News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


The Job Scene

Help Custom Electronics Power The Future

Help Custom Electronics

Power The Future

Custom Electronics President/CEO Michael Pentaris, left, and veteran supervisor Jim Sloan discuss a Briteshot lighting
system destined to illuminate a movie or TV show set. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to


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.

Big Job At Bassett: Keeping Many Jobs Full

Big Job At Bassett:

Keeping Many Jobs Full

The sign on Melanie Craig’s desk says it all. She is human resources & employee relations director for the Bassett Healthcare Network. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – The sign on Melanie Craig’s desk reads, “I AM THE PATIENT.”

Over a year, Craig, the Bassett Healthcare Network’s director of human resources and employee relations, will tell you, she and her staff – five recruiters and two employment assistants – are seeking to fill 250-300 jobs, full and part-time, not counting doctors.

Even with that hiring challenge, it’s still competitive. Last year, 10,000 people applied for non-physician jobs through Craig’s office, which recruits for Bassett Hospital, the 19 school-based health centers, and 31 regional primary health centers, from Walton to Newport.

This doesn’t include hiring doctors, handled by a Medical Staff Recruitment Team, under Debra Ferrari. The other full-service hospitals, including Fox in Oneonta, also do their non-physician hiring.

There are 2,855 employees in and around the Cooperstown hospital. In the eight counties, the total employment is 3,835.

With that many jobs, and that many vacancies, and that many applications, how do Craig and her five recruiters and two administrative assistants avoid getting buried?

Remember the sign on her desk. They stay focused.

“We value experience,” Craig said, “and what we feel is going to bring the best value to our patients.”
Craig’s team, she said, is continuously looking to fill openings in a half-dozen categories: nurses, clerical workers, food service workers, maintenance workers, and “allied health positions,” such as radiation technicians and pharmacists.

The jobs require the whole range of qualifications. On the one hand, housekeeping jobs may not require a high-school diploma; on the other, some nursing positions require an R.N. with a master’s degree.

“It’s harder to recruit,” Craig said, echoing – with a 3.9 percent local unemployment rate – what all other employers interviewed for THE JOB SCENE said. “We’re not seeing the volume of candidates we want to see.”

This requires flexibility.

In one recent case, a manager had passed over a resumé. But the recruiter met the
applicant and communicated back to the manager, “I really think you want to meet with this person,” who was then hired.

“Just because they are applying for one position, that’s not the one position we are considering them for,” Craig added.

Craig’s department has also developed “stronger partnerships” with high schools, “from here to
Dolgeville, Franklin, and everywhere in between,” to make young people aware of the opportunities.

A new component in Bassett hiring strategy, not under Craig’s wing, is international recruitment, from the Middle East, the Philippines, Canada and Trinidad. “That’s huge,” she said.

Once hired, there’s also flexibility. A new hire is required to stay in that first job six months before – having gotten acclimated to the hospital and opportunities – making a request for transfer.

“We encourage that,” said Craig, who pointed out that her boss, Sara Albright, vice president/human resources, is a case in point how that can work out.

Albright joined Bassett’s billing department 28 years ago, when her husband Matt enrolled at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, and moved up the ladder.

So has Craig, who went from CCS to Purdue, where she majored in business, then joined Marriott Vacation Club in Hilton Head, N.C. She and husband Tom returned to Otsego County 19 years ago,
joined Bassett HR 17 years ago. The couple has two children, Hannah, 14, and Dylan, 10.

THE JOB SCENE: 5 Believe They Have Found Careers Of Their Dreams In Otsego County


They Love Their Jobs

5 Believe They Have Found Careers

Of Their Dreams In Otsego County

Profiles by LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Springbrook Assistant Manager

A high-five, Kristen Quigly recognizes, can change someone’s whole day around.

“I love that, with the people I work with, it doesn’t matter if they’ve had a good day or a bad day, you can make that day better with a high-five, some music or even a favorite sensory toy,” said Quigly, the Assistant Manager, Springbrook Swart Hollow Home.

As the assistant manager, she is responsible for coordinating staff, meal planning and shopping, cooking, scheduling medications, and organizing outings for seven adults with developmental disabilities.

Quigly came to Springbrook eight years ago, when she was still at Unatego high school, working at a residential home alongside her aunt. “I kept moving up,” she said. “I went to BOCES for early childhood, but the more I did this, the more I realized I wanted to work with adults.”

In her first home, when she was just 18, she learned what she considers one of her most valuable lessons. “There was a man there who was old enough to be my grandpa,” she said. “And he taught me a lot about how to treat him so that I could help him achieve his goals with the time he had left. He knew his time was coming, and he wanted to do things on his time, not ours.”

The residents go to a day program, but when they come home, Quigly is there waiting. “I’m all about making sure life goes smoothly for them,” she said. “And I wouldn’t trade what I do for the world.”

JCPenney Manager

Pam Morrissey’s two passions are people and fashion, and as the manager of JCPenny’s at the Southside Mall, she’s able to make a career out of both. “I love serving our community as the local department store,” she said.

Since coming to Oneonta at 18 to work at Ames and, later, Harold’s Army/Navy, she has made a career out of retail. “I’ve been in retail forever,” she said. “I love clothes and I love the public!”

She worked at JCPenny’s for 15 years, starting as an associate in the children’s department and working her way up to the  visual advertising department until the company did away with the position.

For a time, she worked at Rue 21, also in the Southside Mall, where she was a manager before returning to JCPenny’s in 2015 when the previous manager retired.

And with 43 employees working for her, she strives to make sure that they have as good an experience as she’s had, including making a full Thanksgiving dinner for the employees who work the pre-Black-Friday sales. “Thanksgiving is becoming our biggest day,” she said. “Even more than Black Friday.”

Unalam Beam Fabricator

For Greg Peck, taking a job at Unalam helped him put his family first. “I was a production manager at another plant, six in the morning until six, seven at night,” he said. “My wife and I had a new baby girl, and I was just never there, and I was getting burned out.”

He had grown up with the Van Cotts, including serving on the volunteer fire squad with Leif, and they offered him a job in the yard. “I went in at six a.m. and got off at 2:30,” he said. “I felt like I had a whole other day!”

Though he started doing a variety of jobs in the yard – helping to pull lumber needed for the day’s project, learning how to visually grade which pieces will go outside and inside of a beam and running the three-part “scarfer” operation to get the beams to the right size, he was named a yard foreman earlier this year.

Now he is in charge of moving the raw materials into the yard, hand-selecting “uppers” – the wood deemed of high enough grade to go on the outside – and “inside,” which may not be as visually appealing but can make up the core of the Unalam beam.

“I’m a hands-on type of worker,” he said. “And although the motions are always the same, every project is different, every beam is different, so you’re doing the same thing, but it’s not the same thing.”

He is also able to keep up as a volunteer firefighter. “Craig (Van Cott) is all about the community,” he said. “He still gives us our pay and our attendance bonus if we have to take a call.”

Fenimore, Farmers Museum
Development Associate

Molly Myers wants to make sure that everyone coming to the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers Museum is able to make the same happy memories she did as a kid.

“I think it’s so cool what they offer here for people of all ages,” she said. “I have so many memories of coming here as a kid, and I want to make sure that others have that opportunity too.”

Myers, who started in January as a development associate for the museums, moved back to her Cooperstown hometown from Albany. “I missed the community,” she said. “I’m very passionate about younger people moving back to the area, and the museums really help with that.”

Though she coordinates with museum supporters and puts together fundraising calls year-round, her biggest task this year was putting on the annual Gala, which had a Rock & Roll theme this year to coordinate with “Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits” exhibit.

“We let people have a backstage tour of artifacts we don’t normally have in the museum, all these great auction items and a band,” she said. “It really helps bring in local and non-local support for the museum.”

SUNY Oneonta

Chemistry professor Maurice Odago came to SUNY Oneonta to fill in for a professor on sabbatical, and never left.

“I came in 2010, then in 2011 I was a visiting professor,” he said. “In 2012, I was put on the tenure track.”

He taught chemistry in Kenya for three years before he got his PhD at SUNY Binghamton, where he also taught for a short while before the job opened at SUNY Oneonta. “The chemistry department is a fabulous place to work,” he said. “We have excellent and supportive colleagues, and the students are great as well. You are so proud of them when they succeed after graduation.”

The college, he said, also fosters inter-disciplinary work. “We’re not all bundled up in our little alcoves,” he said. “You will see departments working together, such as chemistry and biology, but also across disciplines, like physics and philosophy.”

In addition to the high academic standards the college has, he said he also enjoys how the school encourages students – as much as faculty – to think outside of the classroom. “We have an open-door policy with our students, but sometimes they just want to come in and talk about their soccer game or the music they play,” he said. “It makes for a much more well-rounded student.”

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