Monday, May 22, 2017

Businesses should open doors to school kids

There is a growing crisis in the job market. Well-paying full-time jobs with good benefits are going unfilled, with owners and managers of blue-collar employers (factories, farms, trucking firms, the building trades) having a difficult time finding skilled workers or even apprentices interested in that line of work.

It’s an outcome of a couple decades of misplaced priorities in society and education. Adults, whether in the home or in the classroom, had purposely driven kids away from the trades, thinking that such careers are demeaning and low-paying, on the path to extinction, and that college is the unquestioned key to success.

None of those beliefs are true nor have they ever been. Now, the adults who once believed them are waking up to that, especially since recent college grads find themselves crushed by debt and unable to find a good job due to an overabundance of college degrees, alleged over-qualification, and a tipsy economy.

Teachers, counselors, policy makers and parents now find themselves doing a 180, changing the culture that their predecessors had put into play for far too long. They are seeing the value in all work and all trades and doing what they can to promote them among today’s youths. But, after decades of society going in the other direction, it’s a tough sell and a slow one.

That’s where employers can help out.

Those same bosses who routinely complain about the deficient workforce need to do something other than whine.

They need to do as they do in their workplaces – get their hands dirty, get involved. They need to reach out to the schools and put themselves out there. Guidance from real world people can go a long ways in getting students interested in skilled work and settled on a career that will keep them comfortable for life.

It’s an easy and effective pursuit, one that we’ve practiced for some time at the plant and I strongly encourage other employers to follow suit. There are three simple ways that you can do this: speak to classes, host tours, and let kids shadow.

Speaking to a classroom is the easiest investment of your time. You have a captive audience that you can speak to for a half-hour to an hour and those students tend to be appreciative and interested as it’s a break from the routine of that same room. While it’s the easiest option, it’s the least effective, as other than a slideshow or brochure, the kids really can’t see what you do. 

Experiential learning is the best way to garner interest and that’s why tours are a far better option. You can give the same spiel that you would in the classroom, but the kids can also see people working, machines functioning, and goods being produced. That awesomeness of what you do every day can be an attention-grabber. It doesn’t matter if you manufacture kayaks, milk cows, or build warehouses – kids will eat it up. I’ve had fifth-graders, middle schoolers, high school seniors and college students go through the factory, all of them with wide eyes and keen interest.

Shadowing takes tours to another level and to make it happen it generally requires a full day and your willingness to share a lot of your time and knowledge -- and that of your coworkers – with students. We’ve done this at the plant quite a few times with students from schools like Barker and Niagara Catholic. They were able to choose from various career paths (machining, maintenance, trucking, business) and get to feel it out with a watchful eye as a learner, observing what our folks do while hearing of the finer details of why they do it.     

While most employers won’t directly benefit from such activities -- the chances of you recruiting someone for your company is slim (and it should not be your goal) – those kids with whom you speak will. It will give them interest, purpose, and direction.

If you are serious about the quality of our workforce, the future of our kids, and the health of our economy, open your doors and open your hearts and partner with our local schools. We have a culture in education and employment that we need to transform, and it takes baby steps like these to affect change.  

From 22 May 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Friday, May 12, 2017


Bloodroot is one of the harbingers of spring on the Niagara Frontier -- and it is certainly one of our most interesting vernal wildflowers.

From mid-April to early-May this member of the poppy family adds beauty to the barren woodlands as it opens for the sun each day, its fragile white petals spreading in the morning, exposing a golden yellow center.

At night, those same flowers close shut. Quite a few species of flowers do that (especially in the summer), but the bloodroot is unusual for the fact that its leaf closes, too. The single, scalloped leaf, told by its large lobes, wraps around the flower stalk.

This plant is called bloodroot because it’s deep, large underground stem bleeds when cut. While it might appear brown and potatoey on the outside, an orange or red sap flows through it. That juice had many purposes for the Native Americans.

Indigenous peoples used a diluted version of the plant blood as war paint and as a marking during special ceremonies. It would stick to the skin or mud applicant for days and its latex-like properties could handle sweat without coming off which allowed for its use during long battles.

That sort of permanency also allowed for its use to paint baskets and dye clothing. Even early French settlers to North America used the root to dye wool.

The plant also had some medical purposes – when taken sparingly.

Being a member of the poppy family, it has some of the properties of opium. It contains the compound protopine, which when consumed in small amounts can cause nausea. When taken in large amounts, it’s a poison, as it will slow down the heart and kill the user.

Native Americans found a way to temper that and put the plant to good use – or more appropriately good uses; bloodroot provided a veritable laundry list of benefits.

It stimulates mucus production so it was used as a natural cough drop and it treated bronchitis and other respiratory ailments.

In amounts that weren’t diluted like the war paints were, it served as an aggressive destroyer of flesh, so it was used to remove ringworm, warts, polyps, skin cancers, and bodily fungi.

Although its roots create strong interest, especially for any outdoorsperson interested in seeing them bleed, it is strongly encouraged that you leave the plants alone. Once you dig up the root the plant is dead.

Because of that, the state considers it a plant susceptible to exploitation – and it certainly is: I know of very few bloodroots in Western New York and those that I do are in very public areas (Royalton Ravine Park and Lockport Nature Trail). Their numbers have decreased in both places, no doubt due to being dug up by curious hikers.

So, please, let these interesting plants be. Let their beauty – and their stories – reappear every spring.

From the 11 May 2017 All WNY News

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The bad habits of WNY motorists

A few weeks back while listening to the police scanner I asked my wife, “why are there so many fair weather accidents in Niagara County?” Some days, it seems like total chaos on the roads, with motorists hitting oncoming cars and stationary trees and buildings on days when you would least expect them to –no snow, black ice, no rain.

I’ve probably answered my question thousands of times with my own thoughts and observations. I spend a lot of time on the Empire State’s roads (almost 25,000 miles each year) and not a day goes by when I don’t cringe or let out a “whoa” and, in turn, wonder why I don’t see more accidents.  

For the most part, Western New Yorkers are good, conscientious drivers – you don’t see the tailgaters and aggression that you might see in a big city, but there are a fair number of really bad drivers or maybe some really bad habits that many drivers occasionally dabble in.

Here are some of the most common bad habits that I see on the road…

Thinking that size doesn’t matter: Spending a lot of time on major trucking routes like Route 104, I often see cars pull out in front of tractor trailers. It’s almost as if these motorists, usually the young and inexperienced, think that trucks, as big as they are, can’t move as fast as cars. They can. The big trucks are going the speed limit and they have loads that are sometimes 40 times the weight of a compact. Sooner or later, I will see a truck unable to brake in time -- and it will be ugly.

Texting while driving: Despite all the hands-free laws and ad campaigns, people still text and drive. I see it every day. You can tell by the meandering, drifting driving and the drivers’ eyes affixed to something on their lap. It’s ignorant; at a speed of 55 glancing at a handheld device for just 2 seconds is like driving half the length of a football field blindfolded. As one would expect, the 18 to 22 crowd make up about half the offenders; surprisingly, the other half are those who should know better, my generation, folks who look to be 38 to 42.

Running red lights: On my commute, I have to cross 6 lighted intersections. On every afternoon drive, I see at least 2 cars go through red lights. That’s every day that I see this. These aren’t people going through yellows; these are drivers punching it when they see yellow or not using yellow as their cue to stop. Last year, my wife was t-boned and her car wrecked by someone running a red light. Had there been a passenger in my wife’s car, that person would have died (it grosses me out to think “what if my kid was in the back seat?”). Tip for the Niagara County Sheriff: consistently-bad light runners can be found heading southbound on Route 78 through the retail intersection with 104 in Wrights Corners.

4 wheel drive super heroes: I drive a 4 wheel drive truck. Even when in four I still drive cautiously on our winter roads. You have to be in control on our snowy windswept roads. But, there are other truck and SUV drivers who think that 4WD is a super power and they drive at and well above the speed limit on snowy and icy roads. These are the tough guys who end up in a ditch, blame the weather and not themselves. Hopefully, they never end up in the oncoming lane.

Getting into the oncoming lane: One of my biggest pet peeves is those drivers who go around cars making right-hand turns, and roadside garbage trucks and police cars. They do so by heading into the oncoming lane while cars are coming at them, assuming that those drivers will move over and ride the shoulder to give them enough room. Sooner or later, I will see a head-on because of that. People just have to learn to pause, be patient and not leave their lane until the opposite lane is clear. A few seconds of waiting is better than a few days in the hospital.

Unbuckled kids: Is this a new trend for 2017? This year I’ve seen quite a few small children and even toddlers unrestrained and moving around in the back seats of their parents’ cars. The last time I saw that happening was back in the early ‘80s before laws changed and parents were educated on safety. It’s dangerous, kids can go flying and there’s nothing worse than someone getting ejected in an accident. Love your kids – fasten their seatbelts.

Those are just a few of the bad behaviors I’ve seen on local highways. There are many more. Each one, in its own way, is risky, even scary. If you know someone who’s guilty of being impatient, distracted or anything along those lines, have a chat with them before it’s too late for them or another motorist.          

From the 15 May 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Musings on President Trump’s tax plan

Here’s a “Fight for 15” I can get behind.

Trump’s plan to bring the peak of the federal corporate income tax down from 35% to 15% would be, as he likes to say, huge. That would take the US from the second highest rate in the world down to one of the lowest.

Doing so would allow businesses to reinvest in themselves and other productive sectors of the economy. Money would be spent on paying off debt, the purchases of new machinery and products, training, wages and more. That lower rate would also encourage vagabond companies to reshore, after having previously escaped for lower taxes elsewhere.

Many naysayers like to tell everyone that the “evil corporations” will benefit most of all. Will they? Most of the large corporations already left our country /or play the system to pay a taxable amount far below the 35%, if even anything at all.

The companies paying the 35% or something near that are the small employers and the medium ones, like my company, local farms, your doctor’s office, your favorite restaurant, and probably your employer. It’s the giant players like Apple, GM, United and GE using foreign tax havens and subsidiaries and domestic loopholes that have been putting an undue burden on the family-owned and operated businesses and the working class for as long as there has been a tax code.  

Now, we little guys will get the chance to flourish…and so will our coworkers. 


A major flaw with Trump’s tax plan is the elimination of the deduction for state income and local property taxes.

More than 3.2 million taxpayers in the Empire State claim that deduction annually, as we should: Combined, those two factors account for 12.7% of the average New Yorker’s annual income. That’s the highest rate in the entire country; we pay a third more in property, school and state income taxes than the average American.

If Trump’s plan were to pass, we’d be taxed on what we already paid out in taxes. That’s not right. If you’re going to be taxed, be taxed on the income you actually have accesses to and not that you already gave to some form of government.

Many members of congress said that part of the plan is a non-starter. Let’s hope so.   


Don’t be surprised if large banks and Wall Street financial institutions rail against the 15% corporate tax rate.


Businesses will be flush with cash, which means they can pay off their debts (and not continue to pay interest) and if they accumulate enough money they will have less of a need for lending institutions when they want to expand.

Do you think JPMorgan & Chase would really allow that to happen?


Another huge benefit of the tax plan is the elimination of the estate tax.

If you listen to the talking points from the death tax’s proponents, it’s the filthy rich who will benefit from this.

It’s not. Small businesses will.

Most business owners might not be sitting on a lot of cash in their personal bank accounts, but they can be sitting on a lot of what the government considers to be loads of taxable wealth that they accumulated over the years in the form of their company. In the case of mine, it would be the buildings and molding machines. In the case of local farmers, it would be their land, barns, and tractors. We’re talking big money there, not as greenbacks, but as property, plant and equipment.

The estate tax will actually kill an unsuspecting business when one of the principles passes away. And, for the others who plan for the inevitable like we have, they could be wasting tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars annually preparing for the future tax tsunami.

Eliminating this hideous tax would allow family-owned businesses (the American Dream incarnate) to weather the most difficult of times. No one wants to lose a parent, wife or husband. No one wants to lose a business because of that.

From the 01 May 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers