Bamford '21 looks at business in transition in the Adirondacks

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a lake that Emma surveyed
One of the lakes that Emma surveyed this summer with ACLC

This summer I have been working with the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA). ANCA is a non-profit headquartered in Saranac Lake but serving the northernmost 14 counties in the state of New York. These largely rural counties – Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Oneida, Oswego, Warren, and Washington – are inhabited by well over a million people.

ANCA’s mission is to build prosperity throughout the countries they serve. They go about this mission by tackling three distinct areas of focus: food systems, energy economy, and entrepreneurial economy. In terms of food systems, ANCA is working to reduce food insecurity and promote sustainable, economic growth through involvement with projects like the Drive for 25 Farm to School Grant and the Hub on the Hill. On the energy economy side, ANCA assists local communities through the process of investing in and acquiring clean energy technology. The clean energy program is especially important in the North Country, as it holds a significant portion of New York’s renewable energy capacity. 

The entrepreneurial economy branch of ANCA, working to create and maintain jobs, as well as reduce inequality, is where I spent most of my time this summer. In 2018, ANCA received a grant to start the Center for Businesses in Transition (CBIT), an organization that works with both retiring business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. CBIT helps retiring business owners with their transition plans by providing resources, as well as assisting in the process of accessing capital and finding a successor. Business transitions can take many forms, including family transitions, open sales, transition to a worker cooperative, and more. CBIT and the community liaisons involved in the program help local businesses with all these aforementioned transitions. CBIT also works on the other end of the transition process, helping aspiring entrepreneurs to purchase existing businesses and learn more about ownership opportunities. With such broad reach throughout the North County community, CBIT is able to pair entrepreneurs with retiring owners in order to keep local businesses alive and flourishing. Because so much of the North Country economy is tourism based, the area is always working on stimulating the economy and bringing in new residents.  

My main project for the summer was conducting an overall evaluation of the CBIT program. With guidance from the rest of the CBIT team, I compiled a set of short surveys with the goal of gaining insight into the successes and challenges of the program. I drafted three surveys, one for aspiring entrepreneurs, one for retiring business owners, and one for the community liaisons. The check-in surveys revolved around the experiences and satisfaction level of everyone involved in the program, as well as their suggestions for improvement. Because the CBIT program is largely grant-funded, information collected from the surveys is beneficial in finding continued funding. 

The hardest part of this process was actually getting the responses. It made me feel pretty guilty about all the surveys that I’ve let sit in my inbox over the years. Based on the responses I did receive, however, feelings towards the program were very positive. Overall, business owners felt that CBIT was extremely helpful in providing financial resources and in supporting the succession planning process. Respondents repeatedly identified one area improvement, that being the timeline of the transition process. Both liaisons and business owners noted that the process often takes a bit longer than expected and educating people on this length prior to the start could be beneficial. Suggestions such as this one will be influential in improving the program, as it’s already off to a successful start.  

CBIT is a great option for continued economic prosperity and has helped many established businesses to prosper with new owners. Economic development organizations that work on transitions are incredibly relevant in areas like the Adirondacks, which are highly impacted by the “silver tsunami.” As the population ages, more and more business owners will look to retire and will need the services that CBIT has to offer. 

As someone who majored in Peace and Conflict Studies and minored in Sociology, working for a non-profit felt like a natural fit. My participation in the Field School program allowed me the opportunity to learn more about the non-profit sector, while also engaging in work that supports the community that I have lived nearby for the past four years. The non-profit exposure that I have gained through my time with ANCA this summer has only further bolstered my hope for work in the human services sector. Additionally, the Field School program gave me the ability to live in and contribute to an area that I might never have found myself in on my own. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an outdoorsy person, which can be a central component of life in the Adirondacks, but there is so much more to the area than that, and I can absolutely say that I have a new-found appreciation for the Adirondack community.

Submitted by Dana Bamford ’21, one of 35 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School