BY PETE BARDUNIAS
A year ago I observed that “organizations which successfully support our business communities in 2019 will be the ones which can effectively and tangibly integrate with and positively impact the individualized needs of community businesses both large and small.”
I am proud to say that my organization has lived up to that standard, and we are now exporting our brand of locally-focused-but-regionally-aligned business practices throughout the Capital Region. The much heralded affiliation between the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County (CSSC) and the Capital Region Chamber (CRC) puts three large, formerly-independent business organizations (The Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber, the Chamber of Schenectady County, and the CSSC) plus the former Malta Business and Professional Association under one organizational structure and leadership.
Some 2,900 area businesses totaling 160,000 employees are now united with a common purpose and resolve. One large chamber staff of 27 represents their needs and interests (24 full time, plus three at the Southern Saratoga Information Center at the Exit 9 Rest Area on the Northway).
The affiliation structure pioneered during the CRC’s formation in 2015 provided a framework that allowed for this unprecedented level of regional collaboration while keeping in place the ability of the affiliate chambers to maintain their responsiveness and connection to the local communities they serve.
This is being put to the test by the integration of the CSSC and its community-focused program of work, plus the hyper-local Malta BPA, which has been transformed into a steering committee of the CRC to further the cause of business in the Malta/Stillwater/Saratoga Lake area. The genius of this arrangement is demonstrated by the fact that the MBPA’s last president, Michael York of the Lofts at Saratoga Boulevard, now has a seat on the CRC board with an equal vote to Ron Sampson of GlobalFoundries. Big and small fit together at the Capital Region Chamber.
What does this mean for the business community north and south of the Bridges?
Access to amazing resources and a responsive staff for businesses of all sizes. Are you a small business entrepreneur? Consider attending a Maximizing Your Membership session. Comprehensive resources are available, from financing to technical assistance to marketing, continuing education and networking.
Larger businesses will see great benefits in the economies of scale of the combined operation, plus greater advocacy than ever before (the CRC boasts two registered lobbyists on staff) and the clout of being part of an organization with more members than the Business Council of New York State. Things people have come to expect from the CSSC such as the Waterford Canal Festival, the big tent at the Saratoga County Fair, the annual awards dinner in Clifton Park, plus favorite mixers at places like Curtis Lumber in Ballston Spa and McGreivey’s in Waterford, will be continued, as will support for the Chamber Angels holiday gift-giving charity.
For those used to seeing the CSSC operating in Clifton Park, we are still right there where we have always been. Joining myself and Project Manager Sheila Whinnery at 58 Clifton Country Road will be Marna Redding, vice president, member services, and her staff, which handles marketing, events, sponsorships and the Women’s Business Council. She is joined by Debbie Erck, director, signature events, and Taryn Farewell, marketing associate.
This means five employees will be based here in southern Saratoga County, though every member of the CRC staff is able to utilize any of their offices (Wolf Road, Schenectady, Clifton Park, the Southern Saratoga Information Center at the Exit 9 and CSSC’s Waterford Field Office) as necessary to carry out their mission. Heather Tifft, membership executive, has moved from the Clifton Park office to Schenectady, where membership recruitment and support is handled.
I readily admit I had my share of concerns going into this negotiation last year. As the last-ever CEO of the independent Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, which served its members well for nearly 53 years under that structure, I felt a tremendous burden to find a way to accommodate the concerns of our board that an independent, mid-sized chamber simply wasn’t relevant enough in today’s world to survive in the long term, while keeping the intimate, close relationship that our chamber has enjoyed with the local communities, especially Clifton Park and Halfmoon which have officially considered us their “official” chamber of commerce.
Fortunately the CRC is led by a strong visionary and competent executive, Mark Eagan, with whom we were able to forge a relationship that truly will, I believe, make the whole of the Capital Region Chamber in 2020 a lot more significant than the sum of its assembled parts that formerly operated independently.
For more information on the programs of the Capital Region Chamber please visit www.capitalregionchamber.com. Due to ongoing systems integration, additional info may be available at www.southernsaratoga.org in the interim.
By David Kopyc
I’ve been fortunate to have been in the financial services business for over 35 years. I saw the Dow break 2000 for the first time and every major event since. Flash crash, internet melt down, financial crisis etc.
I’ve always resorted back to the individuals that I feel are the backbone and the individual financial pillars of our industry: Peter Lynch (Fidelity), Jack Bogle (Vanguard), Charles Schwab (Schwab Investments), and Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway).
If you remember about one year ago, the markets were in high anxiety and most of the wall street experts were predicting doom and gloom. We were heading for a recession and the stock market was positioned for a major pullback. We are having an exceptional year in the markets and the same experts that were wrong about this year are pretty optimistic for 2020. As I’ve said many times to clients and to radio listeners, it’s “time in the market, not market timing.”
No one likes volatility and the stress that is associated with market corrections. Most individuals seem to think that financial advisors have a crystal ball of the future corrections to come in the financial markets. I can tell you that is not a consistent formula for success and occasionally an advisor makes a correct call and has success for a brief period of time.
Warren Buffet won $1 million bet from a hedge fund manager by simply placing his bet on an index fund, not an actively-managed portfolio. Remember, “time in the market, not market timing.” It has been proven time and time again that trying to pick the bottom and sell at the top is impossible. Buy and hold. Then, when you get a correction, it’s like the blue light special at Walmart—stocks are on sale. The Nasdaq is up over 500 percent from the financial crisis. How many individuals stayed the course, made those returns, and bought when everyone else was leaving?
Louis Rukeyser previously hosted a program on PBS called “Wall Street Week.” At the end of the year, they would make predictions for the future year ahead and take a review of what their expectations had been for the year that was coming to an end. Because I love to seek a challenge, I’m going to do my own version of this for a test of my own personal ability to predict the future outcome of the markets for 2020.
2019 was a year that most analysts expected low to moderate returns to stock portfolios. If you go back and read their predictions, it was considered bullish to have success with a high single digit return on equities. Most bond analysts were not even close to their predictions for the net total return for a fixed income fund. Remember, it’s “time in the market, not market timing.” All the individuals that went to cash in December of 2018 lost out on great returns. We are currently sitting on $7 trillion in cash equivalents, and money market funds.
2020, I believe, will be a year of great caution for both equity and fixed income investors. Since 1952, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has averaged 10.1 percent when a sitting president runs for reelection. Wall Street does not like uncertainty, and they know what they have with the current president for economic policies. But because these are unprecedented times, you throw in all the noise of impeachment, the disfunction of Washington, the extremely low interest rates we still have, and the multitude of other issues we are facing, you have to come up with a personal gut check.
This prediction is taking into consideration that we do not have a Black Swan event in 2020. I personally believe that most individuals vote with their checkbook and how well they feel about their own personal security. We have a very robust economy with historically low unemployment and the help wanted signs are out wherever you go. I know that I spend a considerable amount of time digesting news and information, but my family who mostly are hard-working earners, find little or no interest in the recent clashes with Washington lawmakers and the media.
It’s my belief that we will continue this Bull Run and the mother’s milk of equities is increasing earnings that will deliver again in 2020. Strong earnings typically give us higher equity prices. A famous quote from Peter Lynch “the key to making money in stocks is not to be scared out of them”.
Find the correct asset allocation of stocks, bonds, and cash and stay fully invested and let “time in the market, not market timing” be your trusted friend.
By Doug Ford
The construction industry, both nationally and locally, took on a variety challenges this past year, many of which will likely continue to have an impact in 2020.
Despite these difficulties, the industry did well overall. While there are favorable signs of continued growth in the industry, there are still fears in the marketplace that have caused some to proceed with caution.
The biggest single factor, without question, is the lack of skilled labor. This one issue is dramatically influencing how many homes will be physically built in 2020. The skilled labor shortage, combined with an aging workforce and the influx of inexperienced workers, are contributing to the challenges already existing within the industry.
In a national survey produced by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) in 2019, 77 percent of construction firms in the Northeast report they are having difficulties filling hourly positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce. This gap has continued to grow in the past year. (The details of the survey are available at www.agc.org/sites/default/files/WorkforceDevelopment_2019_National_Final.pdf)
Much of this pain originates from the economic downturn a few years back when many long-term construction/trade workers did not have work, resulting in more than two million lost jobs. Displaced workers were forced to look outside their field of expertise and many did not return to the construction industry.
Our current situation of an aging population, baby boomers retiring at a rapid pace and too few millennials entering into construction careers has produced a recipe for disaster.
The Saratoga Builders Association (SBA) formed a Task Force to tackle the problem on a local level. The primary focus is to encourage young people to consider a career in the construction industry by bringing an awareness to the benefits. SBA developed the following programs for high school juniors and seniors, as a way for them to learn about the various career trades:
• Local builders John Witt/Witt Construction Inc. and Matt Whitbeck/Whitbeck Construction LLC both did multiple 90-minute in-school presentations focusing on why they got into the construction business and their individual perspectives.
• A tour of Curtis Lumber headquarters in Ballston Spa featured educational sessions on estimating, design, logistics, and marketing to name a few were conducted to further expose students to another aspect of the industry. Material suppliers play a critical role and are overlooked as a viable and lucrative career path for young adults entering the workforce.
• On-site job tours of homes in various stages of construction will be conducted in the spring to allow students the chance to experience a working job site. The builders, along with the various trades, will be present to answer questions and explain the role they fill.
Along with the labor shortage, the construction industry has one of the highest rates of substance abuse and substance use disorders compared to other industries in the U.S., as noted in an article published by Confirm Biosciences. Among construction workers 18 to 49 years old, more than 21 percent were reported to have used illicit drugs during the past year. Financial losses due to alcohol and drug abuse may reach billions of dollars.
This situation will not improve in 2020, based on recent statistics. The pending legislation to legalize marijuana will continue to present challenges for the construction industry for obvious reasons.
Another challenge for the construction industry has been the volatility in building material costs. Products such as steel have become particularly problematic due to the political pressures levied on the tariff costs. Lumber and other commodity products have been a challenge for both builders and suppliers due to the dispute between Canadian and U.S. lumber companies and the problems arising from the differences in their respective forestry management principles.
In addition to the labor gaps and pricing pressures, other factors that have caused trepidation within the industry include political and regulatory uncertainty, national economic uncertainty, succession planning, immigration employment protocol, and rapid technology advancements.
Despite all of the challenges noted, the bottom line is that the construction market continues to experience solid results, both nationally and locally, and this will continue into 2020.
New construction will likely decline but remodeling will remain strong and continues to grow. Historically the Capital Region out performs other regions of the state and should continue to do so. The backlog for most contractors remains high, but a stable economy, improved international relationships and, most importantly, finding workers will drive the success in 2020.
Stephen Kyne, CFP
As we roll into 2020, we have ushered in another decade. We’ve just lived through a decade of economic expansion, and are still in the middle of the longest bull run in history, with no clear end in sight. All of the fear mongering and doom-and-gloom predictions since the recession, a decade ago, have been wrong. The sky has not fallen, and the future still looks promising.
In the last 10 years, the S&P index (a frequently quoted index comprised of 500 commonly held U.S. stocks), has increased 190 percent. Just this year, the index is up about 30 percent. While a third of this year’s gains were a recovery from the correction at the end of 2018, the markets still continue to reward those with the discipline to stay appropriately invested.
Technology and capitalism are amazingly transformative forces, and when working together, they produce astounding results on a global scale. Consider that 100 years ago, 80 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty. In the year 2000, 20 percent did, and that number has since been halved.
The last 100 years has seen the rise of America as a global force, spreading and protecting capitalism and democracy around the world, and creating an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship are rewarded.
Technological advances in communications, travel, logistics, heath care, shipping, agriculture, chemistry, energy and in every other part of the economy have freed billions from the shackles of extreme poverty.
Famine is largely a thing of the past. Global inequality has fallen dramatically as Asia and Africa are experiencing faster economic growth than Europe and North America.
For all the talk about an environment on the brink, technology is solving that problem as well and allowing us to do much more with much less, every day. Consider that the computing power in your smart phone would have cost millions of dollars just twenty years ago, and would never have fit in your pocket. Today one device replaces cameras, camcorders, flashlights, atlases, watches, calendars, CD players, newspapers, a stack of board games, and virtually anything else someone with a little ingenuity can dream of.
Twenty years ago, the U.S. was the world’s largest energy beggar, and today we are the largest producer of energy in the world, and we owe this to technological advances in fracking. As natural gas continues to replace coal in the production of power in the U.S., we’ve seen CO2 production plummet since 2005, with per capital levels at their lowest since 1950.
This is absolutely astounding when you consider how much the economy has grown over the same time period.
Yes, sometimes bad things happen, but that doesn’t mean the world isn’t getting better.
We’re going into an election year, so remember to tune out the noise. Both sides need to convince you that they are the only ones with the answers. Neither is right.
As we turn to the future, we think technology continues to lead the way, as long as governments allow innovators to do what they do best.
Unemployment is functionally zero, with rates among African Americans and Latinos at historic lows. There are only two ways to grow your economy when you’ve exhausted your supply of workers; immigration and technology. Since immigration is likely to continue to be a political football, that leaves technological innovation as the primary driver for increasing worker productivity.
In addition, wage growth continues to outpace inflation, especially for the poorest among us, which means consumers have more real dollars to spend.
In the coming year, we expect more economic growth for the U.S., and another positive year for the stock markets. We think 10-15 percent growth in the S&P is likely, although the markets will experience their normal swings.
U.S. government policies continue to be accommodative to growth in this country, as long as tax cuts remain in force, regulations remain as their current levels, and interest rates continue to be appropriate. Barring a sweep of both houses of Congress and the White House by the Democrats, we expect this will be the case.
As always our forecast contains forward-looking statements which may be revised at any time. Stay focused on fundamentals in the coming year, and work closely with your financial advisor to help ensure your investments remain appropriate for your needs and market conditions.