MARYLAND – Wayne Lee Allen, Sr., 76, passed away early Thursday morning, December 29, 2022, at his home in the Town of Milford.
He was born February 7, 1946, in Bainbridge to the late Arthur W. and Marian Elizabeth (Williams) Allen.
In his youth, he attended schools in Mount Vision and Laurens Central School and lived and worked on the family farm in Laurens and later at several local farms. Then for 25 years he worked at Custom Electronics and The Daily Star for over ten years as a delivery driver.
ONEONTA – Duane “Dee” A. Hathaway, 82, passed away, Saturday, October 29, 2022. Our lives are forever changed.
He was born on May 3, 1940 in Binghamton, New York, the son of Margaret (Major) and Harold Hathaway. He attended Bugbee School and Oneonta Junior and Senior High Schools. He went on to graduate from Broome Tech with an engineering degree and began his career working for Amphenol Aerospace then spent the remainder of his career at Custom Electronics in Oneonta until his retirement.
Dee, as he was known to most of those that knew him, was the life of the party and liked to raise hell. He was sarcastic, had a quick wit and would tell you like it was. He was a friend to many and dearly loved by them all. If Dee was your friend, he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. If you knew him, you knew that’s who he was.
Michael A. Bettiol, 64, of Binghamton, NY, and originally from Oneonta, NY, passed away peacefully at Wilson Memorial Hospital in Johnson City, NY, on Sunday, August 8, 2021, due to unexpected complications from a very courageous, 5 year battle with metastatic colon cancer.
Mike was born in Sidney, NY on June 6, 1957, moving to Oneonta, NY at an early age.
He graduated from Oneonta High School, Class of 1975.
He worked at Custom Electronics and Medi-Coach in Oneonta before starting his dream job as a locomotive engineer with several northeast railroads.
Mike had a lifelong love of railroads, and was a founding member of the Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society in 1982, and served in several positions, including the organization’s 2nd president. Mike was also a local representative to the National Railway Historical Society, and served in several posts at the National level. He traveled extensively across America, most notably with good friends Millie & Bruce Hodges, in pursuit of new railroad adventures, and was an avid photographer of all things railroad.
A year ago, in collaboration with BriteShot, a TV and movie-industry lighting company in New York City, Custom Electronics was packaging its stand-alone lithium-ion battery packs to illuminate “Blue Bloods,” “Law & Order” and other hit TV shows.
The product, called The Luminator, made the future look particularly bright for Custom Electronics and its President/CEO Michael Pentaris.
Then coronavirus arrived, and most TV and movie production came to a standstill. But Pentaris’ Custom Electronics didn’t, instead pivoting to the new challenge.
Today, the collaboration with BriteShot is about to launch AirAffair, a product that uses lithium-ion batteries to power an apparatus that can scrub any enclosed space – from a movie set to a restaurant to an office – clean of the COVID-19 virus.
This year’s Otsego County Chamber of Commerce awards, due to be delivered via Zoom Thursday, Nov. 12, are dedicated to “The Entrepreneurial Spirit,” and Custom Electronics is receiving NBT Bank’s Distinguished Business of the Year Award.
Pentaris, a Horatio Alger figure, exemplifies that spirit. Raised in poverty in Lacarna, Cyprus, he received a scholarship to the American Academy there, and later won a scholarship to Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky.
There he met his future wife, Therese, and followed her back to her native Binghamton, where he earned a SUNY Binghamton MBA, and joined Graham Labs in Hobart. (The Pentarises raised five children in Oneonta.)
After participating in Graham’s stabilization and sale to Mallinckrodt, he stayed through its absorption by Tyco, then joined Custom Electronics, and by 2009 was president of the company and of a start-up, Ioxus.
The company’s shift in prime focus from The Luminator isn’t the only product Custom Electronics had added to its portfolio in a time of challenge. They are partnering with:
• GridEdge, whose product monitors the inflow of power from solar or wind systems into the regular grid. Based in Westford, Mass., its production is being done at the West Oneonta plant.
• BeTerrific Tech, whose product allows images to be projected from curved surfaces. An initial customer is the Museum of Mormon History in Utah, which finds the display helpful in leading visitors through timelines, to the University of Nebraska, where a display helps capture the movement of a football pass.
Custom Electronics continues to serve its original purpose when Peter S. Dokuchitz, engineer and former assemblyman from Oneonta, founded the company in 1964: Making machine parts that can no longer be bought off the shelf.
But the plant on Browne Street also manufactures high-tech products on behalf of Brite Spot, GridEdge and similar companies. Ideas are one thing, but “manufacturing is expensive,” said Pentaris.
Custom Electronics’ assembly lines help bridge the gap between the idea and the sale, and splits the profits with its partner companies.
For instance, last year Custom Electronics was creating solar-power lithium-battery packages that, for the first time, would bring electricity to remote villages in Mexico.
Once coronavirus arrived, contacts in the Mexican government stopped calling back. So Custom
Electronics in now in similar conversations with the government of Australia.
By the way, all 85 employees have stayed on the job throughout the uncertainty of the last eight months. No layoffs.
Friday, Nov. 6, Pentaris was hosting two BriteShot co-founders, Roy McDonald, vice president/product development, and Irene Conrad, rentals and sales manager.
During the interview, AirAffair’s McDonald and Conrad returned from the company’s Winney Hill site, where they were producing a demonstration video of the new product.
First, he explained, air entering the AirAffairs apparatus runs through a MERV-rated filter, fine enough to remove viruses and smaller bacteria. Then, in the machine’s chamber, it is treated to ultra-violet lights that kills viruses that made it through the filter.
Finally, the air moving out back into the room is treated so that it will interact and kill any particles still in the room.
“You have to adjust,” said Pentaris. “Markets are dynamic. Things change. I can change.”
By May 18, Greg Ward hopes that Burt Rigid Box in the Town of Oneonta can bring its 44
employees back to work.
“We’re in the process of putting plans in place,” said Ward, the plant’s operations manager. “We’ve got a crew in there deep cleaning now, and we’re constructing Plexiglas barriers for when people can’t exercise social distancing.”
During his daily briefing Sunday, April 26, Governor Cuomo announced Upstate construction firms and factories can “un-PAUSE” on May 15 in three of the state’s economic development regions, including the Mohawk Valley, which includes Otsego County.
For a region to reopen, hospitals need to be operating at less than 70 percent capacity, and infection rates must be declining below 1.1 percent 14 days in a row.
In the meantime, the governor said, businesses should prepare plans, using social distancing, masks and other measures to ensure their employees can work safely.
“Essential services” not open now and businesses that don’t present a high risk of COVID-19 infections will follow.
The plan was endorsed by county leaders.
“I think that’s a positive,” said the county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego. “Obviously we have to go slow and careful. We’re not going to open things right up.”
“We need to open it as soon as possible, but it has to be done safely,” said County Treasurer Alan Ruffles, who chairs the county’s Coronavirus Task Force.
State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, said the governor is on the right track, adding, “Let’s hope our numbers continue to go down. That will expedite the day when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
In Otsego County, some manufacturing plants remained opened as essential businesses.
“Places like Corning and Custom Electronics moved to three shifts in order to facilitate social distancing,” said Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky. “But with construction re-opening, that’s very good news. Having those big projects reopen” – the new Hampton Inn in Hartwick Seminary, for example – “will be a real boon to the economy.”
Eastman Associates, the Oneonta construction firm, has also been labeled as an essential workforce, working on three wastewater treatment projects.
Still, “we closed for a week early on to go over state requirements,” said President Michelle Eastman. “Everyone wears masks, and instead of driving to the site in a shared vehicle, they drive separately.”
The break room has also been closed, and workers are asked to eat lunch or take breaks in their cars. Increased access to hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer have been added on site, and where social distancing cannot be exercised, N-95 masks are used.
But for those that did close, Cuomo pressed that they need to have a business plan in place before they could resume business as usual.
“What precautions do you want those businesses to institute when they start?” said Cuomo. “How do you do social distancing, how do you do monitoring, are you going to take the temperature of people who walk in the door?”
For Ward, that means rotating workers so fewer people are on the floor at a time. “We’ll be implementing a work share program,” he said. “Our workers will work 60 percent of the time, but still be eligible to file for unemployment for the remaining 40 percent.”
Workers will also be outfitted with masks and other protective gear.
ONEONTA – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, will be the Otsego County Chamber’s Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen of 2020, and Custom Electronics the NBT Bank Distinguished Business Of The Year, the chamber announced this afternoon.
Seward and the high-tech battery company will be toasted Thursday, May 7, in the Foothills Atrium, beginning with a cocktail hour at 5:45 p.m.
Custom Electronics President/CEO Michael Pentaris has two degrees – a bachelor’s in accounting and an MBA – from SUNY Binghamton.
“But I’m not sold on that,” he acknowledged the other day during a tour of the company’s Browne Street plant in the Town of Oneonta. “I’m looking for people with ambition.”
He was accompanied on the tour by Jim Sloan, one of his key lieutenants, an Oneonta High School graduate who joined the company 31 years ago and worked his way up through the ranks.
Custom Electronics, founded in 1963 by Peter S. Dokuchitz, the future assemblyman, is on the move into the future. A $750,000 state grant received in October 2018 fueled a $2.2 million expansion plan, according to Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky.
The company has already expanded by 75 jobs, and is aiming to hire another 50, according to Zakrevsky.
Any bright high-school or college grad – perhaps with code-writing skills, but certainly with curiosity – should consider a look at Custom Electronics, Pentaris said.
The first six months, you’ll be working on the assembly line, probably soldering, “to get into the flow,” he said. Then there’s assembling power boards, building battery packs, coding and testing, testing, testing to ensure dependability before products leave the plant.
“You let people expand their natural talents to where they want to go,” the CEO said of his hiring strategy. “We don’t need workers. We need workers who can become leaders.”
Everyone’s future these days is tied to renewable energy, and Custom Electronics is focused on
a key component – long-lasting lithium-ion batteries.
Generally, electricity is generated and used or lost. But lights must shine at night, when no solar energy can be generated. And, this time of year, homes must be heated during the day, whether winds turn windmills or not.
The company’s Power & Energy Division is already providing portable lithium-ion power packs – the brand name: Briteshot – that allow lights and cameras to operate in remote locations – and even on the streets of Manhattan.
With Briteshot, there’s no need to run electrical lines to the scene, or for on-site gasoline-powered generators, which New York City is in the process of prohibiting.
Pentaris didn’t want to mention any TV show by name, but did say a certain long-running police and courtroom drama filmed on NYC streets – yes, that one – is powered by packs assembled on Browne Street.
The company hired 39 people in December for Briteshot alone.
Freeing customers from the interruptible grid, Custom Electronics’ batteries are finding new uses. For instance, its batteries eliminate split-second losses of power that can allow hackers to breach bank customers’ personal data.
Other companies sell systems; Custom Electronics “provides solution,” said Pentaris.
Custom Electronics is also providing drones for civil and military use, upgrading HVAC systems – and is talking with the government of Mexico about batteries to electrify remote villages for the first time.
“It’s a big country,” said the executive, when asked about the possibilities there.
Custom Electronics is collaborating with companies in Massachusetts, Connecticut and, most recently, Las Vegas, which may lead to their relocating here.
There is some urgency to hire people. “If (all this innovation) is gradual,” said Pentaris, “we’ll be OK. If it’s sudden, that’s where the problem will be.”
Regardless, Pentaris is confident. “No one’s cornered the market on original thought,” he said.
Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing
‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.
Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.
Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.
Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!
ONEONTA – The State of New York has approved a $750,000 grant to help Custom Electronics manufacture a new product line of smart batteries for use in disaster recovery, hospitals and the entertainment field, Otsego Now announced today.
The total project cost is $2.2 million, and is expected to create 50 jobs at the plant at 87 Browne St., Town of Oneonta.
ONEONTA – U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, will be visiting Custom Electronics at 1:30 tomorrow to tour the facility and discuss expansion plans with President/CEO Michael Pentaris, Otsego Now CEO Jody Zackrevsky, and Otsego County Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Ann Heegan.
With the Democratic primary June 26, Faso will be facing Rhinebeck lawyer Antonio Delgado in the Nov. 6 general election.