Friday, August 31, 2012


When the Baby Boomers were kids they developed love affairs with television westerns and the iconic guns carried by their heroes, from Steve McQueen’s Mare’s leg to Nick Adams’ sawed-off shotgun to Chuck Connor’s rapid-fire rifle. The Boomers channeled that innocent fascination with marksmanship into lifelong pursuits (like recreational shooting and hunting) and careers (police and military).

Fast forward 50 years and their grandchildren have developed their own appreciation for the shooting sports thanks to pop culture. The blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games,” the Disney animated film “Brave”, and bow-wielding superheroes in Hawkeye (“the Avengers”) and TV’s Green Arrow are just a few of the mass media’s recent highlights of archery. That imagery, which, unlike the westerns of old, also features heroines, has suddenly made archery incredibly popular with today’s youth, boys and girls alike.

We should capitalize on that interest and make archery accessible to children because it would offer some important life lessons. It’s a sport that teaches incredible self-discipline; one can be successful only through concentration and control and practice and preparation. It’s a sport that teaches self-reliance; unlike some of the team sports, where the weakness of an individual can be masked, the spotlight is on the person and it’s up to him or her to persevere alone. It’s a sport that develops respect – not fear - for weaponry; as much the bow is a sporting instrument, it’s also a weapon and, by starting young, we can nourish a true appreciation for safety of self and others. It’s a sport that can get kids outdoors; modern marksmanship has sadly been limited to video games indoors and that electronic fascination has contributed to high childhood obesity rates. And, last but not least, it’s a sport that can develop an interest in bowhunting; there is no more perfect way to recruit youth to hunting, a sport that creates an appreciation for the environment and helps put meat on the table.     

One cannot deny the attractiveness and virtues of the sport. Accessibility, though, can be perceived to be a problem, what with most people living in urban and suburban settings with smaller - or no - backyards, thus inhibiting bowmanship.

The question then becomes, “how do we introduce kids to archery?” 

The answer: Our schools.

Ten years ago a cooperative between state conservation departments, school districts, and private rod and gun clubs was formed. Known as the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), it brings together those groups in an effort to introduce archery to school physical education curricula. The states help connect school districts to local archers whose organizations then provide the equipment to the districts and teach the teachers about the art of handling the bow and arrow, so, ultimately, there is no cost to the taxpayers. New York entered the program 3 years ago and since then 92 school districts from across the state have entered NASP, exposing some 15,000 students to archery.

The program has been so successful in the Empire State that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hosts an annual virtual competition, whereby the schools target shoot in their own districts and the scores are then collated by the state’s NASP directors. In the most recent event, 309 students from 15 schools participated. Showing that archery is a universal sport in which both sexes can excel, the two top scorers, Jay Vinson and Alexa Denhoff, took home trophies, targets, arrows, and a brand new bow. Quite the prizes!

With the new school year upon us, the DEC has announced that they are looking for more schools to join NASP. If you think archery would be a good fit for your school (and, why wouldn’t it be?), contact Melissa Bailey, the state coordinator for NASP, at 315.793.2515 and she will help get the ball rolling.

It’s time that we made good on the popularity of the sport. In these Hunger Games, though, the only hunger that the kids have is for a sport that’s cool, fun, and rewarding. Archery certainly fits the bill. Let’s satisfy that hunger.   

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 03 September 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Confer Plastics has a very limited local customer base. Instead, our products are sold all across the country and around the world. Because of that, access to a convenient and affordable infrastructure is necessary for effectively moving our goods and acquiring the resources we need to manufacture them. That is one of the reasons we call North Tonawanda and Wheatfield home. The network of expressways within the Niagara Frontier - with the New York Thruway at its epicenter – is critical for our operations.

Making products as large as we do in the numbers that we do requires a lot of trailers. You can put only so many swimming pool ladders, kayaks, or docks on a truck. In 2011 we had nearly 9,000 shipments in full or partial trailers. With volume like that, the proposal by the Thruway Authority to increase the tolls for commercial traffic by 45% will be a killer.

Crunching the numbers and analyzing our various destinations and sources, the Authority’s plan will cost us an extra $200,000 per year. That number is far from modest, which is the description given to the increase by Authority officials.

In some cases, we will have to eat the added costs, which is likely for our proprietary line in 2013 (no business adequately can plan for uncertainty, especially when the transformation of that uncertainty into a certainty is entirely at the whim of a governing body). Seeing profits fall in a bland economy is a toxic development.

In other cases, we will pass the cost on to our customer, who will pass it on to theirs (continuing a downward spiral that would begin when the truckers pass their newfound costs onto us). This is where it gets really dangerous. This is a small world. Purchasing managers have access to countless manufacturers. When deciding which one to choose, they base their decisions on quality, service, and, above all, pricing. Because of consumers making their buying decisions on a few dollars and maybe even a few pennies, corporate buyers do the same. They look at two factors: The cost of the product itself and the cost to get it from Point A to Point B. Although the product itself may be comparatively inexpensive, high shipping costs can bring an end to the deal, because that cost has to go somewhere (it gets embedded in the selling price of the product). In a state like New York where it’s already too expensive to produce competitively-priced goods (long-time readers are familiar with New York’s cost burden to Confer Plastics -- $740,000 over and above what our competitors pay for the same), the $200,000 spike in shipping costs will cause some of our clients to look at Ohio or Pennsylvania.

We’re not alone in this regard. Look at the stories pouring in to media sources throughout the state from trucking firms, farmers and manufacturers far larger than we. They all speak of financial woes that would befall their businesses were the Thruway Authority to make good on their plans. Some of the smaller businesses will actually collapse under the weight of the new tolls.

There have been well-attended public hearings, numerous letters to the editors, activism from trade groups and vocal opposition from elected officials about this issue. Those are all perfect means by which to fight the fees, but they may not be enough. The Thruway Authority, like all authorities, is an independent business function of the state beholden to no one (the state’s courts have even said as much). There’s a very good chance that they might pull the trigger.

So, what can we do? In the event that they do pass the 45% toll increase, I challenge all truck drivers, farmers, and manufacturers with their own fleets to do something I call “Fight 45 With 45”. Under this means of revolt, trucks using the Thruway would drive side by side, never exceeding 45 miles per hour and never allowing anyone to pass. Since this is 20 miles below the speed limit and 25 to 30 miles below the speed most people drive, it would put a serious bottleneck in the Thruway and would serve to create great frustration for tens of thousands of motorists. It would be done indefinitely until Thruway officials relented (which they would under such pressure).  

Truck drivers (and New York business owners, for that matter) have long been regarded as mavericks, their own men, so I wouldn’t put it past any of them to “Fight 45 With 45”. Hopefully we don’t get to that point, but if we do, this modern method of passive resistance may be the cure for what ails the private sector in the Empire State.      

Who’s with me?

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 27 August 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


America’s obesity epidemic was in the news last week when the CDC announced that there wasn’t a single state with an obesity rate below 21% in 2011. The study also found that 12 states had obesity rates in excess of 30%. In the subsequent media reports the common refrain from health professionals was that it’s too expensive to eat healthy. That common lie is unfortunate because it can be done affordably.

This was reinforced on a recent vacation when I made a couple of rest stops along the way at 2 popular fast food chains. This is something I never do because I like my arteries the way they are. I was stunned at the costs on the menu: The high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar meal deals averaged $6. For a family of 4, that’s $24. Why spend $24 and destine adults and children alike for debilitating, even deadly diabetic and heart ailments when there are plenty of beneficial alternatives that can be had on the cheap?

That family would be better served by brown bagging it. Tuna is a nutritious and important protein that can be purchased at one of the local discount supermarkets for 60 cents a can (compare that to a dollar or more at the regular stores), one of which can feed 2 people. Throw in low-salt, low-corn-syrup bread and some cheese and you’re looking at sandwich under $2 per person. $4 less per person -- and a whole lot better -- than the fast food fare. That lunch suddenly went from $24 to $8.

Burger joints are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the following alternatives to “normal” diets:

That same family probably indulges in junk food. Americans love their potato chips and corn chips. People may think they are an easy and cheap snack, but are they? Take a stroll around the grocery aisles and you’ll see most bags of chips nearing $4. How long does that bag last? A lot of times it won’t survive one feeding if there are a few people around. Due to the fatty goodness and addictive MSG, it’s not uncommon for a household to burn through a few bags a week. Alternatively, you can visit any local roadside stand or farmers market and buy a large bag of apples or other fruits for $5 that will last for days. They are just as satisfying and incredibly useful for our bodies. So, what may be $16 per week is down to $5 to $10 (depending on appetite).

That family might opt for processed foods in a variety of packages and cans for lunches during the workday or dinners at night. How much are sodium-soaked cans of chili or soup? Around $1.50 each and you need multiples to feed a family. Calorie–heavy prepared meals (TV dinners, pastas, boxed meats) are pricy, too, with price tags around $8 to $12 for family sizes. Assume 4 people eating canned foods, 7 lunches per week. That’s $42. Processed dinners might cost $84/week.  

Those financial and health obstacles can be overcome with a little time, effort and planning.  Take chilis and soups for example. Most every day at work I eat a bowl of homemade chili (the combination of meats, veggies and fibers makes it the perfect meal). I make this stuff in batches. My cost: $0.80/lunch. That would cut most lunch budgets in half (far more if they frequent fast food joints).

Likewise, look at recent sales fliers that show chicken at 99 cents to $1.80 per pound depending on cut and frozen vegetables at $1 per bag, while fresh produce abounds at local stands. Numerous tasty dishes can be made from those items, all at $10 per dinner or less to feed a family. The cost may be similar to the processed foods, but they build a body in a good way and not in a bad way.   

The USDA says that the average family of 4 spends $153 to $240 a week on food. Using some of the examples provided, eating healthy falls at the lower end of that budget -- if not below it. So, why are we kidding ourselves about the real cost of eating healthy? It might just be that the high cost bogeyman conveniently masks the true – and more controversial - cause of America’s enlarged waistlines -- our lack of responsibility and discipline. We choose to eat bad foods because we like them, we’re too lazy to cook and we have a certain weakness of will when it comes to our stomachs. Bad health is our own doing. 

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 20 August 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


When working in the private sector, pay raises are contingent on one or a combination of 3 things: The merit and successes of the individual, the current and projected health of the organization, and the health of the overall economy. Because of the final factor (and its contributions to the second), annual raises of any measurable size have become something of a rarity since the start of the Great Recession. Consider that for the fiscal year ending this past May, the growth in American production wages grew at their lowest rate - 1.7% - in 47 years. That’s a full percentage point below the alleged (and understated) rate of inflation of 2.7%.

Despite the working class facing such tumultuous times, the political class thinks they are free of such encumbrances. It has been the buzz in Albany that state legislators are looking for a raise this year. They currently make a base salary of $79,500 and want to take it up to $100,000, an increase of more than 25%.

When you consider the 3 factors behind raises, our senators and assemblyman aren’t deserving of a $20,500 raise, let alone one of $1,351 (which is what it would be were they to see just 1.7% like their constituents).

Let’s first consider the merits of in the individual. $79,500 is a rather exorbitant sum to be paying a part-timer. These positions were devised to offer regular people a chance to contribute to the development of the Empire State by having sessions for 6 calendar months per year and during those sessions mandating 0 to 4 days per week in the state capital (the Assembly’s legislative calendar for 2012 showed only 66 in-session/budget days for the period of January through June). When the 6 months were up or when the legislature wasn’t in session during the week, the legislators could go back to their “real jobs” on the farm, in their offices and plants, or at home raising their families. Sadly, the system been mutilated so much that people are led to believe that being a legislator is a full-time, year-round job equipped with regional offices and full-time staffs. Realistically, under such circumstances, one could look at the second half of the year as being nothing more than politics, rather than policy, a means to perpetuate incumbency through alleged necessity and importance (really, what does attendance at parades and dinners contribute to the overall welfare of our state?). So, we need to look at the seats for what they are - and what they should be – and realize that we cannot permit their income growth.

Now, let’s look at the organization through which they are employed. The state government is facing a $2 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2013, which follows budget gaps of $10.4 billion in 2012, $8.5 billion in 2011, $21 billion in 2010, and $7.4 billion in 2009. If the fiscal health of the state is directly attributable to their budgets, the laws that they introduce, and the tough-but-necessary cuts they are afraid to make, then how, just by looking at those 5 years alone, do the legislators deem themselves worthy of reward? If anyone ran a company like they run a state, that individual would be among the ranks of the unemployed, either through termination or the total collapse of their firm.

And, it’s that factor that leads to the last: the overall health of the economy. Every bill among the hundreds passed every year by the legislature (571 this year) either steals rights and freedoms or adds to the cost of living and doing business in New York State. Because of that, businesses face incomprehensible government-created financial burdens when compared against their competitors from other states. My company, one of thousands across the state, pays an extra $740,000 per year to do business in New York (refer to my 2008 column “Why your loved ones have left NY” at That has forced businesses to stagnate/downsize/close/leave, which in turn has caused the same to happen to our residents, young and old alike: In the period from 2000 to 2010, 3.4 million people left New York State (2.1 million more arrived, but it still contributed to a net loss of 1.3 million people).

It’s that final factor of assessing job performance that is the most damning to our legislators. They are complicit in the destruction of the once accurately-named “Empire State”. They’ve driven our government to ruin, which has done the same to our economy and each and every one of us in it. Only a politician would think they deserve a bigger paycheck for that.

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 13 August 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers