Capital Region

Capital Region business leaders weigh in on post-COVID economy

Trepidation, cautious optimism about the shape of the "new normal" in the wake of the pandemic
The Pizza King dining room on Jay Street is empty Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The Pizza King dining room on Jay Street is empty Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Categories: Business, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

Two intertwined issues are at or near the top of people’s thoughts lately: COVID-19 and the economy.

How do we not get sick? How do we pay the massive tab piling up from trying so hard to not get sick?

And what sort of economy will be left standing when we’re done doing both?

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The pandemic is potentially an existential crisis for businesses that began 2020 with a weak bottom line and those that can’t quickly adapt to whatever “new normal” awaits over the horizon, when the partial shutdown of society ends.

The Daily Gazette asked an array of leaders in the business community across six counties what they think employers, consumers and the workforce will need to do when the economy restarts.

Here are their thoughts:

<imgPhilip Calderone. Photo Provided

PHILIP CALDERONE

Calderone is CEO of the Albany County Airport Authority.

I’m hesitant to discuss what we will need to do to restore “normalcy” to our Capital Region and our economy when restrictions are lifted and the reopening begins. Hesitant because “normalcy” implies business and life as usual; and we are far from that.

Until widespread testing is in place, until effective treatments exist and until a vaccine has been developed, the reality is that the virus will continue to be a threat to communities everywhere. Lifting restrictions, therefore, must be done in gradual stages, thoughtfully, equitably and with necessary health measures put into place to mitigate risk and to protect the public as much as possible. 

But a return to “normalcy?” That’s a long ways away; and we need to be truthful about that. I remember thinking on the morning of 9/11 that the world would never be the same; and it never was. All kinds of safeguards were put into place to protect us from another attack. Air travel changed dramatically. TSA checkpoints. Baggage and carry-on restrictions. Background checks.

But, life went on. Going forward, air travel may require that airports and airlines do regular monitoring of temperatures of all travelers using thermal  camera systems and the like. Humans will adapt. It’s in our DNA. We’ll adapt to a post corona virus world.  

This virus will forever make us more aware of our vulnerabilities and more cautious in our social interactions. But it’s important to remember and to reassure folks that there will be parades and birthday parties. There will be religious services and baseball games. There will be proms and weddings and county fairs. We’ll be able to visit loved ones again in nursing homes and hospitals and we’ll be able to hold their hands and be with them in their final hours and mourn their loss with family and friends.

Beauty shops, movie theaters, restaurants and shopping malls will all reopen. Travelers will fly again. We’ll need to support each other and understand that adapting to the changes that will come as we reset the economy and begin to re-engage with one another will not be quick or easy or comfortable.

NewsGary Dake. Photo provided

GARY DAKE

Dake is president of Stewart’s Shops, a Malta-based regional convenience store operator.

First and foremost, we all have to retain the lessons we’ve learned and use them to stay safe. The new normal will probably look different from the normal we knew.

I think the key word is balance. All of us need to stay safe, but carefully return to normal. Getting people back to work while not reigniting contagion. Spending while maintaining a safety net of savings. Having more than one roll of toilet paper without hoarding. Act with confidence, but don’t be reckless.

Every situation is a little different. While the government has to operate on a “one size fits all” basis to be consistent, all of us are a little different and we each need to evaluate our own risks within the structures the government creates. Perfect solutions do not exist. There are risks inherent in everything we do, but the secret is balancing those risks.

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For people looking to restart their businesses, I think you need to ask three questions. Is it safe for my employees? Is it safe for my customers? Is it sustainable? Then, be open and candid with all your stakeholders about your decisions.

For the local workforce, try to only take a job with an employer you trust. Ask questions knowing you may not like all of the answers. You’re better off knowing where you disagree than being lied to.

At Stewart’s we’re working with regulatory agencies at the state and local level to get all of our approvals in place so that we can start our construction projects as soon as it’s safe and legal to do so. Spending money in our local economies multiplies as local contractors spend in turn.

We’re evaluating how to most effectively use our charitable donations to help local non-profits be part of the path to a return to normalcy. The needs are immense and there are many unknowns. We have always supported our local charities and will do so with even more thought and concern than normal.

I don’t envy the burdens of leadership being carried by our elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels and I refuse to second guess them. They all have a daunting task ahead in trying to carefully lead us to a new normal. Personally, I find blame to be a waste of effort. We have so much at stake, we should focus more on the future than the past. 

<imgDave DeMarco. Photo provided

DAVE DEMARCO

DeMarco is president and CEO of Saratoga National Bank and Trust Company.

Restarting the Capital Region economy will be a gradual process and require a great deal of thought from government, business and community leaders. We should look at this challenge, collectively and collaboratively, from all angles.

From the financial services standpoint, we know that working with customers in need of hardship support now, both through loan deferrals and government relief like the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, will play a big role in the ability to restart the economy. These things make a difference for each individual or business in terms of weathering the storm, which will in turn, factor into the speed with which we can rebound.

I believe support for jump-starting businesses is key. Also, our hospitals and medical centers have been, and continue to be, stretched to their limits. They will need help finding their way back to normal after having carried us through this pandemic. 

It’s hard to identify a sector of our economy that is not important to our way of life. A true restart must aim to bring back all the components of our vibrant community. It may happen in waves, but we have to consider the entire economy: more than 20 institutions of higher education in our region, an international airport, tourism in Saratoga Springs and Lake George, an amazing arts and culture community and technology sectors. 

As we think about what easing of restrictions might look like, we don’t expect to flip a light switch, nor do I think our employees or customers would be comfortable with that. Public health precautions will not only keep us safe, but in a restart of the economy, they will also bolster consumer confidence. For example, will customers be more comfortable returning to our offices or your place business if we are all wearing masks? 

It’s going to take time, and none of us have a roadmap to follow. But I am encouraged by the resilience and solidarity our communities have shown during these challenges. If we come together on a solution for restarting the economy, I am confident we will get back to better days.

NewsMiriam Dushane. Photo provided

MIRIAM DUSHANE

Dushane is managing partner of Alaant Workforce Solutions in Colonie, an employment, recruiting and staffing agency.

Both employers and employees must accept we won’t return to the previous way of doing business; instead, we will enter a new normal driven by lessons learned during the pandemic.

Employers forced to find more efficient ways to conduct business, hire and keep employees, manage spending and mitigate expenses will likely press forward with those initiatives — in other words, Zoom is here to stay! And employees who’ve learned to collaborate and deliver work online should expect that to continue moving forward.

In terms of workforce, employers need to remember how tight the job market was before this crisis. When we enter our new normal, the shortage of talent will persist, so companies must be proactive now to build a robust pipeline for when hiring or re-employment starts back up.

Importantly, even as employers have faced many difficulties, their reputations will depend on how well they handled their employees during this crisis — those who stumbled will face challenges to rehire in the future. So, it’s critical they continue to show they value the welfare and well-being of their employees.  

Lastly, local businesses and consumers will emerge more aware of the value of supporting other local businesses and buy local as much as possible across all business sectors.

NewsPeter Gannon. Photo provided

PETER GANNON

Gannon is president and CEO of the United Way of the Greater Capital Region.

The Capital Region has come together in a remarkable way in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a community, we will need to remain resilient and continue to work together as we begin to reopen the economy and restore normalcy. And we’re still figuring out what the new normal looks like. 

Operating procedures will change, our workforce will have new needs and consumers will have different priorities. We need to be ready to rapidly adapt to new procedures.

The most important thing to do is ask for help if you need it. There are many resources currently available to help both businesses and individuals recover from this crisis.

NewsRay Gillen. Photo provided

RAY GILLEN

Gillen is chairman of Metroplex and commissioner of economic development and planning for Schenectady County.

The current health crisis has impacted every business and household here in Schenectady County and around the world. We are in unchartered waters for sure.  

When the crisis hit, the Capital Region had just posted an all-time record level of employment. More jobs were filled than at any time in history.

As the health crisis ebbs with the advent of a vaccine or effective treatments, we must start by building on the essential businesses that stayed open and working during the current crisis. Schenectady County is fortunate that many of our key employers were deemed essential. These firms produce critical energy, defense, infrastructure, warehousing and food/beverage products.

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Next, we will need to get the construction sector reopened and as many of these employees as possible working outside and in workplaces that can adjust to less density. We need to be building and renovating to get the economy going again.

Health care and government employees played a key role in helping to sustain us during the Covid crisis. These are important employers in our community and our economy will be in a better position than many other areas due to the strong presence of health care and government workers.

The state is a major employer in Schenectady County along with MVP, Ellis Medicine, Sunnyview and others.   

We also need to thank all of the grocery employees that kept us going during the crisis. Schenectady County is very fortunate to be home to Price Chopper’s headquarters and thousands of front-line grocery jobs. Again, these folks are heroes.

The Capital Region has always been a strong logistics hub.  This  sector stayed strong during the crisis and will only get stronger. The “just in time” logistics system is finished. Gone are the days when companies and the government avoid stocking  inventory. I would expect almost exponential growth in warehousing and logistics and we are well positioned to see job growth here. 

We need to see our colleges and universities, SUNY Schenectady, Union, Clarkson, as well as trade schools such as Modern Welding and the Paul Mitchell School re-open. These are major economic engines in Schenectady County. We don’t think of ourselves as a college town but we should.

And the local tech scene is also crucial. We must make sure that Transfinder, the Jahnel Group and the many software and tech companies in Schenectady County stage a full comeback.

Our arts and entertainment sector is critical. We need to see Proctor and the Rivers Casino & Resort and our hotels and restaurants reopen. This will be pivotal for our economy.  There are thousands of jobs at stake in this industry.

The road back won’t be fast or easy, but Schenectady County will make it back. We have strong county and local leadership in place everywhere you look and a unified economic development team that is structuring deals now that will be ready to roll when the economy is reopened. If you look at past depressions or recessions, Schenectady and the Capital Region have usually fared better than our counterparts. Together, we can do it again.

NewsScott Grimmett. Photo provided

SCOTT GRIMMETT

Grimmett is president and CEO of the Golub Corp., the Schenectady-based operator of Market 32 and Price Chopper supermarkets.

Price Chopper/Market 32 stores have, obviously, been open throughout this crisis and our teammates have gone the extra mile to provide essential goods and services to the families in our communities. At the same time, we’ve worked very closely with our trade partners and suppliers to keep the supply chain flowing and, to the very best of our ability, maintain product on the shelves.

We’ve seen this crisis from a different perspective because we have been constantly adjusting the way we work to meet the needs of our customers and to comply with the CDC and New York state guidelines that best protect our customers and teammates.

Moving forward, we’re going to have to remain nimble and innovative in order to provide our customers with the solutions they need, whether it’s an abundance of affordable staples or all the right ingredients for a backyard BBQ, once it’s safe to gather in small groups with family and friends. And we’re going to have to maintain our commitment to supporting our communities, listening to the changing needs of our customers and responding to them with expertise and humanity.

fuelNewsAndy Guelcher. Photo provided

ANDY GUELCHER

Guelcher is general manager of Mohawk Honda and co-owner of Mohawk Chevrolet.

For us and the rest of the automotive retailers, It has been an interesting transition to accelerated digital retailing. 

We have been utilizing tools and implementing processes that were walking us down this path prior to, as our customers’ preferences shifted. The COVID-19 situation has caused us to rapidly accelerate the use of the tools and the execution of the processes. 

We have seen steady increases in both our service and sales departments, relative to where we were three weeks ago, but are still off 40 percent overall. There have certainly been encouraging economic indicators locally and the infusion of cash through stimulus payments to individuals as well as small businesses through SBA programs will help further fuel consumer spending. We are also seeing unprecedented incentives from the manufacturers that are keeping service and vehicle costs down as well as interest costs on loans at all time lows or, in some cases, at zero.


There is no question that businesses will have to pivot as we reopen the economy in the Capital Region and elsewhere, but for those willing to adapt, the tools exist to do so.

I believe you will continue to see buzz words like “contactless” and “touchless” and delivery services such as pick-up and drop-off become much more commonplace amongst all retailers. 

Regardless of organizational size or products sold, if processes are put into place to capture the changes in consumer preferences, you will be able to work through this and, chances are, come out even stronger on the other side.

NewsJesse Holland. Photo provided

JESSE HOLLAND

Holland is president of Sunrise Management & Consulting, a Colonie residential rental company.

I think that the way the restrictions will be lifted will be in the reverse order of the way they were rolled it out and might be stop-and-go for a while.

For example, the government may test loosening restrictions and then find that they need to restrict again depending on the coronavirus caseload.

The important factor is that we all work together and have patience with one another. For example, construction may return first, but there may be difficulties in the supply chain. If they say we can start construction work on Monday, we would then need to get everything organized again and find the materials we need. It may take time for us to rebuild our supplies and get our teams back in the field.

The economy may not return to normal — I think there will be a “new normal.” For example, we have found that prospective apartment renters are spending more time online looking at our apartments and taking virtual tours. Will people be more apt to continue to rent apartments sight unseen, or will they be back to doing a quick online check and then making a list of places to visit?

I wonder if companies will keep more of their employees working from home. Now that organizations have built or are building a remote-work infrastructure, will they continue to encourage employees to work from home after the pandemic and save money on leasing office space and equipment? Companies may find that they can function well with everyone working remotely and just want a small space to meet with customers. Our new corporate office in Latham will have executive suites to rent on the second floor, and we think they will rent quickly with companies just to use for meetings with customers.

I believe that people want to work and will welcome the opportunity to get back to their jobs. Even if people don’t feel like going to work on some days, I have found that overall, people want to work and have a career. As we begin to get to our new normal, companies that have had to lay anyone off will look forward to recalling them from unemployment.

Companies like Sunrise Management & Consulting, who are lucky to be considered essential at this time, will be more ready to scale up our operations quickly.

On behalf of all Capital Region businesses, I ask for continued patience and understanding from customers at this time. Stay safe, good luck, and we look forward to seeing you in person when that is allowed!

NewsSean Maguire. Photo provided

SEAN MAGUIRE

Maguire is director of the town of Colonie Planning and Economic Development Department.

First and foremost, we all need plans to restore normalcy to the region’s economy. 

While it is tempting to simply throw the doors open, if it’s not done in a deliberate and conscious manner, the rush to restore a pre-COVID19 may backfire. Businesses have made adaptations to their models in order to remain sustainable during this crisis. These changes may have afforded them the opportunity to re-evaluate operations. But before turning back to how business used to be, I suggest that they evaluate these recent changes to determine if they should be temporary or if these shifts in how they do business is here to stay. 

For businesses who didn’t have a plan for this or other disruptions — it’s time to make one. For those that had a plan, it’s time to review how it worked and if adjustments are needed. And for some businesses, they will certainly face more hard choices about the future.

Dealing with disasters has four phases: planning, prevention, response, and recovery. We are still very much in the response phase.

When you think about it, this emergency has similarities to other disasters. While we many think of a major storm as a short-term disaster — rain and wind start and stop, flood waters rise and recede — it is truly a long-term event because the storm is just the tipping point. After a major storm, once the waters recede, we have a long road ahead to repair the built environment. I think that the opportunity we have is that we can move into recovery sooner than after a major storm.

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Mazzone Hospitality celebrated the grand opening of its new restaurant Fish at 30 Lake situated at the corner of Lake Ave and Pavilion Place in downtown Saratoga Springs. Fish at 30 Lake offers day-boat caught fresh seafood, hardwood grilled fish and pizza, and a free standing raw bar, as well as plates to share. The restaurant will formally open to the public on Saturday, June 18,2016. Pictured speaking is Angelo Mazzone, Owner Mazzone Hospitality, with left to right, Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, Senator Kathleen A. Marchione, and Mazzone Hospitality CEO and Partner, Mark A. Delos.Angelo Mazzone. Photo by Marc Schultz/Staff Photographer

ANGELO MAZZONE

Mazzone is president of Mazzone Hospitality in Clifton Park, a regional catering and restaurant operation.

When the restrictions are lifted, I feel we will be a totally different country. I see a lot of similar things that changed after the 9/11 attack. 

The most important thing is the safety of our workforce. We need to figure out a way to bring them back and protect them. This is not only for the Capital Region but for the country. 

My opinion on what businesses, consumers and the workforce will need to do is to restore some form of normalcy will depend on what restrictions are going to be mandated. 

Our work force has already committed to the mandates at hand. We are still feeding people with gloves and masks on for all kitchen workers and people bringing food to customers. All our restaurants and catering facilities are now closed and have been closed for several weeks and we do not know when they will reopen. 

We will have a couple of weeks of cleanup and retraining of staff. We will knowingly lose staff because of the layoffs, we will need to search for new staff and begin new training. 

I think consumers will not be ready to go to crowded events or restaurants or large gatherings.  We are a company that works with large gatherings be it corporate functions, business functions or personal. We also have the contracts at SPAC and part of the Saratoga Race Track. 

What rules will be put in places for crowds like that?

What occupancy will restaurants and large events now have?

The economy of the region will be a slow growth but eventually will come back and quicker than it did after the 2008 crash. That took us at least five years to get events back, and business spending on clients and employees. I hope we can get back where we were in two to three years. 

The region will be a different place to work and live, but it will still be the place to be. We will all come out of this stronger and more aware of our surroundings. 

But we will be back. 

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
CEO of Proctors Collaborative Philip Morris and Producing Artistic Director of Capital Repertory Theatre Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill speak on stage during the 2019-2020 Proctors and Capital Repertory Theatre subscription series at Proctors in Schenectady on Monday, March 4, 2019.Philip Morris. Photo by Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

PHILIP MORRIS

Morris is CEO of The Proctors Collaborative, a Schenectady-based network of performance venues and arts ventures.

Clearly, reopening is a balancing act between the economy we knew and the continued protection of people and the health care system. The governor has been clear and direct about that balance, often saying we must measure essential versus risky.  

To my mind, while the sort of joys the arts offer should be considered pretty essential to recovery from a social and economic point of view, our riskiness level is clearly quite high. We do the opposite of social distancing! We weave people together.  

When the shutdown of the economy began, we often repeated on our marquee at Proctors and to our family of patrons, staff, volunteers and donors, “Be Calm, Be Kind!”

That is as much the mantra of the sort of slow and intermittent restart which will be our medium-term future.

We are sailors during a storm anchored in a hurricane hole waiting out the storm’s passing. We need to be kind and calm. 

Julie Pacatte. Photo by Erica Miller/Staff PhotographerJulie Pacatte. Photo by Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

JULIE PACATTE

Pacatte is executive director of the Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corp., an economic development agency.

What will businesses, consumers and the workforce need to do to restore normalcy to the Capital Region and its economy when the reopening begins:

Be patient. Resolve to be resilient, adaptable and healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally) at all costs.

Businesses: Embrace necessity as the mother of invention and continue to explore new ideas and business models. Innovation leads to longevity.

Consumers: Remain “hyper-local,” keep your spending dollars in the community, it will buoy community spirit as well as support economic activity.

Workforce: Choose to be grateful and inspired by independence. Cooperation, initiative and productivity will always be appreciated and builds confidence.

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NewsJason Packer. Photo provided

JASON PACKER

Packer is CEO of Hill & Markes, an Amsterdam supplier of food service and cleaning supplies.

Our team has researched the re-opening of the economy, we continue to research and think ahead for what the future may bring, and it is a challenge. There is a new norm on the horizon and the fear for us, for other business owners, and for government officials like Governor Cuomo is the re-opening of our economy. 

What will it look like? How fast is too fast? The main fear is that we rush into opening everything back up too quickly, only to have a new spike in COVID-19. Should this happen, we will face even more setbacks. 

A second en masse quarantine would be devastating to the overall economy. The key is to find avenues to open while keeping our community safe. There needs to be a balance between re-opening slowly to promote health and safety, and re-opening in haste in an effort to keep the economy healthy. 

As Governor Cuomo has communicated, schools, business, and transportation must open up simultaneously.  Employees need our school systems not only for education purposes, but also so they can go to work. CDTA will need to be functioning to ensure those employees can get to work, and business needs to be open for New Yorkers to be employed and to have access to essential items they need.

There are no easy answers to your question on how to re-open the economy. I know technology is being developed to isolate cases better. I know large volumes of testing is necessary, and large corporations are pushing for that solution. I know what we do in our industry is more critical than ever! It is what we do today that will help mold our future.

 

NewsRonald Peters. Photo provided

RONALD PETERS

Peters is president and CEO of the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, an economic development agency.

Everyone is looking forward to restart and restore normalcy to the Capital Region’s Economy once the daunting task of reopening begins. The shutting down of our economy will leave a long and lasting effect, which is going to be felt for several years.

I believe there will be many smaller businesses will not come back from this shutdown due to a lack of working capital.  Going forward, working capital and cash will be king and those that have it will survive. 

Most of your medium and large businesses will ride the economic wave and survive, but with a much better appreciation for the need to tighten their belts and keep customer satisfaction at a maximum. 

Going forward to be successful, the Capital Region economy needs to be completely aligned as a single unit where individual businesses small and large work as a unit integrating consumer needs and workforce.

To be successful, businesses are going to see the need to provide customers with the sense of safety, much more customer satisfaction and the complete ability to conduct business on-line and at a distance with almost instant confirmation on transactions. Businesses will see a need to retrain a certain part of their workforce to deal with the changing needs of their customer base.  

Customers going forward will require businesses to provide a safe shopping or transactional conveyance of goods and services. My opinion is the consumers are going to feel a money pinch for quite a while. Consumers will definitely have a lot less disposable income until the economy completely recovers and will shop accordingly.

Workforce going forward will need to be taught the skills and disciplines necessary to work effectively from home or offsite. Working off-site will work for some but not for all.  Workforce and employees will continue to be in demand for the businesses that survive the economy reboot.

NewsShelby Schneider. Photo provided

SHELBY SCHNEIDER

Schneider is president of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, an economy development agency.

Before we can go back to “normal” the business community, consumers, and the workforce will need to feel safe. This means that we need to hold ourselves to the highest health and safety measures until our governments and medical community can scale up testing for the virus and antibodies for those exposed and recovered. Until we have a vaccine for COVID-19, protecting ourselves will be critical but not impossible. Ramping our businesses up carefully but strategically can ensure we see economic recovery without setbacks.

Workplace health and safety comes first: The business community should take a lead in preparing health and safety standards and protocols to ensure their workplace and customers are safe.

Technology is on our side: Allow remote work for as long as possible, and use technology for online meetings.

Our workforce will need childcare: Whether it is at-home care with a single provider, group childcare centers, or summer camps — all healthy and safety measures will need to be taken into consideration to ensure our childcare providers, children, and families they return to are safe.

Fill the skills gap: For displaced and unemployed, now is the time to improve your skills. There are many online training and skills development programs that could help increase the capacity within our workforce.

Support for small businesses: The federal stimulus dollars are making their way to Main Street USA. Now what? Now is the time to plan for the ramp-up.

Onshoring opportunity to fill gaps in the supply chain with domestic products: If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it is where we have vulnerabilities and gaps in our domestic supply chain. We don’t want to be caught flat-footed again.

How can our communities help?

Now that the State is allowing for online (Zoom, Facebook Live, etc) public municipal meetings — communities can lead the way to recovery by ensuring they are reviewing and approving projects in the most efficient and streamlined way possible. This will get new construction projects on track and businesses ready to hit the ground running when we return to normal.

Interest rates are at historic lows. It’s the very best — and least expensive — time for communities to launch capital or infrastructures projects. Getting your community into the pipeline for projects puts you in the funding queue early.

 

NewsTodd Shimkus. Photo provided

 

TODD SHIMKUS

Shimkus is president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.

First of all, I think it’s important for people to know that in Saratoga County, the six leading economic development and tourism promotion organizations have been collaborating since March 13 both to respond to the crisis and to plan for Saratoga County’s recovery.

This includes Discover Saratoga, SEDC, the Saratoga County Chamber, the City Center, Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, and the Saratoga Springs DBA. We’ve been relentlessly communicating among ourselves and with tens of thousands of people via email and social media to make sure the best information and ideas are being shared in the most timely fashion. This is Saratoga County’s economic recovery team and we’re committed to this collaborative effort because it will be a key to restarting our economy.

We’re already finding local sources for the things we’re going to need, including; hand sanitizer, gloves, cloth masks, and maybe even thermometers. We don’t just need these products to stop the spread of the virus but also to demonstrate to the public and to potential customers that their home improvement contractor or their favorite local restaurant or their hair salon is doing everything possible to keep their customers and staff safe. Our hope is that by assembling small business recovery kits with these items that this will allow our small businesses to operate safely, to promote that they are doing perhaps more than is required to keep their customers safe and to then be able to focus their time on reopening.

Discover Saratoga and the City Center will be hosting a webinar for our local hospitality sector leaders with experts on how to rebuild our conventions and meetings business. The Saratoga County Chamber is Saratoga County’s Tourism Promotion Agency and we’re reworking our digital ad campaign both in terms of the message as well as the target audience. A unique asset that we have in this regard is the fact that the City’s motto is Health. History. Horses. So we know in Saratoga that HEALTH has always come first. We think visitors, talent and businesses will be looking for healthy places to live, work and play and we know Saratoga County is one of the healthiest communities in the US. Our Healthy Saratoga brand sets us apart as we look not just to recover but to grow our economy too.

NewsMarion Terenzio. Photo provided

MARION TERENZIO

Terenzio is president of SUNY Cobleskill College.

I dare say, any reopening will not lead to the normalcy we experienced pre-COVID 19. I think that strategies will dictate new normalcy definitions, and each community will implement plans based on unique cultural characteristics.  The post COVID 19 normalcy will be the topic for years to come. 

This includes the countless proposals already provided by experts as to how to reopen the economy. While there are differences among them, most proposals have common themes, including continued testing, social distancing with or without masks, who should return to work, and who should stay home. As part of the plans, experts propose that communities should identify their assets, be it Main Street, large civic centers, industries ready to go with robust safety protocols, or transportation hubs retrofitted for post-COVID 19 second wave vulnerabilities.

What seems to be missing in most of these plans is the strong connection between the economic recovery of communities and higher education. The proposals treat the reopening of each sector as separate endeavors, at best, or as dichotomous happenings, rather than in concert with each other, and with the same goals that benefit community well-being. 

While I would not claim to know the most effective process for the reopening of the Capital Region, what I do know is that higher education can play a major role as a collective or as individual institutions in this critical process.

There are examples of two collectives in the region. The first is the Capital Region President’s Council, which is a coalition of over 20 higher education institutions, formed in 2019 to address various issues, including our role as a critical economic engine for the Capital Region. The second example is the presidential leadership on the regional economic development councils, which are part of the Empire State Development Office.

The councils have begun to identify regional reopening strategies. In the case of the MVREDC, and in my role as the co-chair, we are incorporating the local colleges and universities into the action steps.

Examples of individual campus efforts include SUNY Cobleskill’s Institute for Rural Vitality, which assists farmers and other local agriculture-related businesses through on-line farmers market opportunities, in securing grants, and providing incubator services to over 300 farm and food entrepreneurs annually.

We are also working with the local county officials to revisit the economic strategic plan and build a post-COVID 19 addendum. The College will also be working with the county school superintendents to provide assistance in potential student learning gaps. Keeping children in school is a critical part of building a strong economic development plan.

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