Friday, October 28, 2016

We are all in the tourism industry together

A few weeks back, my family spent a week in the Adirondacks, something we do once or twice a year. Every time we go I am impressed by how every business and resident goes out of their way to treat visitors like gold. I guess we are gold to them…we’re a precious commodity because the entire economy within the Adirondack Park is based on some form of tourism. They do this because, of course, they love our money, but also because they truly love where they live.

Now, compare that to what takes place in Niagara County.

I often get the sense that tourists get the short shrift here from too many of our residents. Despite more than a half billion dollars spent annually on tourism activities in the county, some locals look at tourists with disdain -- they are using “our” parks and roads or there are “too many” Canadian license plates at our malls.

That’s silly and self-defeating. Every person living and working here should follow the lead of our fellow New Yorkers and show exuberance not only for our visitors but also for the incredible assets we have here.

Without them, our economy would tank. Some 14,000 workers are employed in tourism and hospitality here. Maybe your neighbor is one of them. Maybe you are. Their/our livelihoods are dependent on people visiting Niagara Falls, the Gorge, the Erie Canal, the Wine Trail, and our world-class fisheries.

Our governments – and, in turn our pocketbooks -- are also in need of tourism dollars. Niagara County tourism generates more than $65 million in state and local sales tax, helping to reduce the tax burden of local property owners by $735 per household. I don’t know about you, but I pay enough in property taxes (inarguably too much) and I wouldn’t want to dish out another $735.

It’s up to every one of us to make sure local tourism flourishes. When it does, so do we.

There are any number of ways that Niagara County residents can further improve the Niagara brand. For the sake of column space, here are three simple ways to start:

Spread the word: Why do you live here? Why do you love it here? There has to be reasons; share them with those visiting and those who could visit. As an example, when I court potential clients they receive not only my company brochure, but they also get a visitor’s guide (that I created) encouraging them to enjoy Niagara County when they pay me a visit. Along with that the get the official tourism brochure and maps. Similarly, it seems like every single business in Inlet and Old Forge in the Adirondacks has a rack of tourism brochures in their doorway. When is the last time you saw that in Niagara County outside of the Falls? Those racks should be just as ubiquitous here!

Sell the area: In the Adirondacks, a lot of cross-selling takes place. Retailers and restaurants heavily use and re-market local products and services. That doesn’t happen here. As an example, let’s look at wines. It’s a rare Niagara County restaurant that carries a good selection of wines from our great wine trail. Most don’t carry any and, if they do, it might be one or two wines. If they carried more, they’d support local farms and wineries…and themselves. They’d encourage non-resident diners to visit the trail and, in turn, create repeat business for that restaurant when the travelers return.

Treat everyone like a new and welcome visitor: In the Adirondacks, service sector employees treat every customer (tourists or locals alike) like it’s their first of many at the establishment or in the Adirondacks in general. In doing so, there’s a palpable, positive energy that’s infectious and makes outsiders feel welcome and loved. Happy people spend money! I don’t really see that here. A waitress in Lewiston might treat someone like a Lewistonian, not knowing the person hails from across the country. By doing so, she fails to properly market the experience at her restaurant and in her community. In a tourism mecca like this, you never know who your customers might be. Consider that one fine summer day in Olcott I counted six different languages being spoken. That’s who we want visiting us again and again and being encouraged to do things – that’s economic development at the grassroots level!

I could go on and on about this subject, but I hope you get the gist. By living here, in a world-renowned area, we all have a vested in the utilization of those resources and the betterment of our economy. It’s time Niagara County residents realized we are all in the tourism industry together.  

 From the 31 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, October 27, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Asters – the colorful autumn wildflower

There’s a strange perception among folks that most any wildflower that blooms after June is a weed.

Maybe it’s because those summer and fall plants normally aren’t found in the forests, but frequent with equal zeal beautiful pastures and ugly waste areas. Maybe it’s because they appear the same time as ragweed and other allergens.

What all of that does is toss some disrespect the way of some truly beautiful plants. Among them are the asters.

These abundant bright plants run a gamut of colors, from white to yellow to lavender. They appear about month before our leaves change colors and can linger until the last of the leaves fall of the trees, supplementing our brash fall colors in the process.

The asters all feature star-like, multi-petaled flowers, appearing in bunches that can number from a half dozen to two dozen on one single plant (those plants can stand anywhere from one foot to six feet in height). Some flowers are no wider than a penny, while others are nearly the size of a half-dollar. They get their name from the Greek word “aster” which means “star”.

Asters come in many varieties. The average nature lover will have a difficult time telling them apart from one another because there are 180 species in the United States (60 in the northeast alone). It was once believed the number was closer to 600, but genetic studies done in the 1980s discovered that most were just variations of a species.

Regardless, the best known is the New England aster, the purple one shown in the accompanying photo.

This is one of the few species that actually gets some respect (everyone loves purple) and is purposely planted in gardens. These are the flowers often given to couples on their 20 th anniversary (under the moniker of “frost flower” because they can be found blooming well after the first frost). Asters are said to represent love and patience -- a husband and wife would need both to last 20 years together.

Other asters, like the white heath aster shown here, are despised by gardeners because they can spread quickly and overtake a garden. Heath asters have stems that are so strong that they’ve allegedly broken mower blades, hence a common name of “steelweed.”

I don’t find asters to be weedy in the least and I welcome their colorful appearance in my yard and on our farm.

And, so do butterflies. 30 species of butterflies and moths feed on the plants, making them absolutely critical to populations of these lovely flying insects that have really taken a beating in recent years due to modern agricultural pesticides. So, you are doing not only your eyes a favor by letting them grow, you are helping a class of insects survive some tough times.

So, this fall, and every fall thereafter, take some time to smell the flowers – or at least look at them. Far away and up close, asters offer some extraordinary beauty and their colors can really augment the scenery here on the Niagara Frontier.

From the 27 October All WNY News

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The true powers of the President

Students of American history will recall the many grievances against King George III that were called out in the Declaration of Independence. Among them were the following:

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

…imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”

“…depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury”

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws”

I cite those indictments because they represent a few that still affect us to this day.

But, rather than a monarch being the source of such unconscionable anguish, it is our very own Presidents – Obama and those before him -- that have been guilty of such crimes against our people.

It was never intended to be this way.

In the years that followed the signing of that sacred document on July 4, 1776, the Founding Fathers utilized their newfound independence to fashion a government that was beholden to the people (rather than a people that were beholden to the government). Knowing full well the flaws that come with Kings, they created a republic, and for it a Constitution that clearly called out the limited powers and responsibilities of our federal government.

In just over 1,000 words they defined the role of the Executive – the President – someone who theoretically replaced the role of the King but had limited powers. The President could not make laws, exert taxes and fees, and declare war among numerous other things that Kings took for granted. A President’s duties were few: He was to be the face of our nation, the Commander in Chief of our armed forces, the appointer of judges and ambassadors, and he was to execute the laws created by Congress.

Although the ultimate law of the land – the Constitution – clearly and concisely identifies the legal role of the President, we’ve seen the office stray from those limitations.  And, despite protestations by the Grand Old Party, this is nothing new to the office since President Barack Obama came into power. Every President of our lifetimes has been as despotic as kings, including alleged small government types like Ronald Reagan. They do as they shouldn’t and do as they want, and it’s an unfounded power granted them – just look at what the electorate expects our next president to do!

This addiction to centralized, unconstitutional power dates back to the days of Lincoln, a man who had no consideration for the Constitution and was painted as a hero for it. Lincoln opened the floodgates that led to the modern and popular interpretation of the presidency that allows Presidents to declare war (our last Constitutional war was World War II), suspend trial by jury and exert indefinite detention, and use their administrative offices to make regulations (which are laws), impose taxes (fees and fines), and infringe upon the rights of the people and the sound operations of the free markets. They have grown beyond the boundaries of their duties and have assumed the powers that were bequeathed to monarchies, doing everything, unchecked, that a Congress should, thus taking all power away from the people and keeping it for themselves.

The people fail to see that the ultimate power should be in their hands, through our representative form of government. The nation was founded so that the Congress was the most powerful branch of government. The general belief is that all branches share equal power; this is not so -- the Executive Branch should only be a check and a balance to an overreaching Congress, as are our courts to both. Our nation was founded this way so that the masses were equally represented and the development of laws and budgets came from a governing body directly accessible to the common man and which could actually be comprised of the common man. The rights and consent of the government were paramount.

Yet, sadly, that is not what the people seem to want anymore.

Reflect upon what we’ve observed in this election cycle (and every cycle before it). The voters want to know what the presidential candidates will do for them. They expect them to fix the economy, regulate industry, exert social mores upon the masses, assume war powers, make laws, control the Congress, create tax policy, intervene in foreign affairs, and suppress liberty in the name of security. They think the President is – and they clamor for – a singular power, a central office…in essence, a king (or in Clinton’s case, a queen).  

From the 24 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Treat migrant farm workers as your neighbors

A few weeks back I was shopping with my family at a local grocery store. It happened to be payday for a local farm or two as 20 migrant workers from Jamaica were there cashing their checks and buying their necessities.

While the store workers treated them with the utmost care and respect as they would any customer, the “regular” customers did not. There was a palpable discomfort or fear over the workers being there, with the local residents shopping with a sense of urgency, guarded caution, and spiteful glances.

If I was noticing the ire being cast their way, I know for sure the Jamaicans were, too, and, worse yet, they had to be feeling it.

This was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I’ve seen migrant workers treated poorly.

It’s disgusting. Is that any way to treat our neighbors?

Yes, our neighbors.

For 2 to 10 months out of the year, longer than many snowbirds, these gentlemen from afar are living in our communities in quality housing provided for them by their employers. They travel our roads, share our parks and shop our stores.

And, most importantly, they provide services that Americans won’t.

They are here because, even in a bad economy, able-bodied American men won’t come off lifestyles of public assistance or parental benevolence to pick fruits and vegetables. A job that pays $12 to $15 per hour goes wanting and has to be outsourced to workers from another country because we’ve created a society that believes farm work is just too hard, unacceptable, and something fitting a lesser people. People have to work with their hands and get dirty? Pshaw!

Luckily for all of us, the migrant workers don’t have that pitiful view. They see the value in honest work and physical labor and show something that decades ago we once considered to be “the American work ethic.”

Because they do what we once did and what we won’t do now, we aren’t starving. They bust their butts to put healthy, nice-looking produce -- things that farm machinery can’t pick or sort -- in our stores. Ironically, the very same people who looked at the Jamaicans with ire were buying the fresh goods that those men had picked days earlier.

Who knows where the disdain for them comes from: Is it because they look and sound different from most of us, or is guilt by association because of a deserved narrative against illegal aliens (which these men aren’t) who do bad things (which these men don’t) in our southern border states?

Almost all migrant farm workers in Niagara County are here legally, holding H-2A visas which allow them to be here up to 10 months at a time. When they are not here, they are back home reveling in the rewards of their hard work – that is, seeing their families living in humble homes and going to better schools that are atypical to the dead end squalor of their homeland. They are doing back breaking work to ensure that their kids aren’t and to help them rise out of a second- or third-world existence.

That’s commendable work. That’s commendable fathering.

Yet, why do we only want them to have some shadowy existence, almost off the grid, out of sight and out of mind, while they are here toiling and making good on their promises to their families?

We should be treating them as we would anyone who lives and works in our towns and villages. Not only do they deserve a passing smile at the grocery store, but they should be invited and welcomed with open arms to our churches and community events. They should made to feel like they belong.

They might be part-time neighbors, but they are good neighbors, hardworking souls who by their very nature represent the ethos that once defined the greatness of America.  


From the 17 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers