A lot of the Capital Region’s business flavor comes from people like Pat Popolizio, who have a vision and the will to pursue it.
Popolizio left a corporate job with Golub Corp. more than a decade ago to pursue his dream of owning a marina and restaurant. Today, he operates the popular Water’s Edge Lighthouse on the Mohawk River in Glenville.
Success can also come through persistence and consistent treatment of customers across decades, persistence in both vision and work ethic. Multigenerational family enterprises like Stewart’s Shops, Mazzone Hospitality, the Fuccillo Automotive Group and Boxley Cleaning are some examples.
The Capital Region also has some enormously transformative business visions being carried out with billions of dollars in international investment — the prime example being GlobalFoundries’ growing semiconductor manufacturing complex in Saratoga County.
While the past few years have been tough ones for many businesses, those mentioned above — and a fair number of others — have done more than hold their own: They’ve expanded and even thrived. In this year’s Capital Region Outlook, The Daily Gazette takes a look at some of their stories.
Each tale is different, but all the companies profiled in this section have found ways to get through the tough times. We recognize, though, that dozens of other businesses are succeeding, as well. There’s a sense the immediate future contains more sunshine than cloud.
Better days ahead
There’s a near-consensus that the Capital Region economy has turned the corner following the severe 2008-10 downturn and hiring will be picking up in many business sectors in the next 12 months.
The Capital Region unemployment rate dropped to 5.4 percent in December, according to the state Department of Labor — a dramatic drop from 7.3 percent the year before. Even Fulton and Montgomery counties, with their long histories of industrial decline and high unemployment, have seen improvements, with their jobless rates dropping below 8 percent.
“We’re starting to see significant declines. I do expect that to continue,” said James Ross, a regional analyst with the Department of Labor.
Among the sectors expected to hire in 2014 are health care — we’re all getting older, and the Affordable Care Act will lead to new health care jobs — and high-tech manufacturing.
The GlobalFoundries Fab 8 computer chip plant in Malta will continue significant hiring in the high-tech sector. The company has been hiring virtually non-stop since 2011.
Fab 8, which began commercial production in 2012, has more than 2,000 permanent employees, and the company will be hiring hundreds more during 2014. GlobalFoundries is actively recruiting manufacturing process engineers and others to work in a technology development center now under construction that should be finished by year’s end.
The engineering jobs tend to be high-paying and high-education, but GlobalFoundries’ arrival has also been very good for the region’s construction industry. The company has invested nearly $10 billion already at Fab 8, and a significant amount of that has been spent with local contractors.
“The Fab 8 project has required more than 6 million man-hours to complete to date and created more than 10,000 new construction jobs on site and thousands of additional local construction-related jobs since 2009,” said GlobalFoundries spokesman Travis Bullard.
The College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering in Albany will also continue hiring researchers and scientists this year, as the Capital Region becomes more recognized — even internationally — as a technology industry advanced research hub.
Readers will learn how one futuristic technology — the robot — is being used on a fifth-generation dairy farm in bucolic Washington County.
While the technology sector is one source of the region’s growth, the service sector is growing, as well — and should continue to grow, as people move past their recession mindsets and become more comfortable spending again.
A new vibe
Downtowns in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs are seeing private investment in the kinds of businesses that contribute to quality of life — places to find a decent steak or jambalaya, or buy the kind of literary books that don’t turn up in department stores.
Schenectady has become an entertainment destination thanks to Proctors — the upcoming run of “The Book of Mormon” virtually sold out within hours of tickets going on sale — and an influx of new restaurants, each with its unique take on what will please the discriminating palate.
Peter Blackman, who co-owns Aperitivo Bistro, told a Gazette reporter he thinks the place has a “Manhattan-style vibe.”
“We’re all different, but we’re similar,” Blackman said of Schenectady’s new roster of restaurants. “We all have niches, which is good for the consumer.”
Those eateries are taking advantage of being near attractions like Proctors and Bow-Tie Cinemas, as well as street improvements being done on State Street and Erie Boulevard.
“No one can deny the growth and expansion and the reinvestment we have seen in downtown Schenectady,” said Chuck Steiner, president and CEO of the Chamber of Schenectady County.
Saratoga Springs, long a destination for both tourists and day-trippers, since last summer has added a downtown movie theater and independent bookstore, Northshire Books, which is profiled in this section.
“We offer a different atmosphere, a different and more varied selection, and we have excellent booksellers to help customers,” Northshire Books owner Chris Morrow told The Gazette. “I think people are attracted to the unique, the local, the uplifted — to the quality of discovery when you come in our stores.”
A new upscale grocery, Fresh Market, will open later this year on Excelsior Avenue.
One of the Capital Region’s most recognized symbols is the logo of Stewart’s Shops, and the Malta-headquartered convenience store chain is an example of a multigenerational company that has thrived despite the economic downturn. It has survived many downturns before and found people still want milk, gasoline and locally manufactured ice cream.
Stewart’s is planning to expand at the western edges of its traditional territory, in the Utica and Syracuse markets, but is still finding new places to build in the Capital Region.
“What we found was when you reach a certain mass, people don’t talk about going to the closest convenience store anymore — Hess or Cumberland Farms or Stewart’s — they talk about going to the closest Stewart’s,” said company President Gary Dake, who is the son of William Dake, one of the company’s founders.
In Fulton County, readers will learn how officials are pursuing another big-vision project: conversion of the former Tryon School into an industrial park. The site in a rural section of the town of Johnstown once had 350 state employees. Officials would love to see that kind of activity again, but it will have to come through creating private jobs.
“Our hope is to just try to recapture the lost jobs,” Fulton County Planning Director James Mraz said.
Gazette reporter Stephen Williams can be reached at 885-6705 or email@example.com.