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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Fun, Faith, and Family at PEC

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • February 28, 2013

Progressive Expert Consulting_CS

When I first scheduled an interview with Progressive Expert Consulting (PEC), I expected an ordinary office atmosphere, people busy in cubicles and the smell of coffee—the usual. But PEC is not ordinary—in any way— and I found that out as soon as I walked into their office on the Northside. The lobby is slightly dim with comfortable furniture, a table, and shelves lined with books and decorated with small flags from around the world. Projected on to the far wall is the company’s name, adding light to the space and just the right amount of magic. I thought, “There’s really something happening here.”

I was quickly greeted and ushered in to the primary office space of Michael J. Feng, one of the sons of PEC’s founding family. In 1987 his parents founded the company, then working mostly in network consulting with an emphasis on software projects for the government. Eventually, in the 90’s, they worked with different school districts (such as, North Syracuse and Marcellus) as they entered into the computer age. During that time you may remember a small internet café at Shopping Town Mall that functioned as the company’s storefront with offices located in the back. “It was a fun thing to do,” Mike explains, joking about having an easy route to your morning coffee.

Now, in the twenty-first century, PEC is a bustling company, still fairly small with around 45 employees. And it’s still a family company—Michael’s mother is still the owner. Their main customer is now the U.S. Military who have a need for language training in virtual classrooms. “We are not like Rosetta Stone,” Mike explains, “This is an actual, live class.” In these virtual classrooms, students and teachers can share webpages and virtual white boards. All of the teachers are native speakers of the language they teach and all classes are monitored in a “control room” to make sure the technology runs smoothly. Currently, there are around 160 classes and 1,000 students in the system: waiting for classes, recently graduated, taking classes, etc. Most of the classes are attended by students around the U.S., but also in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. PEC has the capacity to teach 72 different languages, including Persian, Russian, Swahili, and Cambodian.

But these language training classes are not the classes you and I are used to. “It’s not just about vocab,” he says. Students learn not only what to say, but how to say it, keeping in mind unique cultural norms and expectations that Americans may not be used to. Because these training classes are for the military, PEC has a much larger responsibility than simply getting students to conjugate verbs. Mike explains that the goal itself is different: “Go out there. Communicate with people and stay alive.”

In fact, among all of the extraordinary things that PEC does (check out one of my favorite programs, IDEAtel), working with the military is one project that Mike thinks is really extraordinary. His older brother served in the Navy and Mike himself served in the Air Force. “It’s an honor for us to be a part of this,” he tells me.

Aside from the language training program, PEC offers many other services. In answer to my simple-yet-complex question, “What does PEC do?” Mike smiles and says, “We bring creative solutions to customers.” The staff here must be extremely creative and “if there are good ideas out there, we encourage working together.” An open-door policy within the office encourages creativity. So does the picturesque artwork that adorns the walls, the sleek desks and furniture, the glass walls. The office motto  is, “Let’s have fun,” and although the work at PEC is very challenging, there needs to be an aspect of playfulness as staff creates inventive solutions and stays on par with rapidly-developing technologies. Mike refers to his employees as “extended family” and explains, “When you find good people, you want to take care of them.”

“As a company we’re very young,” Mike tells me, “We have a young energetic group. It helps. It makes us nimble. When things do change, we can change.” Although this “youthful excitement” is a major asset to the office, it’s deeply grounded on the executive end where Mike’s parents guide the company with their experience and knowledge.

In fact, “grounded” is a good way to describe PEC. This very successful company on the Northside, founded by two Chinese entrepreneurs, is still humble. The family also owns Inspiration Hall, a church across the street that hosts speakers, comedians, musical events, children’s choirs, etc. Inspiration Hall is quickly becoming well established in the Northside and views itself as a community place.  “What really inspires [PEC] and grounds us is faith. For us, a lot of what we do on the business side and the ministry side gets blurred—and that’s okay.”

With its rich cultural fabric, the Northside is home to many businesses that have unique approaches to community and innovation. PEC is a great business model for other Northside entrepreneurs. It has to constantly change in order to stay relevant, but it’s core has always stayed the same: fun, faith, and family.

World Market Square on Switchboard

Written by admin  • February 27, 2013

The World Market Square idea was recently blogged about by Kaid Benfield on Switchboard, the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“Many of America’s older, once-industrial cities are searching for new identities.  Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, New York, believes that her city can thrive by harnessing the talents and energies of new Americans, showcasing their diversity in a World Market Square in the revitalizing Northside neighborhood.  (Visit the lively website of the Northside Urban Partnership for a glimpse of the upcoming neighborhood.)

…I like it.  The Syracuse concept is an entry in the Mayors Challenge Fan Favorite Selection, a competition sponsored by The Huffington Post and Bloomberg Philanthropies to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life.  Readers can view the ideas and vote for their favorite here.”

We are humbled by the mention!



A Model for the Northside

Written by Emma Voigt  • 

The Northside has a unique asset in its diversity.  Hundreds of refugees resettle on the Northside each year.  These New Americans combine skills, trades, and recipes from their homelands with their new neighbors’ traditions. As a historic point of entry for New Americans, the Northside’s lifelong residents claim heritage from across Europe.  Because of its history of diversity, the neighborhood is beginning to attract young, artistic entrepreneurs of every background imaginable.

Northside UP has been developing ways to help this diverse group cultivate their innate entrepreneurial spirit and change the neighborhood by harnessing the power of business.  By pairing our existing programming with the simple idea of a traditional bazaar, an idea with far reaching added benefits began to grow.  As Northside UP assembled a team of partners to create this shopping experience, we came across the example of the Midtown Global Market (MGM) in Minneapolis, MN.  This space illustrates many of our hopes for the Northside market.

MGM began when community groups and local business owners came together to convince city officials to save a long vacant building in 2003.  The idea was to create a place that could utilize the formerly vacant property to showcase the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity and entrepreneurial energy.  The Neighborhood Development CenterLatin Economic Development Center, and African Development Center worked with other business development partners and advisors to build the vision.  Through these partnerships, MGM was able to launch and offer training, technical assistance, lending, and other support for entrepreneurs.

Today, the market houses many diverse businesses including specialty groceries, prepared food, sit-down restaurants, arts, and crafts.  A shared commercial kitchen, located in the market, enhances the experience.  Professional chefs, caterers, food trucks, and other food manufacturers who need certified space, may use the kitchen for their culinary delights.  Access to high quality shared commercial kitchen space helps new and small businesses succeed by cutting overhead costs.  The kitchen also offers a growing schedule of cooking classes.  Customers can find food prepared in the kitchen along with cookbooks, magazines, kitchen utensils, and chefs’ tools at Kitchen in the Market’s retail store.

Like Syracuse, Minneapolis also resettles a large refugee population each year.  Each wave of new Americans brings refreshing ideas to the area. Northside UP sees the marketplace as an ideal means for infusing the business community with new ideas. By incentivizing incubator graduates to locate in vacant storefronts in bourgeoning neighborhoods, they will catalyze ongoing revitalization efforts.  It is encouraging to see success stories emerge from other like-minded endeavors. The Northside’s diverse residents add vibrancy to this corner of the city each day. Once they have access to the appropriate support, tools, and opportunities, they will help strengthen our city’s economy.

To learn more about Syracuse’s project, check out the video on the Huffington Post and be sure to vote for Syracuse!


Photo Credit: http://www.startribune.com/politics/blogs/100374339

Photo Credit: www.ndc-mn.org

Photo Credit: www.ndc-mn.org

On the Calendar: Miss. Representation at ArtRage

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • February 26, 2013


Americans can watch television while at home, at restaurants and bars, out shopping, driving, and at the gym. We can watch television on traditional TV sets, on our smart phones, computers, and tablets. On average, we spend 34 hours a week watching live television and an extra 3-6 hours watching pre-recorded shows  (Nielsen statistics, 2012). During those 34-40 hours, men and women are shown representations of women and their experiences in the world. But are they accurate? How does the media influence our own ideas?

Miss. Representation challenges these images. Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsome, the film aims to broaden the scope of female experience by interviewing a broad range of successful and intelligent women, among them Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Rosario Dawson, Katie Couric, and Rachel Maddow. These voices create a dialogue for exploring limiting stereotypes and our own ideas of what women can and can’t do.

ArtRage encourages women of all ages to attend this screening and the following discussion lead by Syracuse University professor, Dr. Makana Chock.

NBP Member: Hairanoia

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • February 25, 2013

Located in the heart of the Hawley/Green Street historic neighborhood, Hairanoia is owned by longtime Syracuse resident Mike DeSalvo and offers five different stylists to serve its wide range of guests. Calm and sophisticated, Haironoia provides a unique salon experience where you can browse the latest fashion, decorating, and design magazines while enjoying the fresh coffee and pastries available daily.

Mike from Hairanoia

Editors Note: Each Monday, we’re introducing a community spotlight piece highlighting one of our Northside Business Partnership (NBP) members in an effort to showcase the diverse and unique businesses that make up the Northside. NBP is a collaboration between Northside UP, the Greater North Salina Business Association, and CenterState CEO that works to promote, support, and engage Northside businesses. 

Photo Friday: Transform

Written by admin  • February 22, 2013

World Market Square rendering by Jason Evans of [re]think syracuse! Looking for more information? See HERE. Now go vote!

World Market Square

Midterms at Green Train

Written by Denise Nepveux  • February 21, 2013

February 8th marked the midpoint in Northside UP’s 12-week Green Train construction and weatherization course, which has returned to the Northside after three sessions at the West Side Learning Center. A select group of 16 students— several American-born, and the others New Americans residing on Syracuse’s Northside – spend five mornings per week in a classroom at First English Lutheran Church on James Street learning safety, workplace communications, tool use and geometry for construction. Afternoons, they put what they have learned into action: constructing shelving, building cabinets, insulating window frames, demolishing and building interior walls. Last week Andy Erickson and co-instructor Matt Centore allowed me to observe their midterm evaluation meetings with each student.

A student comes in, wearing work boots, jeans and a t-shirt, and carrying a printed sheet with a few items circled in pencil. His eyes are averted, yet his body language suggests calm confidence. Taking items on the sheet one by one, and expressing himself in clear but effortful English, the student observes that his work has been satisfactory or needing improvement, but not exceptional in any area. His instructors listen attentively. Matt chimes in:

“You are on top of everything we’ve covered in the classroom. Next, we’d like to see you use your knowledge and ability in a bigger way, especially in the workshop. Don’t keep to yourself — share what you know with the other students. Help out a peer when he or she is struggling.”

Andy nods and urges the student to take more risks in the classroom. “Ask us a million questions – you’ll never bug us. Pull it out of us. This is for you – for your own development — and also for bigger notice on the job.”

Another student acknowledges that he has been clocking in late. Matt asks detailed questions, showing clear concern and helping the student identify a strategy. “You’d be valuable to any employer,” he comments. “I want you to have an awesome job. But my main concern now is how to help you get to a construction gig on time. We’d like to work with you to get your mornings more structured, and sure of when you can arrive.”

Each conversation follows a similar route: Recognizing what is going well; identifying areas for improvement; brainstorming how change may occur. Yet the context is unusual. Most Green Train students are New Americans, and many are still in the process of mastering English as a second (or other) language. In some of their cultures of origin, self-evaluation is a foreign notion, and pride in oneself is a vice. In others, time is held more loosely than it is in most US workplaces. A five-minute window in which to punch the clock is a new concept. These conversations with committed instructors help to prepare students to adapt to an unfamiliar working culture. They are continuations of the Green Train classroom and workshop environment, in which students are encouraged to ask questions, take risks, assist one another, and push themselves and their instructors for more learning.

Through the process of teaching and facilitating the “hard” content of the Green Train course – construction and weatherization skills – Matt and Andy are simultaneously preparing GT students to succeed on the job. Their philosophy is to encourage development as workers, as learners, and as people. “Green Train is an environment where we’re able to grow,” Andy comments. “Matt and I are measured in our assessment of the students at the midpoint. We want them to keep pushing forward. But we couldn’t be more pleased with this class. They are where they should be.”

IMG_8184_Web IMG_8176_web3


Vote for Syracuse! Vote for Innovation!

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • February 20, 2013

Today, the city of Syracuse needs you to help to spread the word and unite behind an idea created to address one of the most important challenges our city faces: harnessing the potential of our New Americans and translating it into a force of long-term change for our greater community. Syracuse is one of 20 finalists selected for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, a competition created by Bloomberg Philanthropies to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. The city’s concept is called World Market Square. This innovation will transform a vacant intersection on the Northside into a hub of opportunity for neighborhood residents and a unique cultural destination for the broader Syracuse community. Our goal is to establish Syracuse as an international city by designing the blueprint by which to harness the talents and energies of New Americans, showcase diversity, and transform distressed neighborhoods.

We are excited to announce that the video portion for this idea has just launched on The Huffington Post:


In a contest called the Mayors Challenge Fan Favorite Selection, readers can vote on their favorite idea from the 20 finalists. Click HERE to weigh in and help choose Syracuse as the next civic innovation you want to succeed! Voting is open from February 20 through March 6.

We have the power to transform Syracuse and make it a model for other cities across the nation. Watch, engage, and share these bold ideas and help us crown Syracuse as the Fan Favorite!

For more information about the Mayors Challenge, visit Bloomberg.org.

Celebrity Bartender Happy Hour

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder1 Comment • February 19, 2013

Our work is made possible through the continued support we receive from our friends, neighbors, and partners. This Thursday, we want to gather together and celebrate that fact by hosting a fundraiser at Bull & Bear: Celebrity Bartender Happy Hour!

Our Director, Dominic Robinson, and our Communications Coordinator, Stasya Erickson, will be serving up drinks. All tips will benefit Northside UP.

Bull & Bear Pub will provide a free buffet and creative-guru Theresa Barry will be there selling her photo cubes.

Clear your calendars, spread the word, bring your friends, and we’ll see you there!


Celebrity Bartender!



Theresa Barry at Celebrity Bartender Event

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • February 18, 2013


Theresa Barry

Theresa Barry sells her photo cubes at the Pepper Market.

One of the most popular pieces from the Pepper Market this past December were Theresa Barry’s photo cubes. “3-dimensional art speaks to me a little more,” Theresa explains. The cubes can fit in your hand and display vibrant photographs. What’s great about her art: it’s accessible, you can touch it easily and you don’t have to worry about breaking it. “You can just sit it on your desk,” she recommends. This Thursday, Theresa will be at our Celebrity Bartender event, selling her photo cubes to help support Northside UP.

“Northside UP is an an amazing organization and their work and influence in the neighborhood is far reaching and inspiring,” she explains. In fact, Northside UP and Theresa are kindred spirits: both are passionate about the Northside and the people in it. “I’m interested in people’s stories,” she says, “We can learn from them.” Theresa has a great passion for travel and culture and sees the Northside as a way to experience and learn about the outside world. For example, her work with Hopeprint (particularly with the Girl Scout troop) allows her to interact and create art with refugees of various backgrounds and nationalities.

Theresa has been in Syracuse since the 90’s. After 15 years as a business owner (you may remember her store Razzbarry in Armory Square), she decided to move on to something new. And she’s been busy ever since.  As an active member of the Public Arts Task Force, she’s currently organizing the 3rd Annual Creek Float for May, the Funky Flea for June, and working on pieces for several art shows.

Don’t miss Theresa and her art this Thursday at Bull & Bear during our Celebrity Bartender Happy Hour!