For Sunday Conversation, I talk to successful and ambitious people who usually could move their careers anywhere. Often, they run companies that could be located anywhere.
News stories show that New York’s business climate is frequently criticized and that other states dangle financial enticements. Labor costs less overseas. Economic disruption caused an out-migration that seemed to peak in the 1990s but never went completely away.
So I ask: Why do you stay in Central New York? What keeps your company here? Here are some excerpts.
Orrin ‘Mac’ MacMurrary
MacMurray is chairman emeritus of C&S Holdings, the engineering and consulting firm headquartered at the Syracuse airport. I talked to him March 24.
Your company probably could move its headquarters anywhere. Other states would offer tax relief. Why stay in Syracuse?
First of all, Syracuse is home. This is where we’ve built the business from the beginning.
The biggest reason, though, relates to the people. It’s the people that make a business. It’s the people that make companies. An organization is nothing but a word that describes a group of people that have decided to engage in some effort jointly. So we have excellent folks here — good folks with good work ethic that are culturally aligned with the culture of the company. We’re blessed with great educational institutions in this area.
From a business point of view there are challenges to being in Upstate New York. In the most important area, where it comes to the people, the actual ability to do business, it’s a great place to be.
Our business, like virtually all business today, is becoming global, not just regional. We used to worry about business moving to the South or the Southwest. Today the globe is the business platform, not just the United States.
I talked to Dean Burrows, president of Gear Motions of Solvay, on Feb. 12. His manufacturing company ships products globally.
Have you been recruited to move to another state, another place? If so, what keeps you in Central New York? What kept the company here?
Yeah, we’ve had opportunities to move away and to look at different places. But this is where we live and raise our families.
From the perspective of Sam Haines, our CEO, there have been a lot of opportunities. What kept him here is community. This is where he’s built a life and a career and he’s very respectful of the employees.
One of the reasons that we moved to an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) from a privately held company, was to help insure the likelihood that the business would stay in Syracuse and in Buffalo.
Over the years, he’s had opportunities to sell the business, but nobody could ever guarantee him that the businesses would stay here and that the employees would have careers and have a business to go to work every day. Nobody guaranteed that. The way he could guarantee would be to give the employees the company. That’s exactly what he did. So for him, it’s been the loyalty to the community.
We love the four seasons. It’s one of the few places I’ve lived or I’ve been where it is a distinct four seasons a year and there’s always something to do. We can complain about this, complain about that, but overall, it’s a really nice place.
I think people underappreciate how nice a location Syracuse is and how close it is to New York City or to Toronto and how close you are to being able to go hike in the Adirondacks, but in two hours you can be watching a professional football game and in four hours you can be watching the Knicks play or in 15 minutes you can be watching one of the best college basketball, football or lacrosse teams in the United States.
Take a step back and you realize this is some of the best higher education in the United States.
It’s centrally located — from a business standpoint, there’s a lot of benefits from the proximity.
KS&R, headquartered in Syracuse, is a national powerhouse in market research. I talked to Reicher, a co-founder, president and chairwoman, on March 7.
How do you compete from Syracuse? And why do you keep your company in Syracuse?
We keep our company in Syracuse because the founders lived here. We like Syracuse. It’s a nice place to live. We don’t want to move. And related to that is that we don’t need to move.
In this day and age, there’s very little need to be geographically co-located with clients. Many of our clients are not geographically co-located among themselves. So, much of our work is done via conference call, and it’s with points of contact all over, typically the country, occasionally the world.
How do we compete? Our location is not much of an issue. It’s really our skill set and our reputation. We are typically known for higher-end analytics. We’re typically known for doing the hard stuff.
I talked to Magdon on March 28, when he was manager of business travel sales at DoubleTree hotel on Carrier Circle. He now is manager of business travel sales at Hilton Worldwide and chose to stay in Syracuse.
Some people locally seem to be naysayers. Why do you think that is and how can it be combatted?
Education — awareness and understanding is everything.
It goes back to a bigger understanding of all the things that are happening, positive things, with downtown, with new companies and companies that are expanding.
We tend to see the negatives. I’ll use Onondaga Lake as an example. They’re doing a fantastic job. There’s great opportunity for us in the use of the lakefront — a dramatic change in our community. But if you talk to people, it’s still a negative connotation, “dirtiest lake in the world.”
Well, guess what — it’s not.
We’re on our way up. That’s why I try to associate myself with younger folks in our community because they’re optimistic. It radiates out of them. When you surround yourself with enough people like that, it rubs off.
Maier is president of Inficon, which has 250 employees in its expanding research and manufacturing location in DeWitt. I talked to Maier on May 19.
Places elsewhere can offer cheaper labor or great tax breaks or enticements to move, so why do you stay in Central New York?
We have an assembled workforce, a high-tech workforce, and we compete based on brainpower. That’s the essence of our competition. Rather than elbow grease. So we’re not looking for the cheapest form of labor, we’re looking for the brightest talents, the brightest minds.
We believe that we have assembled a very interesting group of people here with excellent talent and very bright minds and so moving that is not something that is easily done. You would lose a lot of that assembled talent workforce.
This area, in addition, is very safe for families. I’ve moved myself and traveled extensively and think this is, except for the weather, a very underrated area. It’s very safe. You have good schools, good infrastructure. Medical infrastructure is excellent. Actually the cost of living is relatively low compared to other geographies where high tech takes place. Boston or San Jose are much more expensive to have that same kind of assembled workforce.
“Sunday Conversations” run regularly in The Post-Standard’s Business section, featuring interviews with local citizens about leadership, success, and innovation. The conversations are condensed and edited. To suggest a person for Sunday Conversations, contact Stan Linhorst at email@example.com.
Last week: Catherine Bertini offers her insights on successful negotiation.
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