POTSDAM — Businesses across St. Lawrence County are finding difficulty facing the challenges posed by the rapidly changing economic climate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last few weeks have been a blur for Patrick J. Kelly, the executive director of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. He said the IDA has been reaching out to dozens of companies in that time, making sure they are aware of all the local, state and federal resources available to them to inform them, help them and for the IDA to stay connected with them.
“As the economy is dramatically slowing, we’re working with our base of employers in the county because, as this develops, there’s going to have to be ways that we respond locally, coordinating, not just what programs we have to offer, but also the resources that are going to become available from the state and from the federal government,” Mr. Kelly said.
As the programs become available, Mr. Kelly said the IDA will be trying to keep up to make sure that the agency remains a central resource “to maximize the return and benefit to the employers in St. Lawrence County.”
“Two weeks ago it was, ‘What is the impact the economy, virtually stopping, is going to have on business and industries?’” he said. “There’s the immediacy of what happens right now as we are in a complete period of the unknown, and it is very difficult for anybody to answer that. Nobody has ever dealt with this kind of circumstance before.”
Mr. Kelly said that the issues went from businesses initially being concerned with what would happen if sales plummet to being compounded by how to manage their work force and operation when told to either cut down their workforce or close their doors.
He said there are businesses in the county that are still functioning due to the nature of the products that they make, such as aluminum, defense contractors, companies that are servicing the essential industries, that are either part of the essential industries or are serving the essential industries.
But there are also the businesses that are retooling their operations to find opportunities in these times of uncertainty.
Sandy R. Maine, owner of Adirondack Fragrance Farm, 1551 State Highway 72, has gone from production of her essential oil products like handmade soaps, candles, and other natural home-keeping products to filling a void in the retail industry.
Mrs. Maine said her business, which has been operated uninterrupted for 40 years, has had trade shows canceled and customers canceling orders amidst the pandemic panic and, within two weeks, the money stopped coming in.
But Mrs. Maine found opportunity in this time of strife during a delivery to Nature’s Storehouse in Canton when she was told that it had sold out of hand sanitizer and was asked if she could make any.
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, actually I can,’” she told the Times Monday, her voice uplifted. “I’ve made it before, and I know I have a formula. I had all the stuff needed to make it in our inventory of raw materials, so it took me about a couple of days to finalize the formula.”
She said Mr. Kelly reached out to her to see if she needed anything during this time, and he assisted her in finding the website where she had to submit her information to the state to become a vendor and helped her to make sure she was in compliance with state law in her production.
“I really appreciated that, Mrs. Maine said. “They made me feel like there was somebody there for me and Patrick has been great.”
In less than a week Mrs. Maine had a line of COVID-19 Care Products which includes soap, hand sanitizer and hand balm.
And although her factory outlet and gift shop is currently closed to comply with social distancing to combat the contagion, her new COVID-19 Care Products are available at Nature’s Storehouse at 21 Main St., Canton, the Potsdam Food Co-Op at 24 Elm St., Maple Run Emporium at 49 Market St. and Agway at 14 Pine St., and can be ordered at her website and through social media sites.
“It has given us enough business to limp along,” she said. “We did lay off over half of our people and we have two people working, plus me. So we’re still open, and we’re still making payroll, and hopefully we are providing a service to the community by getting hand sanitizer out there.”
Mr. Kelly said while Mrs. Maine was a good example of somebody who is shifting the product mix in order to be responsive, it’s a challenging time for the retail and services industry.
“The civil industries are obviously very important to keep our society moving, and I think those are obvious roles of importance right now, but don’t overlook the people stocking shelves, filling prescriptions, working at gas stations and hardware stores,” he said. “Industries and the work force are trying to understand the impacts of the various proactive directives that are coming out to try to keep people away from each other and to stop the spread of COVID-19 while trying to function in a world that still needs certain products manufactured.”