At Your Service: Jan. 27, 2010

Perhaps the thing I love most about the Catskill Best Service Awards is that it gives me the opportunity (excuse) to talk at length to area business people about their businesses. This year I went one step further and also had random conversations with customers about their experiences. What I heard challenged many of my beliefs about the condition of our local economy and businesses.
I was not surprised to discover that those businesses that have established a reputation for excellent service are not suffering from the effects of the economy as much as businesses less distinguished for their service. These troubled times have caused customers to pay closer attention to what they get for their dollar and quality service keeps creeping higher on the must-have list.
What did surprise me was the realization that most of our area businesses, contrary to the trend toward demise in the rest of the country, are in better condition than they expected to be. No one has been the victim of massive job layoffs; there were no massive payrolls, so the “unemployment” rate is about the same as it has been for the last several years. There are just as many people scrambling to make ends meet by working three and four different jobs today as there were 10 years ago. For every Main Street business that has opened and closed, there is another daring soul willing to try out a new, different and sometimes smarter or more appropriate idea. Our long-standing businesses continue to thrive because their owners are working harder at working smarter.
In its own quirky way, our local economy is immune to the disease that has swept up the rest of the country and world. While the rest of the world was going along believing that things were great, despite indications to the contrary (jobs moving overseas, a growing dependency on foreign fuel sources, greed replacing common sense in many financial markets, etc.), people here have been living in the realization that no one else was going to do “it” for us. When the world economy caught the swine flu, we had been working against the odds (i.e., dairy farming woes, a changing tourism industry, watershed regulations) for so long that we were virtually immune to its effects.
Even more importantly, our local business owners were paying attention to what their customers were saying and cutting costs with greater precision while increasing the quality of their goods and services. When I began writing this column, it was easy to find examples of horrific service; today the differences are between good and great and bad is the exception. Where once everyone had a story about an egregious error of judgment or lapse of courtesy, I more often hear tales of how so-and-so went out of his or her way to be helpful or do the right thing.
Having placed my finger on the economic pulse of this community, I find a strong steady beat.
We continue to face challenges unique to our relative isolation, particularly around technology issues; but, we are also positioned to learn from the mistakes of others. Our tweens and teens are not among those tied eight hours a day to their cell phones; yet their learning is facilitated by Internet and remote learning programs. Many of our business people are still missing out on the increased efficiencies available through computer business applications and Internet marketing opportunities.
Having heard the national media’s evaluation of where the economy stands, it is refreshing to realize that, as usual, our local economy is neither included in nor subject to their assessment. The future of this region is where it has always been, in the hands of those who live here. Local voices tell me that our steady beat will move us through whatever challenges come as we continue on the path to health.
Congratulations to everyone nominated for Catskill Best Service Awards!!