Unshackle Upstate touts new economic recovery plan

Unshackle Upstate, an advocacy group for upstate job creators and taxpayers, has released an economic recovery plan that would halt minimum wage increases and reduce taxes.

“Fast Forward – A Rapid Recovery Plan for the Upstate Economy” suggests delaying scheduled increases in upstate minimum wage; reducing the income tax rate, corporate tax rate and sales tax rate for localities with fewer than 1 million people; establishing and empowering a bicameral, bipartisan upstate legislative caucus to advance pro-growth proposals; investing in upstate infrastructure needs including cell and broadband access; and reducing the cost of construction through reform; among other things.

Brian Sampson
Brian Sampson

“Rather than waiting on Washington to save the day, there are things state officials can do right now that will help rebuild our economy and revive our communities,” said Brian Sampson, Unshackle Upstate chairman and president of Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. “Unshackle Upstate’s Fast Forward agenda will give a much-needed boost to small businesses, family farms and taxpayers across the upstate region. Our elected leaders need to get back to work and get our economy back on track.”

According to the report, New York has paid out more than $40 billion in temporary unemployment relief and more than 81,000 federal PPP loans have been issued to businesses statewide, totaling more than $20 billion. And, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, “nearly every upstate county has recorded population loss since 2010.”

“Unless Albany takes action, the upstate exodus will continue,” according to the report. “Fast-tracking the proposals contained in this plan will help ensure upstate’s ‘new normal’ is better than before.”

Unshackle Upstate notes that New York’s business tax climate is ranked as the second-worst nationwide by the Tax Foundation. New York has the third-highest cellular taxes and the seventh-highest gas tax in the nation, according to the report. Unshackle Upstate contends that New Yorkers with private health insurance pay $5.2 billion in taxes.

One facet of Unshackle Upstate’s plan is to make the state more affordable for all by:
• Reducing the property tax burden by addressing unfunded mandates on local governments;
• Enacting reforms to reduce energy costs for residents and employers;
• Eliminating unnecessary health care taxes, assessments and surcharges;
• Rejecting a single payer health care system; and
• Lowering excise taxes.

Unshackle Upstate is calling on leaders in Albany to address aging roads, bridges and transportation needs, stating that on average, a New York driver loses $2,768 annually due to deteriorating roads and bridges and related traffic congestion.

The group is calling for fulfilling broad energy needs “like expanded natural gas pipelines and access to Canadian hydropower” and supporting regional parity to address critical infrastructure needs.

Reducing the cost of construction has long been a part of Unshackle Upstate’s agenda. The coalition suggests reforming the way New York calculates Prevailing Wage and enacting a 5-year moratorium on the Scaffold Law. The law — enacted 135 years ago, it holds employers and property owners liable when a worker becomes injured due to a gravity-related fall — costs New York taxpayers $785 million each year, according to the report.

“We can and must do better,” the report states. “Now is the opportunity for Albany to fix the past mistakes that have made New York a challenging place to do business and an expensive place to live.”

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Alicia Keys’ piano donated to Rochester nonprofit

A piano used and signed by 15-time Grammy award winner Alicia Keys is headed to Rochester.

The piano was auctioned as part of MusiCares COVID-19 Relief, which seeks to alleviate the enormous financial burden placed on people in the music industry who are adversely impacted by the global pandemic. The musical instrument fetched $35,000 and is being donated to Rochester’s Avenue Blackbox Theatre.

“Having performed professional style concerts at nursing homes for over 25 years, I am aware of the power of music to change lives,” said auction winner Andy Nahas in a statement. “I bid on this piano on behalf of MusicPower, a charity I established to support exceptional music-related initiatives such as MusiCares. I’m further excited because we’ve chosen to donate the piano to another initiative called the Avenue Blackbox Theatre in Rochester, N.Y., which will launch an expanded music learning program for inner-city youth and adults upon receipt of Alicia’s beautiful Steinway piano. We expect this autographed piano will inspire and motivate many people to make music creation an important part of their lives. I give a big thank you to Steinway, Alicia Keys and MusiCares for offering this multiple win opportunity.”

Grammy award-winning artist Alicia Keys signed the Steinway-designed Boston 126E upright piano that has been donated to the Avenue Blackbox Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Census)
Grammy award-winning artist Alicia Keys signed the Steinway-designed Boston 126E upright piano that has been donated to the Avenue Blackbox Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Census)

The piano, which was donated by Steinway and used by Keys in her home for three months, was featured in Keys’ social media and was used for a special Amazon live-stream event and in a promotion for the 2020 New York Census.

“I feel so blessed that this piano — which has so many personal memories for me—is going to be auctioned for MusiCares, which has helped so many artists and creators and the music community during the pandemic,” Keys said. “I can’t wait for whoever gets this piano to feel the magic inside of it, and for us to continue to support and love each other.”

“We’re grateful and honored this gorgeous piano will now have a home in a space that believes deeply in the power of music and performing arts to change lives. We know its legacy will live in the hearts of generations to come,” said Avenue Blackbox Founder and Artistic Director Reenah Golden.

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Causewave to honor coalition behind ‘Six Feet Saves’ campaign

Causewave Community Partners will honor the coalition responsible for the local “Six Feet Saves” campaign, comprising dozens of local community organizations and media partners, for its outstanding public service campaign that was launched in rapid response to COVID-19.

Representatives of the coalition, including Sharon Napier and Rob Kottkamp of Partners + Napier,  County Executive Adam Bello, on behalf of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, and Entercom Vice President and General Manager Susan Munn, will accept the W.B. Potter Award virtually at Causewave Community Partner’s Annual Wavemaker Celebration on Sept. 11.

The W. B. Potter Founder’s Award, being presented for the 20th year, recognizes a results-oriented collaborative initiative that fills a community need and serves as a role model for other partnerships. “Six Feet Saves” was created in response to the urgent need for action to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was the result of a number of partners, including:
• More than 30 local media partners
• Causewave Community Partners
• City of Rochester Department of Communications
• FUA Krew
• Ibero American Action League
• Mercury Print
• Monroe County Department of Communications
• Monroe County Department of Human Services
• Monroe County Department of Public Health
• Paragon Steel Rule Die, Inc.
• Partners + Napier
• Rochester Regional Health
• University of Rochester Center for Community Health
• University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute

The campaign was implemented across a number of marketing and media channels from television ads to murals to lawn signs and sidewalk paint. The campaign was created in a matter of weeks and reached hundreds of thousands of local residents with messages underscoring the importance of staying home and social distancing.

“When our community faced its biggest health challenge in 100 years, it was clear we needed something to rally around. So many people and organizations answered the call,” said Causewave President and CEO Todd Butler in a statement. “From the public servants in the health department to the communications professionals at Partners + Napier to our local media community to businesses and nonprofits, this was a joint effort like I’ve never seen. Everyone was hungry to do their part in saving lives.”

Causewave Community Partners was founded in 1950 as the Advertising Council of Rochester. Today, Causewave collaborates with more than 200 nonprofits each year through programs focused on building individual nonprofit capacity and community-level response to a wide range of community issues from traffic safety to child sexual abuse prevention.

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YMCA to offer students a place to learn virtually

Another local nonprofit has stepped up to help working parents whose children will attend school virtually this fall.

The YMCA of Greater Rochester Inc. has introduced Y School of ROC, a way for students to continue their education in a safe, clean environment at the Y. The program provides families a two-day or three-day alternative, as well as a five-day option for RCSD families, in support of remote learning. Y School of ROC will integrate academic support, social-emotional learning, and physical health and wellness.

Each student will have his or her own quiet workspace, equipped with Wi-Fi, to complete their daily assignments. Staff members will be ready to help students with any support, as well as provide them with needed “brain breaks.” Extended care is included, relieving some of the burden placed on parents and guardians.

Class sizes vary depending on location but are kept small to comply with social distancing guidelines. Officials said the Y will follow all CDC and New York state health and safety guidelines. Protocols and processes have been successfully practiced at child care centers since mid-March and at camps all summer.

Y School of ROC will be offered at seven area YMCA locations and camps. Students and staff will be required to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose at all times. The cost for two days per week is $110, while the cost for three days is $185.

The Strong National Museum of Play this week also announced a program for students who will be attending school virtually this fall.

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Writers & Books, BOA Editions collaborate on readings

Writers & Books has teamed with BOA Editions Ltd. to launch Tuesdays with BOA, a virtual reading and conversation series showcasing some of today’s most exciting authors. Tuesdays with BOA is free to the public.

Writers & Books is Rochester’s nonprofit center for the literary arts, while BOA Editions is an iconic Rochester-based publisher of poetry and literary works. Michael Waters will kick off the series on Sept. 15, from 7:30 to 8 p.m., reading from and discussing his new collection of poems, “Caw.” Waters has written 12 books of poems and has been the editor or co-editor of six anthologies, including “Contemporary American Poetry.”

On Sept. 27, from 7:30 to 8 p.m., Elana Bell will present selected poems from her new collection, “Mother Country,” a nuanced examination of the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship, followed by a conversation with BOA Editions publisher Peter Conners.

BOA Editions is an independent nonprofit publisher of contemporary poetry and literary fiction founded in 1976 by A. Poulin Jr. to provide a venue for both new and established poets. BOA has released more than 300 titles.

Writers & Books is one of the oldest and largest community-based literary centers in the nation and the only one of its kind in the Greater Rochester area. The organization engages youth and adults with the literary arts through workshops; readings; presentations; and Ampersand Books, an independent bookshop.

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Strong Museum to offer remote learning space

The Strong National Museum of Play has launched the Strong School Club to help working parents in need of a safe, supervised space for their child’s remote learning.

The 10-week club, which runs from Sept. 14 to Nov. 20, offers students in grade school an environment to attend their virtual school lessons, work on assignments and projects and complete their homework in socially distant settings.

The new program will offer one, two, three, four and five-day a week options for families and runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Strong School Club will provide supervision by museum staff, dedicated and social distant workspaces, free Wi-Fi access and activities in the museum after 3 p.m.

Early drop-off at 7:45 a.m. and after-care pick-up until 5:30 p.m. also will be available for an additional fee.

The daily schedule for each student will depend on their school district needs but will include time for their virtual lessons and project work, as well as breaks, lunch and activities in the museum. Parents will be asked to complete a daily written schedule form for students that lists virtual classes, including times and login information.

Museum staff will be able to provide some assistance to students but are not trained to work on specific projects or curriculum.

Students will follow the museum’s Safe Play policies, which include wearing masks at all times except when eating, staying six feet apart and cleaning their hands frequently. Students must complete a temperature check and health screen daily, and museum staff will regularly clean the spaces with hospital-grade disinfectant.

The Strong School Club is $50 for members and $55 for nonmembers daily. Pre-care and after-care are an additional $5 per day. More information is available at museumofplay.org.

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Virtual Fringe Festival to feature 175 performances

More than 175 artists will take the virtual stage next month for the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, producers said Tuesday.

Now in its ninth year, the Rochester Fringe will feature 12 days of virtual productions from Sept. 15 through Sept. 26. Tickets for the events are available at rochesterfringe.com.

“We are delighted by the number of artists — from all over the Greater Rochester area, the U.S. and the world — who would not be daunted by either a global pandemic or the virtual world, and seized the opportunity to be creative and connect with audiences,” said Festival Producer Erica Fee. “The fact that we have so many productions participating this year proves that there’s a real need for virtual platforms such as these, which allow for artists’ voices to be heard and communities to address difficult issues during these challenging times.”

This year’s festival features its usual wide variety of genres including comedy, dance, kids Fringe, multidisciplinary, music, spoken word, theatre and visual art & film. Shows range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from on-demand to live-streamed and from amateur to world-renowned artists, officials said.

Rochester Fringe Festival 2020 Cirque du Fringe Quarantini (Provided)
Rochester Fringe Festival 2020 Cirque du Fringe Quarantini (Provided)

The festival has curated a few of its own shows that fans have come to expect. The event will feature the world premiere of “Cirque du Fringe: Quarantini” hosted by Fringe favorites Matt and Heidi Brucker Morgan. It features an international cast with a new twist: audiences will get to know some of the performers via live interviews. The Las Vegas-based team will also create a virtual and diverse production of their bawdy, Bard-based drinking game and late-night Fringe favorite, Shotspeare, titled “Shotspeare Presents the Complete Works of William Shakespeare … sort of.”

Last year, Fringe commissioned the release of a podcast based on local history called “George Eastman” by Nate DiMeo’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated the Memory Palace. This year, it will release two more: “High Falls,” which debuted at 2019’s On-Site Listening Experience, and a world premiere about Rochester’s revered Corinthian Hall called “From the Parking Lot.” Both episodes will be available for free and on-demand via Radiotopia, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher and rochesterfringe.com.

Finally, a new discussion series called FringeTalk will debut this year, consisting of four live conversations with diverse groups of four artists, discussing everything from burning issues to funny recollections.

“We applaud the creative spirit that this festival inspires in all who participate and know that this year’s virtual performances will be a wonderful celebration of art and imagination,” said KeyBank Rochester Market Executive Phil Muscato. “We’re very excited for everyone to experience the 2020 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival @ Home!”

The 12-day, 2019 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival featured more than 650 performances and events, with more than 200 free, and broke all previous attendance records with more than 100,000 visitors. From its five-day debut in 2012, the Rochester Fringe Festival has become one of the fastest-growing and most-attended fringe festivals in the U.S.

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Schumer seeks additional funding for hospitals

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is seeking additional federal funding to help hospitals stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.

Schumer, D-NY, visited Yates County’s Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital last week as part of a push for his three-pronged plan to get hospitals more federal support. His plan calls for more funding from the Schumer-created $175 billion Provider Relief Fund, improvements to the Medicare loans program and demanding more support for COVID-19 testing.

As part of the plan, Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allocate the remaining roughly $60 billion it has available for the Provider Relief Fund, as well as improvements to the Medicare Advanced and Accelerated Payments, which are loans that help hospitals with cash flow. The loans have “onerous” interest rates and repayment terms that Schumer said will “severely hurt” hospitals in the long run. Finally, Schumer is requesting additional testing dollars to help hospitals such as Soldiers & Sailors, which have been saddled with new costs due to requirements that staff be routinely tested.

“The doctors, nurses and staff at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital have made incredible sacrifices throughout this pandemic, putting public health above profit and working ceaselessly to help Yates County and the Finger Lakes beat back the virus and flatten the curve,” Schumer said. “Despite these incredible sacrifices, Soldier & Sailors has not yet received enough of the federal emergency aid that I specifically negotiated into the CARES Act and fought for in the interim “Corona 3.5” package for them.”

Schumer argued that his three-pronged approach is necessary as a series of funding issues have plagued Soldiers & Sailors and each issue must be addressed in order to sufficiently support hospital operations. Soldiers & Sailors, for example, is facing $3 million in losses by the end of the year, despite receiving $3.5 million in HHS’ Rural Hospital funding.

Soldiers & Sailors also has been wary of Medicare Advanced and Accelerated Payments, as the loan program has prohibitively high-interest rates that would severely hurt the hospital in the coming weeks, Schumer noted. The Penn Yan hospital estimates it will incur $41,000 in unbudgeted testing costs by December.

The lack of federal support, Schumer said, has forced Finger Lakes Health and Soldiers & Sailors Hospital to take additional costs, leading to staff cuts. Soldiers & Sailors has eliminated 50 positions and anticipates another 20 layoffs if more funding is not received, officials said.

“We are grateful to Sen. Schumer for his service and for visiting Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital. It is our privilege to serve our community as part of Finger Lakes Health and especially as a federally-deemed Critical Access Hospital,” said Jose Acevedo, president and CEO of Finger Lakes Health. “I am so proud of our staff and providers who have demonstrated compassion, care, expertise and dedication while caring for patients and residents during this global pandemic.”

Finger Lakes Health’s facilities are spread throughout the region and include Soldiers & Sailors and Geneva General Hospital, four long-term care facilities, eight primary care physician practices, an ambulatory surgery center, two urgent care locations and six specialty care practices.

“There have been significant cost burdens which we have experienced associated with this pandemic, including the significant costs for personal protective equipment, screening and testing employees and other measures,” Acevedo said. “We appreciate Sen. Schumer’s and other legislators’ work on behalf of healthcare providers to advocate for relief as we focus on the critical mission to care for our communities.”

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Simcona lands AI temperature screening franchise

Simcona Electronics Corp., a Rochester-based international industrial parts distributor and one of the largest stocking distributors in Upstate New York, has earned the upstate franchise for Automated AI Temperature Screening System, a top advanced thermal imaging solution.

Marc Iacona
Marc Iacona

“As businesses, schools, medical offices and retail establishments plan to re-open, fast and accurate temperature check kiosks are becoming a key component in the future of workplace safety,” said Marc Iacona, Simcona’s president and CEO, in a statement. “We’re seeing an increased interest in a fast, accurate and minimally-intrusive way to create a safer business environment and to minimize the risk of infection to protect customers and employees.”

Designed as an all-in-one solution, the Automated AI Temperature Screening System (AATSS) uses an advanced and unique near-infrared sensory array and artificial intelligence-driven facial recognition technology. The AATSS samples more than 200 points on a person’s face to provide extremely reliable temperature readings. It is FDA, HIPPA, and ADA compliant, offers data protection, ADA accessibility options, free software updates and a range of advanced features.

Automated AI Temperature Screening System
Automated AI Temperature Screening System

The system is made by RichTech System Ltd. and can detect body temperature in two to three seconds, officials said. It also can verify identification, if needed, and detect face masks.

“We thoroughly assessed the market for products that would deliver the solutions quickly and seamlessly and as a result have established a partnership with RichTech,” Iacona said. “We have product in inventory, ready to deliver to meet regional demand.”

Simcona is a privately-held, family-owned company that provides electronic components and industrial control solutions to customers worldwide.

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United Way receives $4 million grant from ESL for emergency services

ESL Federal Credit Union has provided a $4 million grant to the United Way of Greater Rochester to support 20 local health and human services agencies that provide crucial basic needs programs.

The grant is in response to significantly increased needs in the community as a result of COVID-19 and will fund emergency services, legal assistance, community partnerships and housing and shelter.

Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)
Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)

“Our basic needs providers meet high demand every year, but have been pushed to the breaking point given the impacts of COVID-19,” said United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders. “Our community has worked together to bend the COVID-19 curve, and we need to work together now to bend the basic needs curve for so many individuals and families in Greater Rochester.”

The COVID-19 health crisis has increased the demand for services, pushing additional individuals and families to seek help. Officials noted that in June 2020, the unemployment rate in Greater Rochester surged to 11.3 percent, compared with less than 4 percent during the same time last year.

Calls for help to 211 LIFE LINE, the community’s information and referral hotline, have tripled since March. More than 60 percent of those calls were for food, housing and shelter, when in 2019, fewer than 28 percent of requests were for basic needs, and calls for food are up 20 fold.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“This community that we love has given us so much and ESL has a duty to step up and help Greater Rochester,” said ESL President and CEO Faheem Masood. “We say that our purpose is ‘To help our community thrive and prosper’ and that cannot and will not be possible if we are not doing our part to contribute to uplifting the health and resiliency of critical agencies that provide essential services to thousands of individuals and families.”

As the community continues to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, experts expect a surge of additional need as governmental assistance ends.

Tuesday’s announcement comes just weeks after United Way announced a significant gap in fundraising for its annual campaign, which had just begun as COVID-19 shut down workplace operations statewide. The campaign is focused on funding health, education and economic mobility services, all of which also are severely affected by the pandemic.

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Foodlink receives grant from Sands Family Foundation

Foodlink Inc. has been awarded a multi-year grant from the Sands Family Foundation Generation 3 Philanthropy Project (G3PP) to support its Curbside Market, a mobile farmers market that visits and distributes food to underserved communities across the Rochester region.

The grant will support key staffing needs for the market and will allow for the addition of a new vehicle to the Curbside Market fleet. The grant amount was not disclosed.

Julia Tedesco
Julia Tedesco

“The Sands Family Foundation has shown repeatedly that it truly cares about the health of our region, particularly in low-income communities where diet-related illnesses are most prevalent,” said Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco. “The Curbside Market continues to evolve to meet the needs of Rochester-area residents seeking fresh, affordable foods and will be critical to rebuilding community health as our area recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Curbside Market was launched in 2013 and primarily sells fresh fruits and vegetables. It strives to make the healthy choice the easy choice for thousands of customers in the Rochester region.

Although it began with one vehicle and seasonal routes in the city of Rochester, the market now operates year-round with multiple routes in Rochester, Monroe County and five other counties in Foodlink’s service area, officials noted.

“As our grandfather, Marvin, would say, ‘While we can’t save the world, we can make a difference in our community,’” said G3PP Co-Chair Lauren Sands.

Customers who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can purchase twice as much produce through the Double Up Food Bucks incentive program. Later this year, Foodlink hopes to diversify its inventory once it is approved to sell items for another federal nutrition program, Women, Infants & Children (WIC).

This latest grant is the second that Sands Family Foundation G3PP has awarded to Foodlink’s Curbside Market. A prior grant in 2018-19 allowed the market to add critical staff and expand its operating hours to evenings and weekends.

“Our family is proud to support Foodlink’s efforts to meet our community’s need for fresh, affordable foods with its Curbside Market,” said G3PP Co-Chair Ashly Sands-O’Winter.

The Curbside Market temporarily had to suspend its operations in mid-March because of COVID-19. The market reopened with a limited schedule in July.

“We look forward to learning with our partners and customers about how to continue to best serve them, and will begin to ramp up our schedule when it is safe and appropriate to do so,” Tedesco said.

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Fairport LDC creates COVID grant program for business

The village of Fairport Local Development Corp. will offer a reimbursement grant program to help businesses adapt to the impact of COVID-19.


The Local Investments for Fairport’s Transformation (LIFT) Grant program will assist village businesses as they adapt to operating during the pandemic, officials said Tuesday. The program will provide reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses related to keeping staff and customers safe as businesses reopen or continue to operate during the crisis.

“The village of Fairport Local Development Corp. commits its resources, expertise and energies to creating a local economy that is healthy and vibrant,” said Kevin Clark, FLDC board chairman, in a statement. “During this time especially, our efforts are focused on helping our retail and commercial businesses to adapt to new challenges. The LIFT Grant program underscores our commitment to ensuring the village of Fairport’s position as a premier community offering a diverse and vibrant business district for residents and visitors alike.”

The FLDC has committed $50,000 to the LIFT Grant program. Businesses can receive up to $3,000 in reimbursement for costs incurred since March 15 for the purchase of pandemic-related supplies, services and renovations to enable businesses to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

More information can be found on the Fairport Office of Community & Economic Development’s website.

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Seneca Foods reports improved first quarter

Wayne County’s Seneca Foods Corp. this week reported an improved bottom line in the first quarter as the company continues its restructuring.

Net sales for the quarter ending June 27 increased nearly 9 percent to $288.2 million from $265 million in the year-ago quarter. Net income for the quarter was $20.7 million, compared with $1.1 million a year ago. On a per-share basis, earnings were $2.24 for the quarter, up from 12 cents in the first quarter last year.

“During the first quarter, we continued to see improved results from our extensive restructuring undertaken over the last few years. In addition, pantry loading due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped drive our sales,” said Kraig Kayser, president and CEO, in a statement.

Gross margin percentage increased from 7.2 percent to 16.9 percent compared with the prior year three months due to higher selling prices in the first quarter of 2021.

Seneca Foods is one of North America’s leading providers of packaged fruits and vegetables, with facilities located throughout the U.S. Its products primarily are sourced from more than 2,000 American farms. Seneca holds the largest share of the retail private label, food service and export canned vegetable markets, distributing to more 90 countries. Products also are sold under the brands of Libby’s, Aunt Nellie’s, Green Valley, CherryMan, READ and Seneca labels, including Seneca snack chips.

Shares of company stock, which trade on the Nasdaq Global Stock Market under the symbols SENEA and SENEB, were up this week. SENEA began the week at $39.48 and had climbed to $41.91 by midday Friday, while SENEB began the week at $39.25 and rose to $41.40 by midday Friday.

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RGRTA receives federal CARES funding

Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority is slated to receive $9.2 million in federal funding to help ensure the organization can continue offering essential public transportation during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our dedicated regional transit workers have played an integral role in making sure our community continues to run smoothly during an otherwise tumultuous period,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit, in a statement. “I’m proud to have helped pass the CARES Act, and prouder still to see these funds go directly to Rochester. Ensuring RGRTA has the means to continue to aid this public health emergency will ease the burden on families and essential workers across our region, and help our community continue to heal.”

The funding was allocated by the Federal Transit Administration through the CARES Act and also will encourage revitalization projects and support fixed-route, paratransit and route deviation services.

“This CARES Act funding will ensure that RGRTA can continue providing crucial public transportation services for riders who are relying on safe and sanitary transit during the pandemic,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “This federal funding will offset the devastating financial impacts of COVID-19 on transit operations throughout the region and allow Rochester area counties to keep the RGRTA system clean, safe, timely and efficient for riders.”

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United Way extends pandemic-constricted workplace campaign

Liebert and Saunders at the 2019 United Way workplace campaign kickoff . Because of COVID, this year’s campaign looks much diff erent--only 60 percent of businesses are participating and revenue is down approximately $6 million compared to a year ago (Photo provided).
Liebert and Saunders at the 2019 United Way workplace campaign kickoff . Because of
COVID, this year’s campaign looks much diff erent–only 60 percent of businesses are
participating and revenue is down approximately $6 million compared to a year ago (Photo provided).

Now is the time of year when United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. typically would celebrate with the community the results of its annual workplace campaign that helps fund some 75 local nonprofits.

But this year is a little different, for obvious reasons.

“We’re 102 years old; this isn’t our first pandemic, but there really hasn’t been anything to this scale that we’ve ever experienced,” said United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders. “The way United Way works is to inspire collective giving through companies, through workplaces. And we have more than 1,400 companies that host campaigns.”

The workplace campaign was launched at the beginning of the year, but within two months the entire community came to a standstill. Businesses shut down either temporarily or more permanently, nonprofits found themselves in the middle of a major crisis, people weren’t in the same financial position they had been in just weeks earlier.

And all of that played a major role in United Way’s campaign.


“By June we hope to have a close (to the campaign) and then we have a celebration because we fund the agencies as of Aug. 1,” Saunders said. “With COVID, many understandably went virtual, went remote. Sixty percent said we’re going to move forward or give us a minute and we’ll continue in June or we’ll just push it a little bit. Others pushed to the fall or said we can’t do it this year; we just had furloughs or layoffs and/or we don’t know what our future looks like.”

With just 60 percent of businesses participating in the workplace campaign this year, United Way’s campaign is down roughly $6 million from a year ago.

“We are down and we now are looking at a longer campaign, through the end of the year,” Saunders said. “We’re hoping that small businesses — those under 100 people who are two-thirds of our workplace partners — that there are more that are in a position who want to provide this channel for their employees to help and to give.

“We are very focused on fulfilling our commitments to our critical not-for-profit network,” she added. “Last year that was nearly $11.5 million in direct grants, but collectively we raised $22.6 million for the workplace campaign through the year. We’re at $16.5 million right now and still putting our shoulder behind it.”

Despite the decrease in both funds and funders, many area businesses have stepped up in huge ways, Saunders said. With 18 offices, Clark Patterson Lee allows each branch annually to choose its own charitable initiative, many of which include United Way. United Way also was the choice at CPL’s Rochester office, said CEO Todd Liebert.

“Our local team stepped up and CPL did a one-for-one match,” Liebert said. “We held our regular work campaign despite COVID; most of it was done virtually. The teams raised about $17,000 and CPL matched that amount.”

Courtney Ter-Velde, an interior designer at CPL, led the organization’s campaign this year and the team increased its overall donations by 20 percent, Liebert noted.

Although the agency had a slight downturn as a result of the pandemic, CPL also was able to save money in other areas such as travel and conferences.


“All of those expenses we have in the spring just weren’t there, so we figured we’d divert some of those savings to help our communities out,” Liebert said. “One of our key words is community, and we always look to return to our communities that we’re in. It’s part of our culture.”

The same can be said of M&T Bank, an institution that has been deeply connected to the United Way since arriving in Rochester some 30 years ago. Rochester region President Dan Burns is on the board of United Way, making the workplace campaign even more important to him.

“United Way is a big part of what we do and what we ask our employees to be involved with, whether it’s time, treasure or talent,” Burns said. “So when the pandemic hit we were already in the works of our own campaign.”

M&T uses the United Way campaign as a leadership tool, naming a campaign “CEO” that serves a two-year term. Allie Sacks was in the second year of her term as CEO and both she and Burns were eager to successfully engage staffers. As it turned out, the pandemic allowed Saunders to virtually “visit” more worksites to kick off the campaign and her visit with M&T was a big hit.

“I didn’t know who would show up,” Burns acknowledged. “Lo and behold, it was probably the most well-attended meeting we had during the pandemic. Or ever. People still care about their communities. Everybody was like, I’m employed and I’m engaged and I want to help my community.”

Last year, M&T employees donated nearly $200,000 in the United Way workplace campaign. The bank is on target to hit that amount this year, too, Burns noted.

“It says a lot about the employees of M&T, that I’m very proud of, because they recognize it’s not just about being a bank. It’s about being a good community citizen, especially in times like these, and supporting a great organization like United Way.”

This crisis is unlike any before it, including the Great Recession that began in 2008, Saunders said.

“We know the workplace is different and we know the community needs us more than ever,” she said. “We will be forever changed and there are still a lot of unknowns. But what is known is we need to be coming together in bold ways to make sure that we get to the other side of this in a way that supports the entire community and all of our neighbors.”

One of those bold initiatives came the second weekend in March, when the pandemic caused a massive shutdown in Rochester and across the state.

“That weekend we reached out to our partners at the Rochester Area Community Foundation to say we need to create this opportunity to give and we know there are going to be needs that’ll be necessary for COVID response and critical needs that will need support that we can’t even anticipate,” Saunders recalled. “Over that weekend at the United Way we not only launched the Crisis Fund with the Community Foundation, United Way launched Volunteer United, which has had 4,000 volunteers in the last three months. We launched mask makers; home sewers donate 15,000 masks to our front line nonprofit staff. And we launched a PPE community supply chain to our nonprofits.”

Right out of the gate, ESL Charitable Foundation donated $1 million as part of its crisis response, in addition to multiple other foundations who have since raised more than $4.7 million.

“It wasn’t, help ‘my’ institution. It wasn’t help ‘my’ business or ‘my’ nonprofit. It was, how do we ensure the homebound 60-year-old population and up have prescription drugs and food? How do we make sure that kids who used to get free and reduced meals at school have them now that schools are closed? How do we ensure that pediatric patients get to the hospital for their well visits or their routine medical care they can’t postpone,” Saunders said of the fund and its benefactors. “The silver lining and bright spot is how when we’re focused we can really accomplish anything.”

But she notes an 11 percent unemployment rate here right now, and a moratorium on rent and mortgage and utility bills that will come due at the end of this month.

“The bills are going to come due,” she said. “So we are bracing ourselves for what we believe will be a significant rise in evictions locally. There are various models predicting anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 in August.”

Those predictions tell the underlying story behind this year’s United Way workplace campaign and the Crisis Fund, Saunders said.

“Without additional public supports, our community is going to undergo significant challenges as we grapple with housing, continue to grapple with emergency food and childcare. We are seeing families access basic needs who have never had to before,” she explained. “Just as the demand is going to increase so significantly, our nonprofit sector is being hollowed out with a decrease in public resources, a decrease in philanthropy that is being experienced during unsettling times. So the importance of supporting the United Way campaign, the importance of supporting not-for-profits in our community I cannot emphasize enough.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021 / @Velvet_Spicer