Granger Construction Company, Inc

By Sarah Hall

Les Granger, President, Chris Montrose, Vice President of Construction

Dig Safely NY, Corporate Headquarters, East Syracuse NY

1 Empower Federal Credit Union, Central Square, NY

Hannaford Supermarket and Pharmacy, Rome, NY

Microtel Inn & Suites, Altoona, Pennsylvania

Tractor Supply Store, Central Square, NY

Les Granger has no use for people who misrepresent the truth.

Granger, CEO of Granger Construction Company, Inc., values trust and integrity above all else, and those values form the foundation of his company.

“There is an understanding among the staff—this is how we want to present ourselves to our clients,” said Chris Montrose, vice president of construction at Granger. “They know they are fully supported in making decisions, providing straightforward and honest information to our clients.”

Granger went into the construction industry after he graduated from high school and his family sold the farm on which he grew up. He learned carpentry and masonry and later opened his own firm, working as a subcontractor, general contractor, and developer.

By the early 1990s, Granger was looking for something more.

“At a certain point in my life, I said, what do I enjoy doing the most? The answer was constructing buildings,” he said. “I love the creative process of putting a building where there once was nothing. I still have a passion for that.”

Thus, Granger Construction Co. was born in 1992. The company focused almost solely on retail construction up and down the East Coast until 2008, when, as Granger said, “retail business did not slow down—it stopped overnight.” The crash forced Granger to diversify; now the firm also works with clients in the hospitality, multi-residential, healthcare, light industrial and most general commercial markets. The company is also focusing more on what sales and marketing manager Don Kowell calls “pre-construction services.” This service provides real-time input on cost, constructability, and schedule during the planning and design phase.

“We’re good at managing and coordinating a project,” Kowell said. “While we still participate in the private commercial bid market, we’ve been doing more of the pre-construction/ construction management approach on projects.”

Under this approach, the firm, led by Montrose, will evaluate a project to determine the needs of the customer and put together a team of subcontractors that will best fulfill those needs. Granger said it is faster and more efficient than the traditional means of putting a project out to bid, and it often nets better results.

This has proven to be a successful approach for anyone looking to build or develop.

“If you can put the right team together of owner, designer, and contractor, I can almost guarantee you we can come up with a more successful project than doing it the traditional way of hiring an architect to draw something, then going out for competitive bids to general contractors,” he said. “The process can get there that way, but it takes longer, and it is harder to get the value placed in the right spot. If an owner can articulate what they would like to get out of a project, what their goals are, and in turn have the right architect who can put their vision on paper while working with the general contractor, this will ensure the design is both conceptually and financially in line with the owner’s expectations. Putting together the right team of people up front will generate the best value for the owner’s investment.”

While Granger Construction Company does some travelling, the bulk of their business is local, which is the result of a conscious effort to focus on the central New York region.

“We are focusing on trying to stay in New York,” Granger said. “But at the same time, repeat customers ask us to go and look at opportunities in different places. We still have solid resources up and down the East Coast.”

Granger Construction also does a lot of repeat business, made possible by the good relationships the company maintains with its clients.

“I think our relationships are built based on the fact we are just a group of hardworking people who are straightforward,” Montrose said. “We do not pull punches with our clients. We tell them facts—not always what they want to hear. We give them the information they need to make the best decisions possible to achieve the overall outcome they desire.”

Granger Construction also strives for complete transparency with others in the construction industry.

“We try very hard amongst ourselves and with our subcontractors and our suppliers to do what we say we are going to do—treat them fairly, pay them correctly,” Granger said. “This attracts quality subcontractors who seek to work with us on our projects.”

The culture based on trust and integrity permeates everything Granger does, including his interactions with his employees.

“It is really important that I can trust everyone I work with,” he said. “Everybody in the company has wide open access to everything, but that requires a trust that they will treat that information with the confidentiality that it should have.”

That culture accounts for the longevity of Granger’s staff, many of whom have been with the company for a decade or more. Kowell said that is what has kept him there for more than 15 years.

“It Is the family atmosphere, the trust and the faith that we have in each other,” he said. “When we get busy, we all help each other out. This attitude is across the board.”

That said, Granger emphasized that employees’ real families must always come first.

“We view ourselves as our employees’ second family, but their real families come first,” he said. “We recognize the importance of this, and we adjust for it.”

“When someone has a medical issue or something like that, we all cover for each other, help each other out, that type of thing, and it has just been a refreshing situation to experience,” Kowell said.

Montrose joined the company more than 20 years ago as a project manager. He worked his way up through the ranks to his current position as VP of construction. He sees his future as being at Granger, something that pleases Les Granger as he looks toward the end of his working days.

“I considered myself retired about 10 years ago,” he said. “Now I only work five days a week.

Montrose, the team builder, has been an active part of the growth process. In that focus, Montrose’s responsibility is to look for new talent to help lead Granger into the future. Among his picks is project manager Mike Eger, who joined the company about 13 years ago.

“He came in and started by coordinating subs on a job site and pushing a broom. He soon after became a project manager,” Montrose said. “His character, skill set, and his drive match up well to how we want the future of the company to be shaped. He will be one of the people who helps shape it.”

“Mike is a future leader in training,” Granger said. “He came here out of school. Right now, he is operating in project management, but we expect him to play a full leadership role down the road.”

As a leader, Granger does not micromanage his people. He understands that while different employees take different approaches on various issues, everyone at the company is headed to the same destination.

“If an employee knows what the target is, and he approaches it with integrity, he does not have to do it the same way I do it,” Granger said. “But there is integrity to what he does. We do not have rules that before Chris approves a contract, there are 32 different signatures to get. He has the authority to do his job. I can trust that he is making the right decisions.”

“For ourselves and our clients, we feel we have the right team to be successful—a team you can trust has the customer’s best interest as its priority,” Montrose said. “We have a good group of people who are all driven for the company and our clients to be successful.”

TDO- The Community’s Best Kept Secret; Serving Central NY Since 1988

By: Janelle Davis

Jim D’Agostino – CEO / MEP Center Director

Mike Metzgar – Business Development Manager

Scott Laundry – Senior Project Manager

Sarah Burlingame – Senior Project Manager

Marc Bicknell – Senior Project Manager

“We’re not the traditional consultants,” says Jim D’Agostino CEO and MEP Center Director for TDO (Train Develop Optimize).

Jim is a degreed mechanical engineer who has been working in manufacturing for over 20 years. He has a Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, in addition to his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Syracuse University.

D’Agostino has worked in several manufacturing jobs. Some of these jobs include quality roles, plant manager, and working in operations management. He has also worked in a variety of industries including automotive, precision machining, paper manufacturing and the furniture industry.

D’Agostino was recruited to TDO by a headhunter. “I was happy with my current role, but the allure of TDO, its mission, and the ability to assist numerous manufacturers in the CNY region was too much to pass up,” he admits.

About TDO

TDO, based in Syracuse, NY, is a not-for-profit consulting and training organization working primarily with manufacturers.  Founded by local economic development officials in 1988, TDO began as The Central New York Technology Development Organization. Covering the five-county Central NY region (Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison and Oswego), TDO became the New York State CNY Manufacturing Extension Partnership center designation (MEP). 2018 brought to TDO (Train, Develop and Optimize), a new logo, and more determination and passion than ever to reflect their mission.

“Our mission is to help those small to mid-size manufacturers,” says D’Agostino. “We help with a lot of those nitty gritty engineering and technical consulting projects that deliver hard impacts and savings for our clients,” he continues. TDO offers this assistance in order to grow the local economy. They achieve this goal by helping companies increase revenue, reduce costs, and increase productivity. A lot of the work TDO does is technical consulting and engineering support.  They also look for ways to improve productivity and reduce costs.

TDO helps their clients grow by offering certifications, like the Lean Six Sigma Green and Black Belt Certifications. The Lean Six Sigma is a combination of the best attributes of “Lean Manufacturing” and “Six Sigma.” TDO offers these in-house trainings and workshops with the model to empower your company, innovate new paths, transform your organization, optimize for continuous improvement and bring to light your growth potential.

One of the more popular certifications TDO offers is Toyota Kata. “With Kata, we teach our manufacturers how to think scientifically and how to tackle those everyday obstacles to achieve their target condition or goal. It’s a structured scientific approach to continuously improve,” says D’Agostino. The Toyota Kata is offered with several options, including half day and full day simulations.

To further enhance your company, TDO offers access to free webinars via their website. These webinars cover relevant topics to move your company forward. You will learn from professionals like CEO’s and Client Development Specialists on topics such as, finance during the pandemic, grant information, and help to upskill your current workforce.

What makes TDO different

 “We have shared skin in the game,” D’Agostino says.

What he means, is that after TDO finishes a project with a client, six months later the client will receive a survey from a third party asking them if TDO helped them with any of the following; create/save jobs, grow/save their sales, develop cost savings, etc. All this data is compiled into a report card they get from the federal government every quarter. This report rates them on how good of a job they are doing at hitting those impact categories. It also provides them with an assessment that they can evaluate.

“It’s a neat model we have at TDO,” D’Agostino says. He continues, “This makes us a little different because if we find that we didn’t help a client be more competitive and achieve savings and productivity improvements, then we will get a subpar score and that will affect our grant funding. We are accountable, so when we go into a job, we see ourselves as an integral part of the team and are right there alongside them.”  

TDO has impacts to prove that they are making a difference with their clients. “The number of repeat clients that we have is incredible,” D’Agostino said.

Grant Assistance

Another benefit working with TDO are the multiple grant funding opportunities. As the regional MEP center, they have access to two exclusive grant funds. There are productivity funds through National Grid and NYSEG (Rochester Gas and Electric). Both companies have a reimbursable grant program offering funding between 40% and 60% of project costs. Both programs offer grants up to $40,000 for eligible applicants.

If you are a manufacturer in the five-county region working with TDO, then you can have access to those funds. From which source is dependent on who the client’s utility provider is. “40%-60% funding could make a huge difference for a manufacturer.”  D’Agostino explains that a lot of times this funding is the difference between a project getting approved.

Grant funding can help small to mid-sized manufacturers reinvent themselves, increase profits, create jobs, and establish a foundation for long-term business growth and productivity.

TDO can also connect clients with the Workforce Development Institute (WDI), who also has manufacturing funds available. CNY Works has really good lucrative funds as well. Each grant application is different and TDO will help you navigate through the process.

D’Agostino says, “We are able to connect clients to a bevy of funding partners depending on their need.”


D’Agostino made sure not to miss the opportunity to highlight his team. Speaking with respect and admiration, he explains that they all have similar skills. They have two, soon to be three, senior project managers, as well as a business development manager.

“We are all degreed in engineering and computer science, and heavy with technical confidence,” He explains. “We are all experienced in lean manufacturing.” He goes on, “We have an electrical engineer, an industrial engineer, a computer scientist and I am a mechanical engineer.”

“We are a very well-rounded team!”

‘Everyone in the organization is critical to success’ AmeriCU Credit Union President & CEO Ron Belle talks about leading through growth, challenges, and community focus.

By Martha Conway

Ron Belle, President & CEO

AmeriCU Financial Center located at Griffiss Technology Park, Rome

Belle presents Lisa Posselt, Consumer Loan Underwriter III, with an AmeriCU Service Award recognizing her 30th anniversary with the credit union.

Ron Belle, originally of Camillus, joined the AmeriCU team four years ago; as of last year and coinciding with AmeriCU’s 70th anniversary, he is now leading the team.

Belle graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University as well as earned executive management certifications from University of Wisconsin at Madison and Case Western Reserve University. After graduation, he entered the world of financial services before accepting a job at a Syracuse-area bank as a branch manager. From there, he worked his way up, securing increasingly responsible positions and managing greater numbers of people and teams.

During his career, Belle has moved five times living in four states as his career advanced; in 2017, he came home to central New York and AmeriCU. He’s been the president and chief executive officer there since May 2020.

“My wife is originally from Poughkeepsie, so this was a great homecoming opportunity for our family.”

His progress on the way up the financial institution ladder allowed Belle to observe and learn from several managers; two he considers mentors and speaks with regularly.

“At every level, you hone your management traits,” Belle said, adding that management skills evolve as you mature with experience and age.

To lead people through the realities of adapting to change, Belle said the most important functions of his job at AmeriCU are maintaining a strong foundational culture, having a well-designed strategy, and consistently communicating how change supports AmeriCU’s vision, mission and strategic plan.

“You have to focus on individuals,” he said. “You have to get to know the team and what drives them.”

Belle believes in a ‘shadow of the leader’ philosophy, with the understanding that people at every level in an organization can provide a positive influence that can affect sustainable change.

And one place AmeriCU’s nearly 350 teammates are focused on continuing to lead is in their respective communities. With 19 financial centers across nine counties, there are plenty of opportunities for the AmeriCU team to continue to engage with their communities through volunteerism and serving on boards for a variety of non-profits. AmeriCU is committed to providing comprehensive financial wellness, working with schools, colleges and businesses to provide financial resources on a variety of topics from home ownership to caregiving for aging parents, as well as learning about loans and building credit, all provided through in-person or live video seminars and online training programs.

“Across our central New York footprint, financial wellness education has grown and expanded, and participating schools and businesses have grown each year,” Belle said. “We often hear from teachers, students and businesses owners that the financial information we provided made a positive impact on people and families; that makes you really proud.”

AmeriCU’s growth has more than doubled in the past decade, and Belle said investing in technology is a necessity that has helped fuel that growth. Online features such as easier loan applications and better online banking services, attractive to new and long-tenured members, have been widely accepted and implemented.

Another reason for AmeriCU’s growth has been team. Belle said the company has expanded significantly, with a good mix of long-term, tenured professionals who have grown with the credit union, and new teammates who have brought new ideas and process changes from their experience at other organizations.  

“We always talk about how valuable teamwork is,” Belle said. “It is possible to grow too fast and put too much pressure on our people to meet the added demands. As processes change, you can’t do things the same way or even use the same technology, so it’s crucial to communicate these changes to all team members and remind them how critical they are to our success.”


In addition, visionaries at the top of the organization must look at all facets of implementing new programs or services and weighing technologies against each other to see if the benefits and growth support the cost of the planned innovations. One of the biggest challenges facing credit unions right now is striking the right balance between banking entirely online using self-serve technology or the more traditional in-branch model.

“We will always strive to maintain that balance between technology and personal human interaction,” said Belle.

AmeriCU is reimagining its vision and mission statement, which Belle said will build upon its community-focused and community-based ideals. The organization is focused on increasing its community involvement and leveraging the expertise of its team members in the communities where they are located.

“AmeriCU’s name is synonymous with members’ prosperity and growth, and every day we make sure the breadth and depth of services dovetail with our vision and mission, as well as align with our core values,” Belle said. “Our visibility in the community aligns with our strategic plan.”

Belle said he is proud to have AmeriCU based in central New York, a local full-service financial institution that provides members services and advice, from a new member’s first account up to and including retirement and insurance needs.

Belle said some people are uncomfortable with the word ‘member’ versus ‘customer’ or ‘depositor’ at other financial institutions; simply stated, credit unions are non-profit cooperatives owned by members.

Membership is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in AmeriCU’s nine-county field of membership and their immediate family; anyone who works for a number of employer partners; and active or retired military and their immediate family.

“We’ve built a great brand with AmeriCU,” Belle said. “We’re working hard to ensure AmeriCU is the best financial institution, and along with our community support and involvement, we strive to be one of the most admired organizations out there.”

For more information on AmeriCU, visit or call 800.388.2000.

An Opportunity To Design New Hybrid Workforce Models

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

Remote work for many appears to be here to stay. The pressing challenge for CEO’s is finding the right hybrid mix of remote work and in-person collaboration to sustain the corporate culture, values and mission.

Connecting people remotely with technology has had a profound impact on business. In many ways, it has increased focus and productivity. The bad news is we can’t quantify what we are losing. Are we really connecting? Are we truly developing strong relationships? Are we missing the many casual opportunities to mentor and teach that happen when we are together?  I believe that finding the right balance between remote work and returning to the workplace is critical to our success. We need to find the best way to gathering around the proverbial water cooler.

We’ve seen that remote work calls for additional skills development and communication techniques. We’ve learned that further innovation is needed to make remote work more productive and engaging. We question: How do we re-engineer in-person activities? Is this a chance to create new work models and facilities that enhance the focus on relationship building, learning and engagement when we do come together?  I believe there is tremendous opportunity for innovation here as well.

When OneGroup built its new building, we wanted to create a truly innovative space that facilitated teamwork, collaboration, innovative thought, engagement, and holistic solutions.  Not just for our employees, but for our clients, our partners, and our communities.  The innovative workspaces allow teams to collaborate to ask better questions. It facilitates diverse groups of our employees, vendors and our community coming together.

One of my favorite parts of that journey was taking a group of employees to the Herman Miller design studio in Michigan where they explained, demonstrated, and lived the concept of deconstructing the office.  They asked these questions (and many more): What is the true use of the space? What is the impact on human psychology in that space? How will it enhance the users’ objectives?

They realized that an office was meant to be highly functional for everyone.  Their model defines several types of work, yet 80% of an employee’s time is spent doing just one of these.  They showed us that you can build your primary space for the 80% of work and build other spaces in the building that fit your other types of work—to build in flexibility and creativity. To see some of this in action you can go to

In the end, the journey to learn and open our minds to new ways of working was as valuable for our culture as the final construction of our new facility. We learned there is real power in teams. They are more impactful in quickly bringing solutions, and they create a more rewarding experience for our team members. The process—although we had no idea at the time—also prepared us to easily transition to remote and safe in-office work while not missing a beat in serving our many clients.

I think the quest for the hybrid work environment follows the same thought process: deconstruct the workplace and perhaps even the total work concept. As CEO’s it provides a great opportunity to ask better questions and to collaborate with each other, our employees, our partners, and our communities. Every organization is different and will want to develop their own specific solutions, but our challenges are remarkably similar. We share business fundamentals that can be applied in each of our organizations. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for each of us to take our organizations to a higher level.