Thursday, June 26, 2014

Living the Canadian Dream

Wikipedia defines the American Dream as “a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.”

Its potential is fully realized through entrepreneurship, the art of starting up and/or growing a business entity while managing and assuming the risk and reward associated with it. 

Since the start of the Great Recession, the American Dream has been on the rocks. Although entrepreneurship continues to drive our economy and the development of start-ups and small businesses is moving at a tepid pace, it’s nothing like the explosive growth that our economy saw in 2006 and before. Risks aren’t being taken as they once were for various reasons.

Some folks, though, are taking big risks and making good on them on our soil or with our assets. But, they are not of our nationality. Our neighbors to the north are fulfilling their version of the American Dream, maybe a Canadian Dream or a North American Dream, and reaping the rewards.

Over the past few years, after many more trying to crack the Canadian market with only moderate success, we’ve seen many clients and interested parties from across the border come to the factory to develop new products and business lines. Now, our largest client is from Canada and we have a few more that now rank among our biggest customers. They are making the investments in the entire product life cycle that Americans once did with vigor and some are taking on even greater entrepreneurial endeavors than most Americans would dare.

Our observations about the Canadians are not anecdotal in nature. We are not alone in such experiences.

There are reasons that the Niagara County Center for Economic Development is focusing their marketing and business attraction efforts to the north. That’s where the money is. That’s where the movers and shakers are. NCCED understands that Canadian money will lead to American money.

There’s a reason that a New York Times study in April of this year found that America’s Middle Class was no longer the richest in the world. Our long held grip on that rank has slipped and we have been surpassed by none other than Canada. A recently as 2010 our nations were tied in middle class wealth.

It’s obvious that in this new economy, this new world, the Canadians know how to – and can – live out their dreams.

But why are they doing so well while we are faltering? For brevity’s sake, here are 2 major reasons:

Access to capital: This could be the most significant driver behind the shift. You can’t make money without money. Those who want to start or grow a business need cash but most don’t have it. So, to make good on their dreams they need to borrow it. It used to be that Americans had easy access to small business loans. Those days are long gone. Since the turn of the century, small business loan volume has fallen 14% while microenterprise loans (under $100,000) have plummeted 33%. It’s not for the lack of demand: More than 40% of small business owners have said that they needed a loan within the past 2 years but could not obtain one.  It’s a different story in Canada where business lending rose 9% last year alone. Canadian banks issued almost $200 million in small business loans in just the first 5 months of 2013 (those are “American” numbers!).

Stability of public policy: There is some semblance of regulatory and policy stability up north. Canadian entrepreneurs are operating in a system of governmental knowns. American business owners, on the other hand, are confounded by an ongoing onslaught of unknowns. From the economic collapse under the Bush Administration’s watch to the various nuances of Obama’s health care reform, EPA rules changes and more, potential or new entrepreneurs can’t adequately plan for the future because the rules of the game seem to change on a weekly basis. It’s bad enough one has to plan for changing competition and marketplaces, but American businessmen must also account for their very nation changing. In Canada, investors know what they are getting and how what to expect over the short and long term.

Canadian entrepreneurs are succeeding because they are able to operate their enterprises in an economic system we once enjoyed, one where the private sector (banks) and public sector (federal government) were interested in creating and nurturing success.

If American decision-makers and policy-makers are even remotely interested in revitalizing the American Dream, there’s a lot they can learn from our friends to the north.    

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Because a Hollywood star was critically injured in an accident caused by a tractor trailer, the public conversation has turned to road safety and how big trucks fit into that equation. Never mind that beyond Tracy Morgan’s high-profile crash there are 500,000 accidents with tractor trailers every year in which an average of 11 people die each day.

Although those are incredibly high numbers, they don’t tell the whole story. A majority of the accidents are not the fault of the truck driver -- 60% are caused by the drivers of the other vehicles and their bad judgment. My commute takes me through major trucking routes, so I see that in spades. From drivers tailgating trailers to many more who pull out in front of trucks under the foolish thinking that such a big vehicle really can’t be going 55, I often wonder why there aren’t more accidents.

But this doesn’t mean the industry isn’t without fault. 40% of the accidents – or 200,000 a year – are the direct result of truck driver error or faulty equipment. Of those, 13% (26,000) are attributed to fatigue, the cause du jour of the press as it was the reason behind the accident that nearly killed Morgan. The leading contributor to truck accidents is prescription drugs (twice as many as the fatigue-related crashes).

Now, combine both of those factors with a seemingly unrelated statistic – the average age of a commercial driver is 55 – and you can piece together a puzzle that highlights a safety and economic crisis in the trucking industry.

Fatigue is a result of overworked drivers. Federal law allows for 70 hours of driving a week, which many drivers want to – or are forced to – take (the average workweek is 58 hours).

Prescription drug use is more common among older people which is why that causal factor of collisions is so high – it’s a direct outcome of the older workforce in the industry.

Drivers working longer hours and longer into their lives mean just one thing: There is a shortage of drivers.

The proof is in the pudding as there are currently just under a half-million job openings for truck drivers across the country. A half-million jobs are wanting and there are no takers! That number will only magnify over the next 10 years as the Baby Boomers behind the wheel drive off into the sunset of retirement.

This obviously isn’t the 1970s anymore, when the CB radio craze and hit movies like Convoy popularized the career and many men jumped at the chance to be mavericks and have it be just “them and the road”.

Whereas the young once desired that lifestyle and wanted to see the world, those days are gone. Generation Y and the Millennials think they are seeing the world from their smartphones and computers, so the attractiveness of actually experiencing the world and travelling are long gone. 

It also doesn’t help that parents, school counselors, teachers and the media relentlessly push the college-or-bust routine and push kids away from blue-collar jobs, even though the rewards are there.

With a $2,500 to $5,000 investment in a commercial driver license, drivers can command starting wages of $38,000 for local work and $45,000 for over-the-road hauling. Experienced long-distance drivers net $75,000 and many top out at $100,000. Those hefty values are direct result of the supply and demand of the labor pool and the incredible responsibility and trust put on a driver.

If the twenty- and thrity-somethings don’t begin to fill the ranks, the trucking industry will still continue to have its issues with safety, no matter what iterations of federal law are proposed. If that’s not damning enough, consider the economic consequences.

Despite many folks choosing to malign big trucks, truckers are some of the most important private sector employees out there. If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be food in the grocery stores, products at your local Wal-Mart, medical supplies at the hospitals, and supplies at factories. Drivers keep the world moving.

As their ranks continue to slip or grow at a rate far below demand, there certainly won’t be enough product on the move. Delivery times will slip. Costs will rise. The impact on the end consumer from a service and cost standpoint will be astounding. Come 2020, unless something changes drastically, the economy will be in full crisis mode in regard to the shipping of food and goods.

But, how do we fix that? If the freedom of the road and high wages aren’t attractive to younger people in an already-tough economy, what will be?       

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


A couple of weeks ago some folks were lucky enough to see a black bear in the town of Pendleton.  The news and social media were all abuzz over the sighting, just as they were in the summer of 2009 when a lone black bear stayed in the county for quite some time. Niagara County residents were then, as they are now, hoping to catch a glimpse of an awesome beast that is an infrequent visitor to our region.

Even in what is considered their regular home territory elsewhere in New York, black bears remain a rare sight. I consider myself a fairly decent naturalist and I spend a lot of time in the woods observing and/or hunting wildlife, yet I have had just a dozen encounters with bears in the wilds of Allegany County over the past 20 years.

That isn’t a number that jumps out at you and screams “overabundance.” Officials with the Department of Environmental Conservation think otherwise.  

Last month the DEC issued their black bear management plan for the period of 2014 to 2024 (you can download the 41-page document at In it, they cite a healthy and expanding population of black bears in the Empire State (an estimated 8,000 bears) as a reason for concern, as it could lead to an increase in human-bear conflicts.  

In hopes of maintaining the status quo in terms of population and interactions, the DEC in that same report outlined their plans to bolster the harvest of these magnificent animals.

As it stands now, hunting of black bears is limited to the Southern Tier, the Catskills, the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes (the last territory an outcome of a 2011 expansion). If the DEC has its way, hunting will be expanded to all of upstate New York, including Niagara County  --- and you know how rare bears are here!

The point of the DEC’s plan is to actually prevent the itinerant black bears from establishing permanent populations on the Lake Plains and in the Rochester area. They want the bruins totally eliminated even though there are vast wild areas where they could maintain healthy and safe populations (the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge immediately comes to mind). That extermination plan is something akin to the 1800s bounties placed on bisons and wolves (a “kill ‘em all” mindset), something we’ve grown to regret decades later. 

The expansion of the hunt wouldn’t end there. The length of the hunt would be expanded as well. A supplemental firearm season would be advanced in the Catskills and Western Hudson Valley, bringing an extra hunt to the first Saturday after Labor Day.

Although not a part of the current plan, the DEC also intimated that they are entertaining the thought of the harvest of cubs and allowing hunting over bait piles and with hunting dogs – things that could be considered poor sportsmanship. It’s wrong to harvest a young animal (you wouldn’t do that to a fawn), it’s not fair to alter an animal’s behavior and feeding over time only to guarantee its harvest (it’s like hunting a farm animal) and although it makes sense to hunt upland game birds and rabbits with dogs (as they hold close to cover), you shouldn’t need them to hunt megafauna like bears.

If you count yourself as a conservationist, animal lover, or just someone with a passing interest in our local wildlife, take the time to write the DEC and let them know their management plan is flawed and they should not allow the reckless slaughter of black bears here in Niagara County and other locales where they haven’t established populations. Keep the hunting regulations as they are now, which do well in maintaining a hunting and conservation balance, and continue to allow the bears to flourish and become a regular part of our outdoor experiences, all across New York. 

The public comment period closes on July 7th.  Citizens who wish to make formal public comments may do so by sending an email to or by writing to: Mr. Bryan L. Swift, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Wildlife, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.