Posts Tagged ‘Corning Inc.’

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the virtues of capitalism and the free market versus the perceived downsides of socialism. The free market is always put forth as some sort of beacon of purity that allows the market to determine which businesses fail or succeed.

Survival of the fittest. The perfect maxim for the view we take of ourselves as rugged individualists.

But the big boys, the huge corporate entities, don’t really practice this form of capitalism. No, it’s not really the free market if whenever there is a crisis– be it natural or self-inflicted or as in this case, a mix of he two– they always have a safety net to cushion the fall. Bailouts by the bushel and the sorts of extravagant handouts that would make a socialist blush keep the big boys afloat. Hardly a string attached and, in many cases, they don’t even have to touch the huge warchests of cash they have amassed in the past decade or so.

As it has been said, too big to fail. Hardly adhering to code of the free market.

As this crisis has once again shown, there is only one real free market in this country.

It’s right there on Main Street in every village and city in the country. Small merchants are the bravest people in the business world, operating in the real world in real time without safety nets of any sort. Added together, the numbers of true small businesses make up a huge chunk of our economy and are the businesses that most of us deal with more on a day to day basis than the big boys, either in dealing with them or in working for them.

But nobody is throwing big wads of cash at these people now or, in the limited cases where there is some relief, making it easy for them to access it. No, they are out on the line by themselves, along with their employees, acting like true free market warriors.

So, what I am asking you today is to make sure that you make an effort to support your local businesses at this time of crisis, when they are teetering on the brink. If you have the financial ability at this time, please help the little guys in your town by ordering some take out, buying gift cards or shopping their online sites. For some, especially the restaurants which employ tons of people and are especially hard hit, this is their only lifeline during this crisis.

In this region, for Corning’s Market Street/Gaffer District merchants, have a wonderful program currently operating called Buy Now, Shop, Later. If you go to their page by clicking here, you can access a menu of all the shop, restaurants and galleries in the Gaffer District that are offering gift cards. The money from your purchases of each gift card goes immediately to that merchant. And to make it even sweeter, Corning Enterprises, a subsidiary of Corning Inc dedictaed to nurturing local small businesses, is making a matching donation to each merchant during this crisis.

For example, if you buy a $50 gift card to the West End Gallery ( obviously a favorite of mine and one that you could says employs me) you would receive a $50 gift card to be used anytime, now (they have a website!) or later , and the West End would receive a payment of $100. That additional bump is an enormous help to any small business. especially those that run on a tight budget but are still serving the public and paying as many employees as possible.

In Alexandria, VA, where another favorite of mine, the Principle Gallery is located, a group representing the many great restaurants of that beautiful city, Alexandria Restaurant Partners, is offering gift cards to many of those restaurants. 50% of gift card sales will be donated directly to a dedicated employee relief fund. And as a special thank you for your support, all gift card purchases of $25 or more will receive a 20% bonus gift card that may be used for food or drink purchases at any ARP restaurant.

So, buy a $50 gift card and you’ll receive that $50 card, a $10 bonus card and $25 will go the relief fund for restaurant employees who have been affected by the many closures. You can access their site by clicking here.

This only highlights what you can do to help in two areas. But there are loads of great restaurants and shops in every area that are holding on right now and need and would greatly appreciate your help, if you have the ability to spend a few dollars now.

Think of it as a bet or, better yet, an investment. By doing this small and simple thing, buying a few gift cards, you are showing faith that they ( and you!) will still be there on Main Street (or Market Street or King Street) with open doors and smiling faces when this damn thing passes.

Now, that’s free market thinking.


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Painting of Old Centerway Bridge by Marty Poole

At yesterday’s memorial service for Tom Buechner, former congressman and head of Corning, Inc Amory Houghton was one of the speakers who stood before the large crowd under the spectacular Tiffany stained-glass windows of  the Christ Episcopal Church in Corning and told stories about the man.  At one point, Houghton said that  while Tom was a brilliant man (he had , after all, been chosen by the Houghtons to start the Corning Museum of Glass in 1950 at the tender age of 23) he sometimes came up with “nutty ideas“.  He then cited the stained glass bridge that I mentioned in yesterday’s post as an example, almost harumphing as he finished as if to say, “How crazy is that?”

Cheri and I exchanged sideways glances and to the crowd’s credit, very few seemed to share the humor Amo seemed to find in it. 
Nutty idea“?
Big? Yes.   Risky?  Sure.  Difficult?  Of course. Expensive?  Positively.  Impractical?  Maybe…
But at the same time, it is an idea that is forward-thinking on a grand scale, filled with the possibility of returns for the community and company that dwarf the initial risk.  Visionary, yes.  Nutty? Hardly.
And therein sits the division between those who see possibility and those who see impossibility.  It’s a very narrow chasm often leaving two people seemingly standing next to one another, close enough to touch.  But between them is a gaping ravine deep enough to deter crossing.  The believer in possibility stands on one side and tries to convince the denier of possibility that all he must do is to dare to lift his foot and simply step across to the other side.  Though not so far away, the view is so much different from this side! 
Maybe this difference of views is the same that separates us all.  Deep chasms we dare not cross, formed by our fears and the thoughts of what can’t be done rather than what can.  I read an interesting editorial the other day where the writer talked about this moment in time in our country versus the time after World War II.  At that time, our national debt was 120% of our GDP as opposed to the nearly 90% now.  The highest income tax rates hovered at 90%, shockingly higher than today.  Unemployment was soaring as the masses of troops returned to the civilian ranks.  We were staggering and teetering after a decade of the Great Depression and a costly war.  Yet, as the writer of the editorial  pointed out,  there was a positivism then that is virtually absent now.  We had persevered the worst in the Depression and came out victorious in the War and we had come out the other side with an atitude that we could get anything done if we set our will to it.  We embarked on two huge and costly efforts despite staggering costs-  the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe and the GI Bill that rewarded our troops for their selfless sacrifice with  a chance at a higher education and low-cost housing, one of the largest entitlement programs in our history and one that set the table for the growth of the middle class in the 1950’s.
Today, that positivism is nowhere to be found in the general populace.  Gone is the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.   We have become afraid to move forward, preferring to stand in the present and not step across the chasm of possibility to a future that moves forward.  We have fallen prey to fear and negativity and nothing good, absolutely nothing, can come of this attitude.
So, maybe hearing “nutty idea” spoke to more than a little museum on a little  bridge in a little city in a rural county in upstate New York for me.  Maybe it spoke to the symptoms  and causes of what ails us as a nation– the differing viewpoints of those who look on the same thing and see two vastly different versions.  A chasm between possibility and impossibility.

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Yesterday, I received this photo in an e-mail from my friend, Bill Boland.  It’s a picture he snapped at 8 AM on Tuesday morning of the the steam whistle blowing for the last time at the south side location of the old Corning Glass Works plant in Corning, NY.  For over a hundred years, this whistle has bellowed out over this small city eight times a day, signaling the workers to the different times in the work day.  It was a sound that was part of the background of your life if you lived in any of the many factory towns throughout this country.

Corning has very much been a company town for the last century, and as Corning Glass Works grew so did the local workforce.  But the company, like any big company, evolved.  Corning Glass Works became Corning Inc and  they became part of the global community of high tech firms, opening plants and offices all over the world.

But with this change came the end of most of the local manufacturing, most of it moved to foreign shores.  Gone were many of the blue-collar jobs that supported the community for a century.  It’s a familiar story throughout the country.  The local company that anchors a community becomes larger and eventually finds greener pastures for their factories overseas or across borders, leaving behind a large portion of the locals to scramble  to find new jobs in this new global economy.

To be fair, Corning Inc  still dominates Corning  and has worked hard to uphold its paternal responsibility in the area.  It is still the largest employer in the area and still is responsible for much of the business that flows through all other local businesses.  It invests a  lot of effort in supporting this area and in keeping Corning a vibrant little city that is a fitting home for the headquarters of a global corporation.

But there’s something bittersweet in the last blast of this whistle that has sounded its shrill call over this city for over a century.  It has the feel of a symbolic end to an era that many people in this country remember with fond nostalgia,  especially those who are struggling to find a way to survive and prosper in a new globalized economy.

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1998In January of 1998, I was still working as a waiter in a Perkins Restaurant, at the same time painting and showing  my work in three galleries.  I was still unsure as to whether I should make the jump to going full-time as a painter.  Oh, the work was well received and nearly everything I was painting sold but I was never convinced that it was anything more than a temporary whim of the public.  Something that would soon fade.  

So I delayed going full-time.

One day while waiting, a single man sat in my station.  I recognized him as someone who I had waited on a number of times with his family.  It was lunch rush and my station was full so I was dashing around.  I stopped and quickly asked if I could get him something to drink.

“I didn’t come here to eat.  I came to buy paintings.”

I looked at him and my mind was blank.  I wasn’t excited.  Actually, I was a little irked.  I was busy as hell and this guy wanted to talk.  I always sort of prided myself in giving 100% to whatever job I had at the moment, even something that might be considered menial.  Hastily, I told him that this was not the time or place for such a conversation and we agreed to meet later that day at the West End Gallery in Corning.

We met and it turned out that he was a designer/ project manager for Corning, Inc.  He knew me from my waiting on his  family and was always impressed by my service as a waiter.  He said I reminded him of waiters he knew in  Venice who treated waiting as an honored profession and would wait their entire lives.  Because of this favorable impression, when he learned a couple of years before that I was showing my work at the West End, he started to follow the work.  He said he loved the way I worked with color and the personal style of my work.

With this in mind, he was now in the middle of a project, building a new photonics research facility in New Jersey for Corning.  The project was nearing completion and he stunned me when he said he had used my work as the basis for the color scheme of the building.  Now he needed some paintings for some key spots and he thought that my work would only be fitting.  Five or six larger pieces.  And he needed them in about six weeks.  Could I help him?

Instantly my head was reeling with questions on how I could do this.  You see, my work up to that point was very small, generally little things in the 4″ X 6″ or 9″ X 12″ range with a few going up to the 18″ x 24″ range.  I had taught myself a technique that worked really well in small blocks but wasn’t sure if I could translate it to a much larger piece.  And where would I paint?  I had started building my studio but it was nowhere near ready.  I was painting on a folding table in our kitchen/dining area.  How could I do this in the time frame he was giving me?  Was I ready for this?

“Sure,” I said.  “No problem.”  Inside, I wasn’t so positive.1998

I took time off from my job at Perkins and set up on my little folding table.  Since I was only adept at painting small blocks of color, I devised my paintings to be larger paintings comprised of smaller building blocks.  It allowed me to maintain my technique.  I struggled for a few weeks but somehow the pieces came around.  I used acrylic inks, acrylic paint, oil paints, chalk and pastels- whatever fit the need of the moment.  As the deadline approached I finally began to believe that I could do this.

At the end, I delivered five paintings.  Two large single pieces and a large triptych for the boardroom.  They were happy and I was very pleased and exhilarated by the whole experience.  It had given me an opportunity to paint on a much larger scale, to expand my work.  My confidence grew in my ability to create work that was beyond the temporary whim I mentioned earlier.  I could do this.

Within a few months I was painting full-time.  All the fears I had allowed to keep me from doing this were swept aside.  That was eleven years ago and seems like a hundred.

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