Upstate business leaders form coalition to address pandemic

Upstate New York business leaders have formed a coalition to address the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affects business.

Upstate Venture Connect is an entrepreneur-led nonprofit that is building a region-wide startup community for upstate businesses. Its mission is to empower and connect entrepreneurs to the people and resources needed for building high-growth companies.

The organization has thus far brought together 35 CEOs from emerging technology companies to take a pledge to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Rochester-area business leaders who have signed the pledge include Patrick Bosek of Jorsek Inc., Mikael Totterman and Alex Zapesochny of Clerio Vision Inc., Ralph Dandrea of ITX Corp. and Justin Copie of Innovative Solutions.

“With technology moving faster than people, high-growth businesses in Upstate New York can rise above this massive outbreak,” said Martin Babinec, founder and chairman of UVC. “Our joining together to advocate these important measures can be influential in getting other leaders across the region to do the same.”

The pledge reads, in part:

• First, we are strongly encouraging the majority of our workers to work from home as soon as possible, leaving behind the minimum possible in-office presence;
• Second, we are restricting work travel by our employees, both domestically and internationally. We are also strongly advising our employees to be thoughtful about all personal travel, particularly where they would be congregating in larger groups;
• Third, we are moving all clients, visitors and interviews to remote-only meetings and not currently welcoming onsite visitors;
• Fourth, wherever possible we are strongly encouraging our vendors, service providers and partner businesses to take similar precautions;
• Fifth, we are each consulting with our teams to find ways of supporting our local healthcare workers by helping to purchase critical medical resources such as additional tests and protective equipment, and supporting the work of local nonprofit organizations that are helping at-risk communities who will be severely impacted by this pandemic;
• Finally, we are calling on the community to support the government’s effort in restricting public gatherings and other non-essential activity as well as following guidance on keeping social distance and stepped up measures for sanitizing personal hygiene and contact surfaces.

UVC has activated a LISTSERV for CEOs in upstate to help them share resources and best practices for surviving an economic downturn. Other upstate CEOs can join the coalition at

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Cornell holds COVID-19 video conference for dairy farmers Friday

Cornell Cooperative Extension is holding a seminar by video conference Friday morning for dairy farmers about how to manage their businesses with COVID-19 in mind. 

The conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. with ZOOM video conferencing technology, and can be accessed at by this link

Richard Stup, an agricultural workforce development specialist at Cornell, and one of two people presenting in the conference, said dairy farms aren’t under any unique restrictions due to the pandemic but they need to know how to protect the health of workers and their animals. Dairy farms are considered an essential business as a food producer, allowing them to continue to employ 100 percent of their workers, but they could be in a difficult situation if workers become ill. 

“Unlike other businesses, these are live animals that have to be cared for,” Stup said. “Unlike other businesses, you can’t shut off the lights and walk away.”  

The seminar will include farm-specific information on sanitation methods to prevent spread of the virus, as well as questions guiding farms to create a back-up plan if supplies or workers are affected.  

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Finger Lakes wineries feeling the impact of coronavirus

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the closure of restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters earlier this week, he also effectively closed the tasting rooms of more than 500 wineries statewide.

Preventive efforts like this aimed at lessening the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic could have a devastating side-effect on the wine industry. Many wineries in the Finger Lakes thrive through their direct-to-customer sales, which will be difficult to maintain without their tasting rooms.

“We fall into that with the restaurants and the bars. We’re not allowed to do tastings. That’s OK in a way. I get it,” said John Martini, co-owner and co-founder of Anthony Road Wine Company on Seneca Lake. But the impact will be great, he said.

Tasting rooms aren’t exactly closed; they just can’t offer tastings or — for those with on-premises liquor licenses — sell wine by the glass. It’s part of an effort to discourage people from congregating in large numbers and spreading the virus.

“We do depend on our tasting room for more than 50 percent of our income,” Martini said. For many years, Martini has travelled to New York City weekly to participate in the city’s Greenmarkets, where he offers tastings of Anthony Road Wine Co. wine and sells wine. “I’m not going down to the greenmarkets until this kind of clears up,” he said, noting that his age puts him into a higher risk category. An employee in New York will continue to work on a reduced schedule with accounts there, he said.

Wineries are still allowed to make and sell wine on their premises. Some wineries are posting notices that they remain open to sell wine by the bottle or case, and will make arrangements to bring purchases to customers’ cars or ship wine to them.

Colleen Hardy, co-owner of Living Roots Wine & Co., an urban winery on Rochester’s University Avenue with a vineyard in Australia, was in self-quarantine in Australia this week. She had flown there to work the family’s grape harvest, but had been exposed to carriers of the virus on the flight.

She was remotely supervising changes in the winery in Rochester, including shifting to a new method of doing business temporarily.

“We’ve had to reevaluate our operations and our offerings both for the safety of the public and our team,” Hardy said. Living Roots is beginning same-day deliveries within 10 miles of the tasting room and can offer both wine and packaged snacks.
Like other wineries, Living Roots and Anthony Road are offering discounts and deals on shipping to try to keep sales going.

“Our tasting room is usually pretty busy, and so that is a huge part of our business,” Hardy said.

Living Roots only began distribution outside of its tasting room about eight months ago, so can’t count on its wholesale operation for much revenue now. “All of the liquor stores and bars we partner with are going through the same thing right now,” she said.

The impact the wine industry will endure isn’t just related to the halt in tasting room activities. Crises change consumer consumption patterns.

“People don’t stop drinking wine during times of economic uncertainty, but they do buy less and many scan the shelves more intensely looking for lower prices. The coronavirus alters the menu of wine-drinking occasions, which will have an impact, too, wrote Mike Veseth, editor of the Wine Economist, on its website Tuesday. Veseth is a retired professor of international political economy in Washington State.

Veseth said if wineries try to boost online sales, they may find the ease of price comparison on the internet makes bargain shopping more important for consumers than the high-touch experiences they’ve sought at wineries. Whether they’ll return to in-person visits is one of many unanswered questions at the moment.

With restaurants closed, diners won’t be ordering as many bottles of wine with their meals. However, to try to ease the pain for an industry Cuomo has painstakingly promoted for many years, the state has changed its alcohol prohibition on takeout orders. During the health crisis, the state is now allowing people to order alcohol on a takeout basis, so, you can get a beer, cocktail or glass of wine to go, just as you do a takeout meal.

A coalition of beverage associations was also planning to seek temporary relief from tax payments to the state, allowing them to meet their other financial obligations first.

“An important thing for us is to pay our staff and pay our mortgage and pay our bills, kind of in that order,” Martini said.

In the face of great uncertainty, both Hardy and Martini were doing their best to remain upbeat.

“It’s definitely a day-by-day, hour-by-hour thing,” Hardy said. “In uncertain times like this, it brings people together. We’re not the only ones feeling this. Everyone is being affected by this in one way or another.”
She was taking the opportunity of downtime in Australia to put together a video of the harvest there to share, hoping to keep customers engaged.

Martini, meanwhile, said at least the crisis falls during what’s normally an already quiet time for wineries in North America.

“Hopefully it’s brief. This is the time of year to have it,” he said.

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Rochester community bands together during pandemic

The Rochester community is known for giving back and this week there is more proof of that.

As of Tuesday, when the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and the Rochester Area Community Foundation began coordinating support for those in need through a Community Crisis Fund, nearly $2 million had been raised, including $1 million from the ESL Charitable Foundation.

“In this time of great uncertainty and great need, our community is doing what it does best—coming together and working together to ensure the needs of families across our community are being met,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello at a news conference yesterday. “I am proud to lead a community with this much compassion and willingness to help and with incredible organizations and foundations that are stepping up in the face of this challenge.”

Last week, local foundations came together to pool and disburse an initial $260,000 to help Foodlink Inc. address the immediate food insecurity that resulted from school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The distribution comprises funding from Rochester Area Community Foundation, the United Way, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., ESL Charitable Foundation, the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and the Farash Foundation.

“The giving nature of Greater Rochester’s people truly shines in moments such as these,” said ESL Federal Credit Union President and CEO Faheem Masood. “At ESL, we were exploring ways in which we could help the community during these unfamiliar times, and the creation of the Community Crisis Fund became the ideal opportunity to ensure our donation would best be distributed among those who need it most.”

In the last several days, additional support from MVP Health and the United Way has been committed to the fund. The grants enable regular fund distributions on a rolling basis and help make it possible to move resources quickly and adapt to evolving needs, officials said.

Separately, other businesses and organizations are pitching in to help. TES Staffing beginning March 20 will provide free lunches to community members in need. The organization will have roughly 100 meals in to-go containers being cooked on the spot and available for pick up at its University Avenue offices.

Each meal will consist of a hot dog on a bun and a bag of chips or a cookie. TES Staffing plans to provide the lunches each Friday for a month, but also is looking for businesses and individuals to donate or help in the endeavor, with the goal of turning it into a daily event.

“The closure of businesses and the abrupt decline in the local economy has slowed down our business activities tremendously and has shaken this community and its workers, with no notice,” said TES Staffing President Brian Harding. “As a local staffing agency that relies on this community’s businesses, but also our community members, we feel it is our responsibility to use this time to support the community and its members in need.”

DiBella’s Subs also is planning to help the community through an initiative that will cut prices in half for first responders, health care workers and active military; donate 50 percent of all regular sales including catering orders to community food banks; and waive delivery fees for all orders of $15 or more placed through

“Our primary goals are to do all that we can right now for our communities, for our employees, and those who need us the most who are working hard to keep us all safe,” said DiBella’s President Peter Fox in a statement. “We have to band together and take care of each other. We may not have profitable sales with these initiatives, but it will help us to continue to do as much as we can to employ our team so they can come to work every day and also have the satisfaction of helping others.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Xerox suspends HP takeover attempt amid pandemic woes

Xerox Holdings Corp. has temporarily suspended its hostile takeover attempt of rival printer giant HP Inc. in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Xerox on Friday said it would halt its planned presentations to HP shareholders, but stressed that the market’s recent decline had not or would not affect its decision to acquire the company.

“In light of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, Xerox needs to prioritize the health and safety of its employees, customers, partners and affiliates over and above all other considerations, including its proposal to acquire HP,” said Xerox Vice Chairman and CEO John Visentin in a statement. “As we closely monitor reports from government and healthcare leaders across the globe and work with colleagues in the business community to minimize the spread and impact of the virus, we believe it is prudent to postpone releases of additional presentations, interviews with media and meetings with HP shareholders so we can focus our time and resources on protecting Xerox’s various stakeholders from the pandemic.”

The friction between the two companies had heated up in early March after Xerox took its $24 per share, or roughly $34 billion, tender offer to HP’s board. The offer would amount to $18.40 in cash and 0.149 Xerox shares per HP share. Xerox had asked HP shareholders to tender their shares before 5 p.m. on April 21, conditioned on Xerox gaining a majority of HP shares.

“Our proposal offers progress over entrenchment,” Visentin said in a March 2 statement. “HP shareholders will receive $27 billion in immediate, upfront cash while retaining significant, long-term upside through equity ownership in a combined company with greater free cash flow to invest in growth and return to shareholders.”

HP didn’t see it that way.

“Our message to HP shareholders is clear: the Xerox offer undervalues HP and disproportionately benefits Xerox shareholders at the expense of HP shareholders,” said HP Chairman Chip Bergh in a March 5 statement. “The Xerox offer would leave our shareholders with an investment in a combined company that is burdened with an irresponsible level of debt and which would subsequently require unrealistic, unachievable synergies that would jeopardize the entire company.”

HP officials said the Xerox proposal essentially offers HP shareholders something they already own and would disproportionately benefit Xerox shareholders relative to HP shareholders.

The hostilities began last year, when negotiations between the two companies fell apart. Xerox wanted HP under its umbrella; HP was having none of that. HP accused Xerox of not providing adequate information when it was asked for due diligence. Xerox said it was willing to open its books to HP, but HP had yet to offer mutual due diligence.

The two companies went head to head and in November Xerox said it would pursue a hostile takeover. In early December, Xerox made good on its threats, via an investor presentation detailing its offering. Xerox’s proposition was to acquire HP for $22 per share, which would comprise $17 in cash and 0.137 Xerox shares for each HP share.

HP claimed the proposal significantly undervalued the company and showed concerns over Xerox’s balance sheets, including its high debts.

Xerox’s shareholder presentation suggested cost savings for the combined company of roughly $2 billion in two years and projected $1 billion to $1.5 billion of potential growth opportunities. Xerox said the combined company would be worth roughly $31 per share.

In January, Xerox secured $24 million in financing to prove to shareholders it meant business. Meanwhile, activist shareholder Carl Icahn, who was instrumental in the dismantling of a planned merger between Fujifilm Holdings Corp. and Xerox and the ousting of Xerox’s former CEO, had begun buying up HP stock. In December, Icahn urged HP leaders and shareholders to take the deal with Xerox.

Also in January, Xerox proposed a new slate of directors for HP’s board.

“HP shareholders have told us they believe our acquisition proposal will bring tremendous value, which is why we lined up $24 billion in binding financing commitments and a slate of highly qualified director candidates,” Xerox Vice Chairman and CEO John Visentin said in a statement at the time. “We believe HP shareholders will be better served by a new slate of independent directors who understand the challenges of operating a global enterprise and appreciate the value that can be created by realizing the synergies of a combination with Xerox.”

Since the beginning of 2020, Xerox shares (NYSE: XRX) have fallen from $36.93 to $20.71 Monday afternoon. HP shares have fallen from $20.79 at the start of the year to $14.65 Monday. However, much of that decline is related to the market crash that has occurred since the COVID-19 outbreak.

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