Written by Tom Eastman
CONWAY — Despite its relative remoteness, Mount Washington Valley is a great place to live and do business.
So said three local entrepreneurs, who were featured as part of a panel discussion at the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council's annual dinner and awards meeting Nov. 15 at the Red Jacket Mountain View in North Conway.
Picked for the post-dinner panel discussion hosted by Nancy Clark of The Glen Group were company founders Mike Laracy of Rapid Insight of the Mount Washington Valley Technology Center of Conway; Rob Nadler of Ragged Mountain Equipment of Intervale, and Matt Fusco of the Rugged Mill of North Conway Village.
Founded in Conway in April 2002 in the Technology Village, Laracy said Rapid Insight is a leading provider of business intelligence and automated predictive analytics software that simplifies the extraction and analysis of data. The company has 150 customers throughout the United States, according to Laracy, and has grown from being a one-man business to having 12 employees.
Laracy applauded the support of the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council, noting that the council gave him some early short-term loans.
"We've had incredible support," said Laracy, who conceived of the idea of his company while living in Boulder, Colo., before deciding to move to the valley to be closer to family. "Being here at the Technology Village has worked very well for us. We're here with other companies, able to share a professional space and shared resources and a conference room."
Ragged Mountain Equipment is a manufacturer of outdoor clothing, packs and equipment. Nadler and partner Cort Hansen founded the company in 1978. Nadler said the economic council has been supportive, and recently applauded Ragged's work with the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative to do an energy transformation that involves replacing its oil burners with multi-purpose, more efficient heat pumps that will serve as sources of heat and air conditioning and will also serve as dehumidifiers.
Nadler said Ragged also received a $25,000 loan from the economic council for energy efficiency, and a New Hampshire Electric Cooperative grant for more efficient lighting, with work on 200 new light bulbs to be installed beginning next week.
The Rugged Mill is an outdoor specialty retailer founded in June 2010 that features such quality apparel brands as Woolrich, Pendelton, Arborwear, Kuhl, Royal Robbins, Ibex and Dri Duck. It's located on Main Street, next to Badger Realty.
The three businesses combined employ nearly 40, according to MWCEC president Anthony Ruddy.
The Rugged Mill was able to obtain start-up money when Fusco and his wife Carissa founded their business in June 2010.
Originally from the Bronx, and a resident of the valley since sixth grade, Fusco had managed the Woolrich store at Settlers' Green Outlet Village Plus in North Conway for eight years. Given six-month advance notice that the store would be closing in May 2010, the Fuscos opted not to accept a company post in Pennsylvania, deciding instead to work on a business plan and to open their own store, selling Woolrich and other products.
It's been tough adapting to the ups and downs of the seasonal, tourism-dependent economy of the valley, and giving up such company benefits as health insurance, but Fusco said he and his wife are making a go of the challenge.
"We have had strong support from the economic council and the bank, as well as from the business relationships we had made here. You create a business plan, but then there are things such as the impact of Irene last year that you can't predict. We didn't realize he impact that Irene had on our business last year until this year came around. So, it keeps things interesting," said Fusco in a follow-up interview.
They had hoped to have been able to afford a part-time manager by this point, but he and his wife are still putting in the hours, all in addition to raising two young children.
The company received support from Northway Bank for a Small Business Association loan, and also was backed by the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council for a loan.
He also thanked the Technology Center-based SCORE chapter for its help.
At the forum at the Red Jacket, moderator Clark asked the panelists what advice they would give to others in the valley.
Nadler went first.
"Make sure," he said, "to start with some capital. Housing for workers is also an issue — ours have to commute from Brownfield or further. So that's a downside."
Asked why they chose to start a business in the valley, Nadler said, "It's a seasonal economy. I grew up in 'Corporate Connecticut,' and I wanted to get away from that."
Laracy said he wanted to be in a community that offered many of the same lifestyle and recreational opportunities that he had in Boulder. With his family living in the valley, it was an easy choice, he said.
He said his company is able to compete with computer giants such as IBM because of its nimbleness.
"We position ourselves as a user-friendly company that uses efficient software that allows us to access data very quickly," said Laracy. His company is able to predict probabilities for such customers as colleges that are trying to gauge just which applicants or donors will follow through with them.
"I think," he added, "that customers appreciate that we live here in the valley — our employees (most of them) ski and hike, and I think our customers appreciate that we're not some company based in a city."
Laracy and Nadler both said the valley's transportation infrastructure is not a factor for their business. As noted before, Fusco said the seasonal nature of the valley's business is a factor to be reckoned with for his tourism-dependent retail business.
During the evening's question-and-answer portion, council board member Ted Kramer asked all three if it was difficult to get qualified workers.
Laracy said his company was able to attract workers who had grown up here, moved away for college, and then moved back.
Said Nadler, "[The application cycle] comes and goes. Some days, we'll have 10 applicants and then the next week, none." He said the company trains employees.
As noted earlier, Fusco said he and Carissa are still putting in the hours and have not yet hired an assistant manager — but they are hoping to get to that point soon.
Asked by another member of the audience about their biggest challenge, Nadler said, "Access to capital."
Laracy answered, "[As a small, up-and-coming company], Getting credibility. But it's not something we can't overcome."
Fusco said, "Operating in a tough economy. We think that once the economy recovers they will open their wallets more."
Asked about the upside of working for themselves, Laracy said, "Yeah, the only one to tell me what to do now on a daily basis besides me are my wife and kids. But it's great to have vision and to work toward it." Agreed Nadler, "It's good to have a great idea and to work to fulfill it." Added Fusco, "The hours are long, and the challenges are great, but the upside is seeing your idea come to fruition."
All three agreed that health insurance is probably the biggest challenge they face, but none could venture as to what is the best solution.
Local Realtor Dick Badger of Badger Realty rose from the audience at the end of the forum to salute the trio for their sense of commitment and entrepreneurship.
"I'd like to congratulate you on your adventurous spirit that it takes to start a business with a gamble, doing it, and succeeding at it. I am glad you are doing business in Mount Washington Valley," said Badger, who is the landlord for the Rugged Mill. The audience applauded Badger's comments.
In the awards part of the evening, George Epstein of the Echo Group was named volunteer of the year. Said Epstein, who recently resigned from the board of the Memorial Hospital over its handling of a possible new subsidiary agreement with MaineHealth, "I encourage you to get involved and serve on boards in this community. When you do volunteer your time, you get back more than you give."
Pat Jones was named board member of the year.
Crawford receives Morrell award
Janice Crawford executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, was named this year's recipient of the Bob Morrell Award for civic entrepreneurship. Crawford was out of town, but was able to address the crowd through video cast, in which she thanked the council for the award.
"I have the best job in the state of New Hampshire," said Crawford during the broadcast, saying she was honored to receive the award, given the past recipients.
Accepting the award on her behalf was her daughter, chamber staffer Jamie Crawford.
"Growing up, there were many times when my mom could not be there for some of my events, because she had so many meetings. Now that I am living here and becoming a professional, it brings it all home. For my mother to get this award and to have her name spoken in the same breath as Bob Morrell makes it worth it," said Crawford.
Morrell committee member Chuck Henderson in his remarks said Crawford had exemplified the best virtues of civic leadership, growing the chamber from fewer than 250 members 15 years ago to more than 800 today.
Noting she could be alternatively charming and demanding when a task needed to be done, Henderson — a North Country staffer for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen — joked, "As [executive councilor] Ray Burton once said, 'When she comes calling with a request, you might as well as just do it — it's far easier that way.' "
The Bob Morrell Award recognizes the qualities and values which Morrell (1920-1998), the founder of Story Land and Heritage-New Hampshire, exemplified as a business and community leader.
"Janice embodies the very essence of entrepreneurial spirit, hard work, dedication, and follow through to make things happen, said Jac Cuddy, executive director of Mount Washington Valley Economic Council. "Her love of community and seeing businesses succeed has been the driving force to one of the state's most respected Chambers of Commerce. Janice's leadership has had a major impact on tourism in the Mount Washing Valley. I am very pleased that Janice is receiving the Mount Washing Valley Economic Council's Bob Morrell Award," finished Cuddy.
Past recipients of the Bob Morrell Award include the late Kay Reed and Betty Whitney, ski industry pioneers; The Gibson Center for Senior Services and the late Glenna Mori; Skip and Joan Sherman, community radio station operators and innovative cultural contributors; Epstein, founder of Echo Management Group; The Kennett High Key Club; Gail Paine, educational innovator; Bob Porter, civic and business leader; and the late Steve Eastman, co-founder of the Mountain Ear and community leader.
Other recipients include Bob Murphy, business and community leader; Wilma Lord and the late Mary-Ellen LaRoche of Visiting Nurse Services and Hospice Care; and Terry O'Brien, community business leader and owner/manager of the Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub; Dr. Waltz, co-founder of the Mount Washington Valley Children and Youth Project (now the Children's Health Center); and the Hoyt family of Purity Spring Resort/King Pine Ski Area.
For further information about the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council, call 447-6622.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 01:55
CONWAY — Rafferty's is hosting their second free Thanksgiving Day dinner this week at the restaurant in North Conway.
Rafferty's offers this complimentary dinner for anyone away from their families, those in need of a hot meal or
someplace to go on Thanksgiving, or whatever the circumstance may be.
All are welcome. People are welcome to bring their families, children, or just come by themselves. Call to reserve seats at (603) 356-6460.
The doors will be open from noon to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 22.
Rafferty's is located at 36 Kearsarge Street in North Conway Village.
Services would be gratefully accepted from anyone who would like to volunteer, donate and/or assist in making sure those less fortunate families in the community have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Call to donate time, offer something or to reserve your place at the table: (603) 356-6460.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 01:26
Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 01:55
EATON — For those of who haven't yet tried an Opera Dinner, there's a special one coming up on Thursday, Nov. 15. This month's presentation will be "I Do! I Do!" and features two Boston performers: mezzo-soprano Vanessa Schukis and pianist Scott Nicholas. Innkeeper and baritone, Tim Ostendorf, has created a line-up of traditional operas like September's "The Marriage of Figaro", alternating with classic musical theater, such as last month's sell-out "The Music Man." This month Ostendorf, Schukis and Nicholas will perform the entire two-character musical that chronicles the ups and downs of a 50-year marriage. "I Do! I Do!", with music by Harvey Schmidt and book and lyrics by Tom Jones, premiered on Broadway in 1966 starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston. Schmidt and Jones other long-running musical was the popular "The Fantasticks".
Schukis has had a multi-faceted career in both musical comedy and opera and last performed with Ostendorf in "A Little Night Music" with Boston's Publick Theater. She and Ostendorf also performed together with Longwood Opera and at Boston's historic Old North Church. Schukis has worked with, among others, Boston Lyric Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Opera Providence, Lyric Stage of Boston and Wheelock Family Theater.
Nicholas has appeared all over New England in solo and chamber performances. He has been heard on WGBH Boston, has performed with the Borromeo String Quartet, New England Chamber Ensemble and U.S. Air Force Wind Ensemble. His collaboration with Schukis on the cabaret show, "Weill-esque", has received rave reviews throughout the Boston area.
The uniqueness of these special evenings at the Inn, which Ostendorf started in 2005, has attracted attention from Boston Chronicle, The Boston Globe, New Hampshire Chronicle and was selected as "Best Opera at Dinner" in one of New Hampshire Magazine's "Best of NH" Award issues. Cost is $55 per person and includes a four-course meal, performance of "I Do! I Do!" and a glass of wine. Guests begin arriving around 6:30 p.m. and the dinner starts at 7 p.m. More information can be found on the inn's website: www.innatcrystallake.com/opera.html or by calling the inn at 447-2120.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 04:56
Written by Tom Eastman
CONWAY — You can't say that Crest Auto World isn't trying.
Bill Weiss and son Chris Weiss, Crest's general manager, appeared before the Conway Planning Board Thursday with engineer Josh McAllister of H.E. Bergeron for a third time with their revised plan for upgrades to the exterior and interior of the Eastman Road auto dealer's Chevrolet building. Crest also has a Chrysler building on the property.
McAllister explained that Crest is trying to make the upgrades to comply with the branding look that is being sought by Chevrolet at all of its dealerships nationwide.
McAllister said Crest's goal was for the board to rule that the proposed changes would not represent a significant change — were it to rule that the changes were significant, a full-site plan review of the "mostly non-conforming site" dating back to the opening of the dealership in 1976 would be required.
The board ultimately ruled by a vote of 4 to 1 that the proposed changes were not insignificant. Voting in the minority was selectmen's representative Mary Seavey. Voting in favor were chair Steve Porter, Steve Hartmann, Kevin Flanagan and Eric Porter.
The proposed changes outlined by McAllister include adding:
• a canopy in the parking lot for the display of vehicles;
• an entryway to the front of the building; and
• architectural materials to the front.
"We first came here with a plan to use aluminum composite material, which was outside the town's architectural guidelines for material. [Those guidelines] seek natural assimilated material," said McAllister. "So, we came back with a concrete material ... but that was denied for the same reasons."
At the board's Nov. 8 meeting, McAllister returned with a proposal to use wooden materials but to paint them to look like aluminum.
That would require more maintenance with new paint every five years or so, but McAllister said his client was willing to do that.
Prior to the vote that found that the proposed changes were not insignificant, Hartmann said he understood Crest's predicament, but said that corporate franchises should be more willing to work with the town.
"I personally don't think the town should sell itself out for a corporation," said Hartmann "I apologize if you feel you are in a tough spot. There are a lot of corporations [that adapt their styles]," said Hartmann, noting that McDonald's in many towns has changed its look to fit in with local standards.
Seavey said she felt the town ought to work with a longtime community partner such as Crest.
Responding to Hartmann, Seavey said, "I disagree. If it was one [a new] business coming in to town, I could see it, but this has been a business that has supported our community for many years and you're looking at a local business trying to conform with national corporate standards ... I would not support a new business coming here and putting those conditions on us, but this business has been here many years and they have supported the town through the ups and downs. I think we have to be open-minded to help them survive."
That led Porter to say, "With that thought process you would put the town in a precarious position."
Hartmann agreed, adding, "I think everyone on this board has expressed its support for Crest. We all want to see Crest succeed. They are a great asset to this community. But I still stand by that we are not going to let a corporation come here and set a precedent."
"I agree with what Steve just said," said Porter. "I have a lot of respect for Crest. But I think we would be selling the town short if we were going to do this for one individual ..."
"We do that all the time," said Seavey.
"We don't do that all the time, at least not this board. Maybe [boards did that] in the past," countered Porter.
Chris Weiss said his company plans to remain in business for a long time and that it will strive to continue to be a good community partner.
"We feel it would add value to Eastman Road. This is something we are looking to do to be compliant with Chevrolet. We have been here since 1976. If we have to add $200,000 to $300,000 to the cost of a project that becomes unappealing. My concern is that this is hindering our ability to be the asset to the town that we want to be," said Weiss.
Town planning director Tom Irving said that should the proposal require full-site plan review as a significant change, Crest could still request waivers.
The vote then took its 4-1 vote which ruled that it was not an insignificant change.
In other business at the Nov. 8 meeting, the board unanimously conditionally approved an eight-unit addition, garage and associated infrastrcture to the Golden Gables Inn in North Conway.
The board also okayed a request from Walmart representative John Sokul to continue to Dec. 13 its site-plan review for a proposed 52,994-square-foot expansion. Sokul said he planned to meet with selectmen to go over traffic plans Nov. 13 and would then prefer to meet with the planning board after receiving selectmen's input.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 04:48