out how to pay for it.
“America has never come to grips with the fundamental core of the health care problem,” said Vic Guilianelli, CEO of St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam, who has worked his way up over a 38-year career at Montgomery County’s only hospital. “You have to answer this question: Is health care a right or is it a privilege? You answer that question, it moves you into public policy determinations. Right now, we’re a mixture of all of that. So the beat goes on.”
We also talked to people on the front lines of providing health care, like Saratoga Springs chiropractor Matt Smith, who has recently welcomed his daughter Kevy as a second chiropractor, while his wife manages the office.
“I hope Kevy continues to have fun every day and wants to keep going to work every day like I do,” Matt Smith said.
Food never seems to be far from anyone’s mind, and readers will learn how Schenectady County’s tourism promotion program, being ramped up this year with the Rivers Casino & Resort bringing more people into Schenecady, plans to use a series of “Schenectady Eats” videos to highlight the city’s restaurant offerings.
“We’re really trying to focus on dining options,” said city native Becky Daniels, executive director of the county Tourism Bureau. “It’s something that regionally Schenectady is known for.”
Fast food franchises have individual stories, too, about the people behind them. We’ve profiled the Teixeira family, who together own and operate nine Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Schenectady County and along the I-88 corridor, including the new one off Erie Boulevard, near the entrance to Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor.
Some people have the courage to start food businesses from scratch. On Schenectady’s Jay St., a 23-year-old entrepreneur, Abby Rockmacher of Niskayuna, has opened The DillyBean. It’s a health food store with locally made goods as well as Rockmacher’s own pickled products — yes, she does her own pickling.
In Saratoga Springs, Ryan Pakenas, a former sous chef, pastry chef and bartender, came up with the idea for his company, Devil Daves Bloody Mary Sticks, while bartending, and has raised $14,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to start a company that makes blood mary mixes in stick-style packs to add to tomato juice.
Flying, either as your occupation or an adrenaline-fueling hobby, is something else you’ll also read about here.
Frank Figliomeni of Saratoga, who owns Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary on Wolf Road in Colonie, also owns an air catering business that operates out of the Million Air Terminal at Albany International Airport, but which serves dozens of other airports. He’s dealt with the royal families of Europe and the Middle East, as well as major corporations, he said.
“I’ve been called at 2 o’clock in the morning by a very wealthy client for a can of Diet Coke and a milk,” he said. “I’ll get that for the client and I might not even charge them. Orders can be tiny but we’ll have a lot of them coming through.”
Col. Michele Kilgore is the first female commander of the 109th Airlift Wing at the Stratton New York Air National Guard base in Glenville, but despite her desk job she still likes to get up in the air piloting one of the guard’s C-130 cargo planes, the kind that fly to Antarctica.
For David Prescott, flying is a hobby: He owns Integra Optics at the Albany International Airport, and his fiberoptic business is located there for a reason: He likes to fly, especially World War II vintage planes. Like many others, he’s from elsewhere and first saw he Capital Region when in Saratoga County, training to be part of the nuclear navy.
We haven’t even touched on Marty Vanags, who rises at 3:45 a.m. after moving halfway across the country to help Saratoga County build on the economic opportunities at and around the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant; or Steven Brundage, the Saratoga Springs magician so good that he’s been on national television, and once performed a trick that for him out of a traffic ticket.
These are just a handful of the people and businesses you’ll learn about in this year’s Outlook section, which itself only scratches the surface of the entrepreneurial spirit and interesting people found in the Capital Region, as we’ll be the first to acknowledge.