Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Last month, Yahoo! announced layoffs of 2,000 jobs. That’s their sixth layoff - and largest – since 2008. The other 5 ranged from 150 to 1,000 job cuts each and totaled 3,950 jobs lost. In the aggregate the internet giant has cut 5,950 jobs (or 30% of its workforce) in 4 years.

As bad as the layoff news was, local officials were quick to proclaim a silver lining. Senator George Maziarz told this paper that the Lockport site was spared any layoffs. “Not only are all of the jobs safe in this area, but they have chosen the Town of Lockport as one of the facilities to expand their services and bring more jobs to Niagara County,” he said.

The latter was not news, but previously announced, dating back to March and April of 2011 when Yahoo! indicated it would be investing $500 million in 5 existing datacenters (including Lockport) and new sites yet to be determined. At the time, Yahoo! was granted 1 more megawatt of low-cost hydropower in advance of the final decision, contingent on the company adding 20 more jobs to the local venue, which, if all goes as promised, would bring total employment at Lockport to 145. It should be noted that the 145 is a far cry from the current job rolls of 75. The 75 also fall short of the 125 jobs that were committed to in the initial $268 million incentives package offered by local, state, and federal officials.

Taking the above into consideration, we need to be less parochial and adopt a world view when it comes to economic development. Isn’t the point of corporate welfare to inspire growth of the corporation and achieve a return on investment that, in the terms of the public dollars donated or not realized, equates to more jobs? Sure, Yahoo! is maintaining employment here and (hopefully) adding more, but, looking at the Big Picture, does it really matter? They’ve cut 5,950 jobs throughout the corporation!

At the very same time all of those job cuts occurred, Lockport, New York and the federal government gave Yahoo! the world to come here. Simply put: We were used. Round after round of layoffs occurred while the corporation was negotiating with officials, yet their demands were catered to. What makes it especially frustrating is that Yahoo! is a very profitable company ($1.05 billion in net income from $4.98 billion in revenues in 2011, even with the excess of employment). It’s not like they needed the hefty package to stay economically vibrant, especially with so few jobs created locally and so many jobs destroyed globally.

Also, consider the following aspects of the incentives afforded them…

16 megawatts of low-cost power: When you look at the hoops that small businesses must go through to get electricity from NYPA (and then, it’s only crumbs), it’s disheartening that the State bent over backwards to give them 16 MW. That’s enough to power all the homes in 16 villages the size of Middleport. As I’ve written before, cheap power is best shared with the masses (including homeowners). Likewise, I’ve had numerous utilities executives tell me through the years that local economies lose when so few companies possess so much power. If many more companies had easy access to cheap power, many more jobs would be created – and by a multiple no less!

10-year property tax exemption: A PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) would make perfect sense in the case of Yahoo! Unlike other IDA projects in Western New York which support hotels, restaurants, and doctors offices, this PILOT would support an facility that without a doubt could be elsewhere. But, there’s something missing here: the payment. Yahoo! is exempted from taxes (even a PILOT) for the first 10 years. A true PILOT would have seen local jurisdictions receive some money. But, here, they get none, despite a revenue crisis and unprecedented cuts.

A $9.9 million sustainability grant from Washington: This was the largest grant (free cash) ever provided through the Department of Energy’s Green IT program. It’s just another in a long line of green gimmicks that have absolutely no payback to society (Solyndra, anyone?). Basically, $10 million was given away to a very profitable corporation in an era when the Buffet Rule, the Ryan Budget, Social Security insolvency, and Medicare cuts dominate Washington conversations because things are so bad in terms of over-spending.

This mess – when looked at in toto - should serve as a lesson-learned for Niagara County and other development-starved locales. When next a gigantic firm comes to town promising the world, don’t do the same. There’s a good chance there won’t be any measurable benefit locally, nationally or abroad.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 30 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers


The outdoor sports face an unknown future. Hunting and fishing license sales are decreasing at an alarming rate. The population of hunters could be under 10 million for the first time in 2025 after numbering 19 million just 30 year ago and 12.5 million in recent years. The average hunter is now 45 years old and that age continues to rise.

The numbers point to one thing: the sports are failing to recruit. Historically, the ranks of sportsmen were maintained by impressive numbers of youth and young adults who, following in their parents’ footsteps, became outdoorsmen themselves. This is no longer the case. There are far too many diversions for today’s youth. Kids have become shut-ins, scorning the outdoors and preferring to play video games, surf the Internet, use their cell phones, or watch the hundreds of channels available on TV.

But, all is not lost. You can still get your children to participate in outdoor activities. A few years ago a Cornell University study determined that in order to get people actively involved in the outdoors you have to try it early and often. They cited the 11-year-old mark as the deadline, a crucial point in childhood development. If the teen years are reached with no exposure to outdoor pursuits it will be too late, as teens strive for acceptance amongst their peers and become sponges for pop culture, rabidly taking to the earlier-mentioned electronic pursuits.

That said, the elementary school years are a perfect time to hammer home the importance of the outdoors. Take your kid outside and make it active and fun. The Cornell study said gardening and animal husbandry work to a point, but the greatest results are from wild activities like camping, hiking, and fishing.

It’s also true that today’s youth don’t take to outdoor sports based upon messages they receive in school or from media and entertainment. From an early age they are taught that guns are bad while lessons learned in schools lean towards an "environmentally-conscious" approach, indicating all life is precious while implying hunting and fishing are evil. As a parent you must open up discussions with your children to determine if this is what they have been taught or are led to believe. Educate them on the safety and history of firearms. Make it a point to debunk the animal rights myths. Explain what hunting and fishing mean to you. A child’s education is just as dependent on you - if not more so – than it is upon schooling.

Another way to help promote the outdoor sports is through Scouting. The Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs expose children to monthly campouts, summer camps, hikes, canoeing, fishing and other activities. Not only do these groups expose kids to the wilderness, they also introduce them to like-minded peers who they may develop strong friendships with, giving them added incentive and a companion for fishing and hunting.

It should be noted that kids also take more to fishing than they do to hunting. This may be related to the early exposure concept identified by Cornell. Adults are more apt to take kids fishing at an early age, because it’s easier and the kids can handle it. These same adults may be unsure about taking young kids along as hunting partners because of their inability to remain silent, thus scaring away wary deer or turkeys. So, unfortunately, the kids don’t get to see hunting in action until well into their teens when they can remain silent or carry a gun a field. By then, it may be too late.

To get a youngster indoctrinated in hunting, you as a hunter should take up game that does not require silence and allows movement. Take a kid rabbit, grouse, or pheasant hunting. Such hunting is active, allows the kid to be noisy, and allows you to expose him to hunting (sans gun) as soon as he/she can handle walking in the woods. That early exposure is key to planting the seed for later interest.

All of these tactics, coupled with a greater focus on getting kids away from the computer, will guarantee that you can turn your son or daughter into a hunter or fisherman. By carefully exposing youngsters to the same hobbies that you have, you will give them an interest bound to stay with them for the rest of their lives and, ultimately, they could become your best friend afield.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 23 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Stand Your Ground" and Self Defense

Imagine that you and your family find yourselves in a potentially deadly situation in which an armed thug has entered your home in the middle of the night with the intent to rob your home and to physically harm, even kill, your loved ones. In a perfect world, you would defend your family by exercising your God-given (and constitutionally-recognized) right to self-defense by brandishing a firearm to scare off the criminal or, if necessary, to fire upon him to neutralize the threat that he poses, exerting the same deadly force he had intended to use upon you.

But, this isn’t a perfect world. In the more liberal states the Laws of Nature are minimized by the Laws of Man, and you don’t have a right to protect yourself, your family, or property without making some accommodations for the invader. Even though the burglar — whose title could easily escalate to “rapist” or “murderer” in the home invasion — obviously does not have your or your family’s best interests in mind, you must afford him a certain level of safety with your state-mandated "duty to retreat."

Duty to Retreat laws — or standard-setting rulings by the courts — require that you (the victim, not the criminal) forgo immediate acts of survival. The laws demand that you do everything in your power to avoid conflict and/or the use of deadly force. Before assuming the responsibility to protect your loved ones, you must resort to mandated cowardice by seeking retreat. Following that, the situation must escalate to the point that the courts see "reasonable" belief that injury and death could occur (if they haven’t already due to the retreat) and then, and only then, can you take up the measures necessary to suppress the attacker. In some states — such as New York — the insanity of the law is taken even further to where you have to verbalize to the perpetrator that you intend to harm him so he knows that either he’s on equal ground or you possess the advantage.

The fact that the attacked cannot display a weapon until the situation has reached critical mass is truly absurd. The seconds — or even minutes — associated with having to hide from an attacker can be the difference-maker for the physical safety, sexual safety, or life itself of the individuals whose home has been invaded. Dropping your defenses gives the one on offense — the criminal — the supreme advantage.

A law-abiding citizen has no understanding of what’s going through the mind of an intruder. Really, he has no obligation to, either. The victim needs only to know that criminals are morally repugnant and that if they can break one law they can surely break another, even committing the sin of murder. But, many state governments see it otherwise. They want you to believe — and wrongly at that — that the individual who was demented enough to commit the initial crime of breaking into your home has no intent to harm you or your children; he only wants your property, so you really shouldn’t harm him either.

It’s the lunacy of such unconstitutional and unconscionable Duty to Retreat laws that led Florida and 20 other states to recognize the uninhibited right to self-defense with the Stand Your Ground law, which allows the attacked to utilize deadly force immediately — and without the friendly consideration of Duty to Retreat — as long as there is a reasonable belief of an imminent threat of death or bodily harm. Unlike the similar Castle Doctrine, which allows the same only in one’s home (and sometimes, personal vehicle), Stand Your Ground allows the use of force in public. So the victim would be able to protect himself or his loved ones were he up against a break-in in his residence or an attempted robbery on the street.

Stand Your Ground makes perfect legal sense and perfect natural sense: It allows the prey to retaliate against the predator with force commensurate with that potentially levied against him; there’s no need to take a wait-and-see approach, which could in most cases result in the injury, rape, or murder of the victim. Notwithstanding gun ownership rules, Stand Your Ground is one of the clearest state-level interpretations of some of the basal tenets behind our Second Amendment.

Under Stand Your Ground, the burden of proof falls upon the criminal who initiated the crime, not the law-abider who retaliated. That is in stark contrast to Duty to Retreat, whereby the criminal has the advantage because the victim is himself painted as a criminal (and is more likely guilty until proven innocent) because he must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he met all the necessary criteria before pulling the trigger.

Because of the more clear-cut and obstacle-free path to self defense afforded by Stand Your Ground, anti-gun zealots, through the obliging talking heads in mainstream media and pop culture, have been using the recent Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida as a reason to call for the suppression of Second Amendment rights. Florida has had a Stand Your Ground law in place since 2005, and the anti-gun crowd wants to paint the shooting of the boy as a tragedy indicative of the supposed flaws in the law, not to mention gun ownership as a whole.

They fail to see that George Zimmerman’s questionable use of force by putting himself into a potentially dangerous situation (evidence shows that he pursued the boy, rather than the other way around) is not the norm; it is an outlier and perhaps a perversion of the law. In all other cases, Stand Your Ground has been used according to its intent. According to state records, there were 35 deaths per year from 2005 to 2010 under the Stand Your Ground law. All but one of the dead was armed, and his death was the result of his intimated threat of violence. So, in application, it works, as the courts found every one of those deaths “justified." If force had not be exerted by the survivors, chances are, there still could have been 35, or more, deaths, but those dead would have been the completely innocent citizens, not the criminals. That speaks volumes of the importance of Stand Your Ground.

But, the anti-Second Amendment folks want to look past that, and use the death of an unarmed 17-year-old to preface all debate about guns. They fall to understand that if Stand Your Ground — and all rights to self-defense — were thrown aside, more 17-year-old boys (and girls) will die or be maimed, raped, or mentally scarred because the criminal element will be left to invade homes and attack individuals unchecked, knowing that law-abiding citizens would have no means to protect themselves. Eliminating Stand Your Ground — and further restricting the Second Amendment — would take Duty to Retreat to a whole new level: Duty to Die.

Bob Confer is a contributor to The New American. He is the vice-president of Confer Plastics, Inc. and a weekly columnist for the Greater Niagara Newspapers.

This originally appeared in the 26 March 2012 The New American at:


As a manufacturer, I’ve been interested in President Barack Obama’s insourcing kick. By "insourcing," the President refers to a reversal of the outsourcing trend by American companies; some of them - very little in number - are bringing jobs back to the US. Obama has been quick to take credit, citing his economic policies while ignoring the true reasons, which range from European woes to ongoing productivity lapses in developing nations.

Actually, the administration has continued to drive production away from America and outsourcing far exceeds insourcing. Most of my manufacturing peers agree that Obama’s policies are dangerous and have inhibited the growth of their companies. While the White House points out 334,000 manufacturing jobs have been created in the United States over the past 2 years, the reality is that sector supports 2.2 million fewer jobs than it did in November 2007, just prior to the recession. Production employment remains at its lowest levels in 70 years.

Proof that America has become increasingly unattractive to manufacturers under Obama’s watch can be found by analyzing statistics provided by the Manufacturing Institute and the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI). They produce reports which look at the structural costs of doing business in the US, including factors influenced by government intervention in the free markets.

In their 2008 report, produced the year Obama was elected, it was discovered that American businesses faced a 17.6% cost disadvantage versus 9 industrialized countries featured in the study (among them Mexico and China). Fast forward to late 2011 and the study shows that the cost disadvantage grew to 20%. That ongoing collapse is certainly no incentive to insource. What accounts for such destructive structural costs?

One factor outlined in the study is corporate taxes. While the combined federal and state tax rate has remained unchanged in America since 1997, the rest of the industrial super powers have seen theirs drop in that same period. The tax advantage for foreign locales is now 8.6 percent more beneficial than that of the US. When the study was first launched in 2003, the foreign advantage was “only” 5.6 percent.

Obama has done nothing to correct this. He openly strives to tax everyone and everything. Oh, he has alluded to promoting insourcing by extending tax breaks to businesses that bring jobs back to America, but that speaks volumes about his lack of even an elementary understanding of capitalism. By failing to address the destructive nature of our tax structure, he would reward insourcing but still maintain the incentive for outsourcing. If he were to decrease our overall tax rate (rather than playing favorites) he would make outsourcing/insourcing a non-issue by preventing the exodus of jobs in the first place.

The report also shows a continued loss in the area of employee benefits. It’s 5.7% more economical to do business elsewhere when it comes to them. The greatest influence comes from escalating health insurance costs (to put this into perspective, Confer Plastics has faced increases of 8 to 11% for our health care costs in each of the past 3 years). The President claimed he would save the day with ObamaCare, but as more astute observers of government know, it will only drive up the cost. We’ve already seen some price increases attributed to it (pharmaceutical and equipment levies), however, the greatest ones will come in 2014 when, among other things, the government slaps a huge fee on all insurers (which will be passed on to the insured).

The Obama administration is just as much to blame for other factors noted in the report, all of which, when combined, paint a miserable picture for the competitiveness of America. The President -- as wielder of the veto pen and head of the Executive Branch and all its agencies -- possesses the power to fix this. But he chooses not to. Instead, he has added — and will add — to the size and cost of government as well as the countless hurdles to the private sector.

He is no insourcer: When you look at what he’s done, he’s a net outsourcer and his legacy will carry that dismal trend far into the future.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 16 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Quite often I speak to large groups – like Leadership Niagara or students at SUNY Brockport – about leadership skills. When discussing some of the more important tools for leading their organization – be it a business, a non-profit, a government agency, or even their household – I always mention that they need to read a newspaper (or a few newspapers) every day.

Their eyes always perk up with curiosity when I say that. It could be because the topic of acquired knowledge is rarely discussed as a leadership trait. Or, it may be that a good many people have a rather disdainful view of newspapers and don’t read them once a day, let alone once a month, a feeling that seems to have grown immensely in this age of the Internet and the accessibility of immediate – albeit abbreviated and even suspect – information.

To allay their curiosity and warm them up to the daily read, I always lay out just how crucial a newspaper is for good management and good citizenship. Every leader, head of household, and engaged citizen must be a Renaissance Man, knowing a little bit (or a lot) about a wide variety of subjects. To effectively do your job and make the appropriate decisions in business (finances, capital investment, product development, and marketing) and in your personal life (savings, investment, buying, and the American concept of self-governance) you have to be aware of what’s happening all around our world, from your neighborhood to some far-flung foreign land.

Why? The global economy and modern technology have made the world a smaller place and we’re all interconnected. What happens elsewhere will set off a domino effect that affects you personally and professionally in the short-term or long-term, even halfway around the world.

And, it should be noted that everything can affect you. A flood in Australia can drive up wheat prices, doing the same to prices at the grocery store in Niagara Falls. A tsunami in Japan can ultimately shut down production lines here in the States, harming your job. The town council’s vote on infrastructure might make your water bill go up. Changing consumer beliefs might have a major impact on your employer’s operations. The list is endless.

By being in the know regarding these matters – the major and the minor - you can adjust your operations and your expenditures accordingly, well in advance of your competitors and neighbors. Knowledge is power.

I always tell the crowd that they can’t use television news and the Internet as shortcuts. Broadcast news is flawed in that you spend a half–to-one hour in front of the tube and a good portion of that is commercials, while, at the same time local stations compete with the latest gimmicks (which adversely affects news quality) and the national news stations (like CNN and Fox News) are agenda driven and over-kill some of the most unimportant stories while putting issues of actual importance on the back-burner. Likewise, the Internet does the same, promoting really inane garbage. The problem with the Internet, too, is that its users use it as a filter and scan the headlines, focusing only on cute, horrific or popularized topics.

The newspaper, on the other hand, in its printed form puts the entire world, from a variety of perspectives, in your hand. Local and world news, business, sports and culture are all right there. In the same amount of time you would have spent watching the TV, you can ingest a whole newspaper (or a few) and know so much more than you would have learned elsewhere.

You don’t need a degree to be educated. You just need a newspaper like this one. Newspapers can - and do – make you healthy, wealthy and wise. Chances are that you’re reading this column in ink so you know that mantra quite well. But, you should share that belief with your friends and coworkers and get your kids started on it at a young age. We’ll all be better off for it, for an educated people are a strong people.

There’s a reason why the press was recognized in our Constitution; it’s that important of a tool.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 09 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers