Small business strategies discussed at Springville legislative breakfast
Attendees at the breakfast, held at the Springville Country Club, heard from a panel of speakers, including Erie County Legislator John Mills, New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan’s Representative Todd Aldinger and Deputy Erie County Executive Richard Tobe.
Moderator Thomas Ulbrich, executive director of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, asked the panel to weigh in on any aid Springville could potentially receive from the $1 billion benefits package recently pledged to Buffalo by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Mills told the audience that he is not aware of plans to assign any of those monies to the local area, “but the more light that shines on the Southern Tier, the more money will be put there. It tells downstate, ‘We’re here; we’re a vibrant community with a lot to offer.’ But we have to let people know we exist. I can’t believe how many people don’t know we’re here.”
Saying that it is still “unclear” what the $1 billion will be specifically designated for, Tobe said, “We have to concentrate on where we already have development. This is good news for Springville and the region.”
Ulbrich asked what the panel members’ opinions were on the government’s role in business. “I know government can hurt business, but can it help?” Tobe asked. “Should tax money support retail? The government can’t pick winners or losers among companies. Nobody is able to duplicate someone else’s business success.
“Government must do what we can’t do for ourselves,” he added. “When it strays beyond that, there are more failures than successes. You have to find the sweet spot, to target wealth production business and help them.”
“It’s no secret that New York state over-regulates businesses,” Aldinger said. “It’s death by a thousand cuts to small businesses in New York state.” He added that Gallivan is aware that New York state business owners are all complying with regulations they “know aren’t doing anything. We need to get rid of small regulations. See what can stick; ways to make the state more friendly for small businesses.”
Gallivan’s office has asked those business owners to provide the senator with specific regulations they feel are no longer beneficial. “New York was ranked 50th out of 50 for being business-friendly,” Aldinger said.
Saying he brought experience as a “small business man” to the table, Mills spoke from a business owner’s standpoint. “The government needs to get out of the way,” he said. “We need to start teaching elected officials what they should be doing and establish that line of command. The government runs best right here in Erie County, Springville and Concord.”
The legislator cited the “Route 219 fiasco” as a local issue that he said he felt proved there is a need for more open communication between government officials and their constituents, and added, “We should look at auditing the [NYS Department of Transportation].”
Saying he believed a disconnect currently exists between the state government and the private sector, Mills added, “Right now, we’re sending warnings out about New York state: ‘Please don’t come to New York state. You will pay more.’ Let’s get smart about this whole thing.”
Regarding recent talks to increase New York’s minimum wage from $7.15 to $8.50 per hour (7 percent above the national average), Aldinger said that business owners have been unanimous in their aversion to the increase.
“[The current minimum wage] is not designed to support a family,” he said. “We shouldn’t be crafting it to be a living wage. The senator understands this. Not a single business owner has told us they want an increase. We think the wage is where it should be.”
Regarding local tourism funding, Tobe said he believed efforts should begin at the local level. “We need to work together with the government,” he said. “Good plans will attract the money. There is money out there, but it’s competitive. We will get you the money if you ask us to. There are pre-established channels of communication associated with county government.”
Referencing the Springville Center for the Arts’ recent acquisition of a condemned Springville building, Tobe said, “5 East Main was not our initiative, but it was brought to our attention and, together, we came up with a great solution: To have the county back taxes waived and to give [the building] to the village government to turn over to a nonprofit.”
In response to a question about small business resources currently available to the people of Springville and Concord, Tobe said, “Economic development is not some silver bullet. It’s not about finding the right switch and pushing it. There is enormous hard work behind every project.
“Have an idea where you want to go. In the end, it’s about finding the right fit,” he added. “With some opportunities, [getting the government involved] is just not worth the hassle.”
Anne Cooper, president of the Grass Roots Economic Development Group, asked the panel to comment on the state of New York’s Medicaid offerings. “It’s a better plan than some employees can afford to pay for,” she said. “What is the state looking at to help the desperately poor people?”
Aldinger said that Gallivan sympathized with the plight Cooper described, calling New York state’s Medicaid “the richest in the country. Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania combined spend less than we do on Medicaid, every year.”
Medicaid growth has been federally capped at 4 percent and, while Aldinger said that limitation “makes sense,” he added, “We started at a high level, so it’s always going to be too big. Right now, people don’t feel any financial hardships for over-using Medicaid.”
Concord Town Historian David Batterson commented that, since the village is located in a historical district under the department of transportation’s signage limitations, “We have to keep it hidden. There are some great attractions we’re not able to promote.”
SACC Executive Director Kate Moody asked how Springville could be part of “the process the county goes through that filters communities [that are] considered good locations to grow manufacturing,” but Tobe stressed that the county tries to not designate sites for companies. “A lot of towns are putting together materials to list their sites and amenities and we’re happy to share that. Right now, though, the system’s not working so well.”
The Springville Area Chamber of Commerce meets the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 a.m. Call 592-4746 or visit www.springvillechamber.com for more information.