Friday, August 20, 2010

Why do I stay in New York?

From the 23 August 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Longtime readers probably wonder what keeps me in the Empire State. You can’t blame them for being quizzical, for a good many of my columns focus on what’s wrong with New York. Usually, it’s a government run amok that creates ever-growing taxes, prevents prosperity and sends long-time residents away.

Despite NY’s glaring weaknesses, there are numerous things that keep me and my company here. If I had to narrow it down to just a few we could call them the “Three Ps”. They are placement, patriotism, and people.

Western New York, like a good piece of real estate, benefits from location. There’s a big reason that some large companies have selected the region as a permanent place to manufacture or distribute from: The Niagara-Buffalo region is within 500 miles of 46 percent of the US population and 57 percent of the Canadian population. That’s a pretty significant customer base from which to choose. No other area on Earth can claim such nearness to important international trade routes and multi-faceted communities abounding with discretionary income, especially when you consider that among those within reach are two of the most-prosperous economic regions in the world: The Toronto-Hamilton Golden Horseshoe and the greater New York City area. Although upstate is tired and worn, it’s a real asset to have those two regions - and other powerful markets like Boston and Chicago - so close to home.

As important as placement is it requires that you make it a place where you want to be and where you would like your friends and family to be. That demands the second “P”, patriotism, the love of the community. Any businessman can leave the state for greener pastures or keep his mouth shut and just go with the flow. Both of those are the easy way out. But, if this really is your home, you must make it as much. I see the politically controlled economic climate as a business cost (and, just as importantly, a social cost) that we must - like all costs – aggressively control. The only way to do that is to educate others and get them engaged in reforming our wildly messed-up government. Some folks may find my brand of activism to be harsh and maybe a little arrogant. But, do you know why I do it? I demand that this country and this state – the same ones that you and I both claim as our own – be the very best they can be and give you, me, and our loved ones a chance at the good life and, ultimately, a better life for our descendants. Call us gluttons for punishment, but it’s rewarding to make a business work – and do what we can to help other’s businesses work – right here in NY…our home.

To do that it takes the most important part of Western New York’s attractiveness: The people. Every year Confer Plastics loses hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of doing business in New York. The only way to overcome that is by operating soundly and creatively and by surrounding yourself with good people, something that WNY is very much blessed with. Travel the US and you’ll find no better people than Upstaters…they possess a kindness and sense of selflessness and sacrifice you won’t find in most Americans and they have a work ethic that is unmatched in North America and maybe the world. You have an awesome labor pool to choose from (blue-collar and white-collar alike) and once you do chose them, they quickly become a part of your company’s tradition and culture, like a part of the family. At first glance it’s the machinery and facilities that separate WNY companies like mine and the local auto and defense manufacturers from out-of-state competitors, but a closer look will show that it’s the people that really make the difference. I’m proud to work with the people I do.

There are many more reasons why New York is a great place to do business despite its myriad flaws. Some reasons are entirely personal in nature, yet influence the desire to stay (like the unmatched natural splendor and amazing variety of activities found across the state), but, nonetheless, NY has that special something that keeps a lot of businesses and people here. Look around you and you might find your own reasons to stay.

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