September 22, 2007

With local business thankful for a job well done —

Hartsock recognized for economic strength


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Linda Hartsock poses above the city of Cortland Friday, her last day on the job.  The former executive director of the Cortland County IDA/BDC, will now be regional director of Empire State Development’s Central New York office in Syracuse beginning Monday.       

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — As Linda Hartsock completed her last day as economic development director for Cortland County on Friday, those who know her say she excelled in the position.
The mission of the Cortland County Business Development Corp., the nonprofit she headed, is to retain, create and attract jobs to Cortland County.
While state Department of Labor statistics show that Cortland County lost 1,100 jobs since Hartsock’s arrival in 1999, bringing the county’s total number of jobs to 18,400, local businesses say she kept more jobs from leaving, while others said she planted the seeds for future growth.
In a state like New York where the cost of doing business is high, sometimes economic development officials have to focus on what they already have, said Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.
“A large part of what Linda has done is work with companies that are already in town, which is just as important if not more important as bringing in new businesses,” VanGorder said.
For example, he said, she helped Barden Homes, Marietta Corp. and BorgWarner Morse TEC all expand their operations.
Cal Organ, vice president of human resources for BorgWarner Morse TEC, said Hartsock was a key reason in 2000 the company decided to relocate part of its Ithaca operation to Cortlandville, as opposed to out of state, bringing Cortland County 200 jobs.
She gave the company several alternatives for sites and used connections to get the company funding.
“She was extremely instrumental in working with some government funding agencies and helping us to get some state support to help with relocations to help convince our corporate group.”
According to the Cortland County Business Development Corp.’s Web site, an informational site Hartsock has maintained since her arrival, the BDC helped BorgWarner get an incentive packaging totaling $2.2 million.
Anthony Barbetta, president of Essex Steel, said Hartsock was the main reason his company moved its operation at Port Watson Street to the Finger Lakes East business park in Cortlandville, as opposed to Onondaga County or even Pennsylvania or Canada.
She pushed for incentives comparable to ones in those locations, such as a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, a low-interest $150,000 loan and a $150,000 grant, that made staying in Cortland County feasible, he said.
“You really don’t have anyone else to turn to if you’re smaller and have been offered other incentives to move your factory out of the state,” Barbetta said about Hartsock. “No one else is as informed about what incentive plans are there to keep local businesses here.”
Hartsock has also succeeded in bringing out-of-area companies into Cortland County, such as SUNY Morrisville-based Empire AgriFuel, the company that will start building a soybean crushing and biodiesel plant in Polkville in several months that is expected to create 20 jobs.
Mason Somerville, president of the company, said Hartsock and her office made it possible for the company to choose Cortland as the site for the plant. “She thinks of all the things you need to know,” he said. “Everything from the name of the mayor or town supervisor to the codes to the planning to the tax to where you get things.”
Her office, he said, whose three employees is less than most economic development offices, is very efficient.
Of the 10 to 15 economic development officers he has worked with in various states during the course of his career, she is by far the best, he said.
Community leaders and residents who have worked with Hartsock, who will begin work as regional director of Empire State Development’s Central New York office Sept. 24, say she also has laid the groundwork for future job growth in Cortland County.
Chip Jermy, a 40 Below member and company claims examiner for McNeil & Co. in Cortland who interned for Hartsock from fall 2001 to spring 2002, noted that projects she has begun, such as the Cortlandville business park and the Tioughnioga River Trail won’t show results until they are completed.
“Early on Linda told me that with economic development you shouldn’t always judge what was happening by what you could see,” she said. “While some results appear immediately ... a lot of times it takes a lot of time for the process to come out.”
Amy Simrell, the YWCA of Cortland’s executive director, is still waiting to see the economic results of Women Working Together, a networking group for professional women that Hartsock started in the winter with her agency.
While the YWCA has not completed its first year evaluation of the program, including whether any businesses were launched because of the group, the potential for new business ventures is great with between 65 and 115 women attending the monthly meetings, she said.
Hartsock has an uncanny ability to market events, groups and the community, those who know her said. She has helped make people who live in Cortland proud, said real estate agent and lifelong Cortland County resident Jim Yaman, and let those outside the area know about Cortland County.
Jermy pointed out how she helped Cortland get recognized as one of the top 50 small towns for corporate facilities in the March 2003 issue of Site Selection magazine, the leading international publication for economic development and corporate real estate.
While whether such an honor directly links to economic development in Cortland County is unclear, she at least has helped Cortland get over a previous barrier to its success, VanGorder said.
“Well I think that one of the things that she’s worked really hard on in partnership with lots of agencies is to improve the communities’ opinion of itself,” he said. “I think we’ve overcome what we regarded to be a self-inflicted inferiority complex.”



Business director of city schools retiring

Stephen Pearsall has worked in the Cortland district the last 19 years

Staff Reporter

Stephen Pearsall said at 60, it’s time for him to retire, but his plans to take trips to see family members, scattered across the states, only extends until Jan. 1.
Pearsall retires from the Cortland City School District as director of business services Friday. He earned $123,270 in his position.
“I might like doing nothing or I might have a ‘honey do’ list a mile long,” he said, of the future.
That list might include fixing his picket fence on the corner of Hamlin and Madison streets in the city.
He and his wife, Kathy, intend to remain in the city, although they may spend some of the winter in a warmer climate.
Another possibility is returning to ‘work’ as an interim business official.
With 33 years of experience as a business administrator, starting in Tully Central School District in 1974, then Cazenovia, and for the last 19 years at Cortland, Pearsall has seen a lot of changes in the responsibilities and the environment of school business officials. In the 1970s aid was sparse but there were few mandates. Now it’s the opposite.
Pearsall said his most important accomplishment was putting together a health insurance consortium, something he undertook with another school official in the mid-1980s while a business administrator in Cazenovia.
The consortium now insures 24 school districts but was started with Cazenovia and Onondaga-Madison BOCES. Pearsall also chaired this group for 15 years.
He said at Cortland his proudest accomplishment was in the way the school made the transition to voting on budgets. Until 1997, small city school districts did not put their budgets before a public vote.
Pearsall said the city votes have all been successful.
“We did that in good times and bad times,” he said, noting budgets became more challenging to make after 2001.
Pearsall said he was also proud of a cooperative effort at the district resulting from the latest construction project, voted on in 1996, which implemented a technology program that was superior to any other district’s in the state at that time.
“The financially sound condition that the city school district is in, speaks for his skill,” Laurence Spring, superintendent of schools at Cortland said about Pearsall.


Replacement brings varied experience

Art Martignetti, the business manager of Weedsport Central Schools, will replace Stephen Pearsall as director of business services at the Cortland City School District on Oct. 1.
“I was looking for a position with greater responsibility,” Martignetti said of the switch to the Cortland district. “It’s a good career move,” he said, noting the greater responsibility with a city school district.
He also noted the timing was right with a renovation project winding down at Weedsport and one about to begin at Cortland. He said he enjoyed the challenges of keeping track of capital expenses.
“That’s my forte. That’s a very challenging undertaking,” he said, noting the Weedsport project was $24 million and included putting on a new addition at both the elementary school and the junior high and high school building.
Martignetti said the Weedsport renovation project was one of his major accomplishments there. He said making sure the maximum aid was obtained from the state on the project was an important task. He said the project started when he started with the district in 2002.
Another of his accomplishments at Weedsport was reducing the tax levy from 9.9 percent to 4.9 percent, consistently, without compromising programs or staff, Martignetti said.
Martignetti, 54, of Liverpool, will be paid $106,000 in his new position.
Although strong in math, Martignetti did not start his career in business, but rather as a teacher at Mount Vernon School District, where he taught elementary school from 1979 to 1986. He said he had obtained both elementary and secondary certification. His major was Italian and his minor was Spanish.
Martignetti then became an assistant junior-senior high school principal, working at Canastota and Central Square school districts.
He started working as a business administrator in Canastota in 1992. He held similar positions at a Schenectady school, at Jordan-Elbridge and at Weedsport before accepting the position at Cortland.
When asked what is the most challenging aspect of handling school business, Martignetti said new legislation in the form of unfunded mandates — “making it work and keeping within our budget.” As an example, he had to refinance debt on building projects when the state decided to spread aid over a greater period of time than the district had financed. “I had to refinance creatively,” Martignetti said.


Homer Town Hall bids awarded

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Work on a $700,000 Town Hall renovation project that will upgrade the courtroom and install an elevator is expected to begin in the coming weeks.
The Town Board awarded bids for the project at a special meeting Wednesday.
Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said he thought the cost was somewhat higher than he and board member Barry Warren originally anticipated, though other board members were not surprised by the bids.
The board approved hiring Syracuse-based Diamond & Thiel for $540,000 to do general construction work on the project, which is expected to take about a year.
Endwell-based Nelcorp Electrical was hired for electrical work for about $57,000, Binghamton-based Climate Control Tech was hired for heating, ventilation and air conditioning work for about $63,000 and LaFayette-based DWB was hired for plumbing work for $16,500.
The lowest bidders in each category were chosen; each category had at least three bidders. Architect Randy Crawford told the board Wednesday his firm, Syracuse-based Crawford & Stearns, has talked to all of the low bidders and none has expressed any concern relative to their bids or the project in general.
The approximate bid ranges are $540,000 to $760,000 for general constructing; $57,000 to $70,000 for electrical; $63,000 to $97,000 for heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and $16,500 to $48,000 for plumbing.
Warren, concerned about the high cost of the project, asked Crawford if it was worth having the project rebid. Crawford responded a rebid would not bring prices down.
Warren also asked Crawford if there was any way the project’s cost could be lowered through the contractors finding cheaper subcontractors. Crawford said that is very possible, including for precast blocks for the addition to Town Hall that will house the elevator.
“I’ve never met one who wasn’t willing to work within reason,” he said.
The project includes a complete renovation of the east side of Town Hall, including gutting, building offices and modernizing the court room, and building an addition to house a wheelchair-accessible elevator.
Also, the project includes installing a new boiler and air conditioning in that part of the building.




Homer students hone business sense

Staff Reporter

Gathered around a table in the Homer High School library Friday morning, a group of high school seniors and SUNY Cortland seniors tried to figure out exactly how to adapt the board game Monopoly to a socialist economic system.
The game’s customary “Bank” was replaced by the “government,” which would own all of the property on the board and build all the houses.
As pointed out by college senior Edward LeFebvre, the game wouldn’t end with a winner — instead, those that make too much give away their money until they’re even with the poorest player.
The game was the icebreaker for the two groups of students, who will be cooperating through Thanksgiving as they work to develop hypothetical business plans for Cortland’s downtown.
This year is the program’s first, and brings together history teacher Joe Cortese’s senior economics students and SUNY Cortland seniors from economic department chair Tim Phillips’ business economics capstone courses.
Lloyd Purdy, director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, brought Phillips and Cortese together about five months ago.
The college students will act as advisors for the high school seniors, and Phillips said the ultimate goal is to develop a business plan for a potentially viable business that would exist in downtown Cortland.
The nine groups will consist of 34 high school students and about 25 college students.
For the next week, though, the mixed groups of four to five students will be getting to know each other via the board games, such as “Fascist Monopoly” and “Mercantilist Monopoly.”
But after the Monopoly games are finished is when Cortese said the “rubber hits the road,” as the students work to develop two products — one that will be the best possible product that they can come up with, and one that looks like a great product but is plagued by a fatal flaw in design that is readily visible.
They’ll target three demographic groups (one that will definitely buy the product, one that will probably buy the product, and one that just might buy the product), and then the students will “invest” in the product that they think is the best and vote against the product that is the “worst.”
The next step will be advertising the product to various demographic groups and Cortese said the students will review the ads in magazines as varied as Good Housekeeping, the AARP Bulletin and Rolling Stone and will examine the different approaches to different groups.