The West Chester -Liberty Chamber Alliance is set to bestow the Everest Award on Friday to three leaders that have had a positive impact on business, the community or quality of life along the Interstate 75 growth corridor between Cincinnati and Dayton. Those honorees — Dick Alderson of Alderson Properties, Wilbur Cohen of Cohen USA and Jim Day of Esther Price Candies — talked with the Journal-News in advance of the award dinner, offering their takes on growth corridor development, reinventing oneself for a new career, the perils of technology and the biggest risk they’ve ever taken.
Question: You’re being honored for fostering growth along and around the Interstate 75 Growth Corridor. How can business leaders and government officials along the corridor work together to encourage even more growth throughout the corridor?
Dick Alderson: It really starts with having a plan and I think that’s what we did back in the early 90s is we set down 20 citizens from all sectors of the community — residential, business, anti-city, pro-city, pro-school, anti-school — we got as many varied opinion as we could, we sat down and they worked almost every two weeks for about a year coming up with a plan for West Chester … what it should look like 20 years from (then).
Jim Day: We have to have some of the people up in Washington understand what it is that we need. We don’t need more tax structures and more laws restricting us. We need incentives … like they used to do, that they give you $100,000 tax free to buy equipment and stuff and (give) incentives for business people to want to hire people and to increase business and to do things but all they do is just do the opposite.
Wilbur Cohen: It takes a partnership, there’s no question about that. I don’t think the government has been very beneficial in some respects. OSHA and the other things that are beneficial for some businesses have really been very cost prohibitive for us.
Q: What’s the riskiest move you ever made and did it pay off?
DA: (Laughs) There were several of them. I think the riskiest thing I ever did was start my business. My wife was (several months) pregnant and we didn’t have any money and we decided ‘let’s go do it.’ I went to the bank and found I could borrow up to $25,000 on a second mortgage on my house and I (figured) that holds for six months, we’ll figure it out in the mean time. We put everything on the line and it worked out.
WC: The riskiest move I’ve ever made was coming into the business (Cohen Brothers) with my father and my uncle in 1947. I graduated from UC and had opportunities to go into … other large-scale companies with great opportunities but it was a risk coming into this business because it was a small business.
JD: The biggest risk is when I went into (a Florida-based ice cream) business with people and letting them run things when they didn’t know how to do it. They didn’t have enough people because they were cutting back on things when they needed to hire people and you can’t tell all this stuff when you’re looking through cameras and running the business from a couple of hundred miles away. I bought them out and then we increased it about 75 to 80 percent. I got a good business going because we were down there… every day checking things.
Q: For business owners or employees who find themselves out of their former industry or job, what sort of advice would you provide to help reinvent oneself to reenter the workforce?
JD: Like what you do. Whatever you do, you’ve got to be sure you’re going to dedicate most of your time to this business because without you, it’s never going to work. You just can’t go and have other people do it for you, you’ve got to be there at least 10 hours a day until everything gets started and do something that you like to do, something that you went to school to do and something that’s fun.
WC: It would be very, very difficult (to reinvent oneself). I think if you go into another industry or another business you have to have something to introduce to that business and that’s very difficult without having the background and the education that you need..
DA: I think there’s an awful lot of opportunities out there if you’re honest and you’re giving a hard day’s work, start at whatever level you can and go for it. I’ve seen too many people over the years who worked their way up and (ended up in) an unfortunate situation whether it was a recession or a company’s going out of business, have to start over and too many sit there and say “Well, I’ve achieved this level, I’m not going backwards,” but I think sometimes you can start over from scratch again and get back real quick once people realize you’ve got the talent and you’re willing to work.
Q: Technology seems to be such a pervasive aspect of today’s marketplace. Is there any technology that you’ve found indispensable?
WC: I really don’t think it (technology) is a good thing. I think this business is hands on and person-to-person. Early on, when I first came into the business, you did your contract over the telephone or by a handshake. Now you do it by email … which really slows down the process rather than improves the process.
JD: I have a cellphone, that’s it. I’m not much of a computer nerd. I know exactly what it does, I have my secretary take care of all that for me, the email and the whole bit. I have just an old-fashioned cellphone that does plenty for me because I don’t have time to look at these gadgets and answer email all day.
DA: I think all of us have gotten used to the cellphone at this point but I personally have kind of refused to enter into that era. It’s my own little protest, I guess. I like the old way. I like getting to know people, I like being able to shake somebody’s hand, look them in the eye, know who I’m dealing with.
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