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Surviving the silver tsunami … in small business

Conference to help entrepreneurs take over for retiring business owners

The Beller family — parents Jon and Taren Beller and sons Owen, Ty and Dax — took over Tug Hill Vineyards in Lowville starting in January after the retirement of the original owners, Michael and Susan Maring. (Photo provided)

SARANAC LAKE — As part of the Baby Boomer aging phenomenon dubbed the “silver tsunami,” thousands of small business owners are ready to retire in the North Country.

Regional planners say that could have a devastating effect on the economy. If only someone could match entrepreneurs with these soon-to-be retirees to keep their businesses going — satisfying customers, offering jobs and supporting communities.

There is such a program. Two years ago, the Adirondack North Country Association, based in Saranac Lake, officially launched the North Country Center for Businesses in Transition, led by Dani Delaini. Now, as the CBIT heads into its third year, it is offering a virtual conference Feb. 24 to 27 to help entrepreneurs find those small business owners who want to keep their doors open after retirement.

It’s called “Small Communities. Big Opportunities: Own a North Country Business.”

“The Center for Businesses in Transition came about as a need that was identified through an economic analysis that we have so many folks who own small businesses throughout our 14-county North Country Region who are of retirement or soon-to-be retirement age,” Delaini said on Feb. 2.

From that analysis, ANCA officials identified between 10,000 and 16,000 small business owners across the region who may be thinking about succession planning within a couple of years. Then they took action. In early 2018, a grant from the Northern Regional Border Commission helped them launch the CBIT to address the loss of local businesses by providing matchmaking services with potential buyers, access to planning tools and connection with existing services.

The CBIT created a regional network of economic development partners and community leaders who were interested in helping with the program. The partners include the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation, ANCA, state Adirondack Park Agency economic services, Essex County Industrial Development Agency, Franklin County Economic Development, Hamilton County Economic Development, Lewis County Economic Development, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College, Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce and Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

This year, the center is expanding to support aspiring entrepreneurs who want to buy an existing business somewhere in the counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Oswego, Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Warren and Washington.

The “Small Communities. Big Opportunities” conference will support that effort.

“The goal is to provide a space for entrepreneurs to explore opportunities in the region, while providing tools and resources to help them realize their dreams,” said Angela Smith, assistant director of SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center and a lead partner with CBIT, in a press release.

The conference begins on Wednesday, Feb. 24 with a noon keynote address by the new owners of Tug Hill Vineyards in Lowville, Jon and Taren Beller, who took over the business from Michael and Susan Maring in January.

“They have just gone through this transition process themselves, and we’re excited to have them talk about their experience, what it’s like to take over a small business in the North Country,” Delaini said. “What’s that look like in real life? It’s one thing to say, ‘Oh, this is what it could be like,’ It’s another when you get to talk to somebody who has really done it.”

At 4 p.m., there is a program titled, Presenting Yourself as a Viable Successor: What can you learn from a Professional Recruiter about making a good first impression with a business owner? And from 5 to 7 p.m., there will be Speed Networking with Retiring Business Owners.

The programs on Feb. 25 begin at noon with Big Opportunities: Big Move. Relocating to the North Country. Diversity and Entrepreneurship in the North Country will be at 4 p.m., with Financial & Tax Considerations when Buying a Business at 5 p.m.

On Feb. 26, the second part of Big Opportunities. Big Move will focus on people who have already made the journey to the North Country to run a business. At 4 p.m., there will be a program titled, Obtaining Financing to Purchase an Existing Business.

The conference wraps up at 10 a.m. Feb. 27 with a BYOB (bring your own brunch) at everyone’s own computer for a “What’s Next?” program to help people plan their next steps.

The conference is not only interested in helping entrepreneurs who have identified the type of business they’d like to buy or start up; it will also help entrepreneurs explore opportunities they may not have considered.

“For folks who sort of have that entrepreneurial spirit,” Delaini said, “often times they’re really open to lots of different ideas or different paths and are just excited about the opportunity to be able to take over a business that’s not starting from scratch, that has a proven track record, where they can see if it’s viable in making money over the long term.”

Participants may choose to attend the entire conference or only the sessions that interest them. Registration is free of charge and open at https://www.northcountryopportunities.com/.