Renaissance Groups: Celebrating 30 Years of Community-Centered Innovation

By Elizabeth Landry

Sandy Paben has always been drawn to work that helps improve the condition of people in high-needs communities, although that work has taken different shapes and forms over the years. When she came to Syracuse to attend LeMoyne College in the late 1970s, she participated in a program called Projects in the Community, which involved doing volunteer work in Syracuse’s inner-city neighborhoods. Paben eventually went on to teach at Lincoln Middle School, then served as Vice Principal and Prinicpal at several schools in Upstate New York, becoming involved in teacher and staff training focusing on technology in the classroom. In 1994, Paben created Renaissance Groups, an endeavor that allowed her to delve deeper into her true passion of helping people in high-needs communities.

“You’re going to find me in tougher neighborhoods and places where people need a lot of help. Looking back, I’ve realized I was always attracted to working in high-needs communities, but if you had asked me at the time when I started Renaissance Groups, I probably couldn’t have articulated that. This work really has such a huge social worker bent. It’s all about helping people become self-sufficient and independent and helping the world become a better place, even if it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with that on the surface,” Paben explained.

Since those early days when Paben was finding her true calling and cultivating the company, Renaissance Groups has evolved and grown into the successful change-making force it is today, under her leadership as CEO. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Renaissance Groups is a NYS Certified Woman Owned Enterprise with offices in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany, New York City and Stockton, California.

The company operates projects in all corners of the country, specializing in three main areas: compliance services, public housing services and educational services. In the construction compliance arena, Renaissance Groups assists clients with tracking minority and women labor utilization, minority and women business enterprise utilization and Section 3 utilization. The company’s public housing clients receive support relating to Section 3 compliance, family self-sufficiency and other ROSS (Resident Opportunity and Self Sufficiency) service coordination, in addition to many other programmatic needs. Stemming from Paben’s roots in teacher and staff training,

 Renaissance Group’s services in the educational realm involve 1:1 computer programs, curriculum and other resources that directly benefit both teachers and students alike.

Elevating Communities Through Affordable Housing

Although Paben began her journey with Renaissance Groups in the education and staff training fields, she has come to be incredibly passionate about the company’s work in affordable housing. By focusing on community development through compliance and oversight of projects that are building affordable housing and improving neighborhoods, Renaissance Groups is able to make a tangible, positive impact in high-needs communities. The company partners with housing authorities, developers, and contractors in many locations in order to carry out compliance management, working to track spending and labor requirements that come along with funding sources. Affordable housing projects over the past three decades have been completed in Florida, up the East Coast to Boston, throughout New York State and even in California.

For Paben, the drive behind this work is the immediate human impact these projects have within the community. “Affordable housing is my absolute passion because it helps folks who are usually incredibly rent burdened. We encounter folks who are one step away from being homeless. The opportunity to be able to work on projects that I know are going to give people safe, comfortable housing – it really is my passion,” Paben said.

When Renaissance Groups takes on a new affordable housing project, the local community is bolstered in many ways. It’s not only the local residents in need of affordable housing that are positively impacted, but also the local contractors who come from a diverse background, many of whom are women or minorities, that receive new opportunities that expand their professional horizons. Additionally, the local laborers who work on the construction site are often paid a prevailing wage that directly benefits their financial well-being.

Recalling moments when she has experienced the direct results of Renaissance Groups’ affordable housing projects, Paben further illustrated the human impact of the company’s work. “I can remember, 25 years ago a single mom who was able to move out of an extremely unfit, deplorable apartment into a beautiful, brand-new apartment, and it still makes me cry to talk about it. This work also allows us to help people of color and women to get opportunities to bid on these jobs, and it’s absolutely life-changing for them. Recently at a conference, I ran into a former client who we helped to start a janitorial business and is getting real jobs now. He said to me, ‘This would never have happened if it weren’t for you. You actually spend time with us,’ and that’s such a big deal for me. I’ve been so blessed that I’m able to make a difference in people’s lives,” stated Paben.

Opportunities to Advance Through Green Jobs

One of the most exciting and innovative projects underway at Renaissance Groups is the recent opening of a Green Economy Lab in Stockton, California in conjunction with the Housing Authority County of San Joaquin. Utilizing a 20,000-square-foot building purchased by the Housing Authority County of San Joaquin, Renaissance Groups is offering a 5-tier training program to help people get access to knowledge and skills needed to attain green economy jobs.

Paben explained the purpose of the training facility as well as the benefits to those who participate in the program. “It’s a place where folks who don’t have an invitation to the party can get involved,” she said. “Right now, we have a 5-tier program to get access to training. For example, if someone doesn’t have a high school diploma, we’ll help them get one. We offer a customer service class. We have an EV charging station installation and maintenance class. We have an EV car mechanic boot camp in which we offer an associate’s degree needed to become an EV car mechanic. Our goal is to get these folks ahead of the curve in this industry and it’s very exciting to get them trained on how to install an EV charging station, for example, because that’s really in its infancy right now.”

Going hand-in-hand with the innovation of the Green Economy Lab, Paben highlighted that the Renaissance Groups team regularly asks for feedback from high-needs communities to find out what they need in order to take advantage of the new opportunities at their doorstep. As part of a 2019 Jobs Plus grant for the Housing Authority in the County of San Joaquin, residents identified three needs they needed help with: transportation, training, and childcare. The grant wrapped up in August of 2023 and through the support offered to the residents that addressed their needs, the average income went up 44%.

Paben explained that this feedback from the community is what kick-started a new wave of strategy to help communities participate in cutting-edge technology and become more self-sufficient. “We started to tackle these needs one-by-one. The training piece is what led to the Green Economy Lab. We’re also really focusing on the transportation piece. By the end of next year, every single public housing site in the area will have a car share service. Even though it’s based in public housing, anyone in the community can rent a car for $4 an hour or $35 for 24 hours. This service, in addition to a van carpool we’re considering, is a huge benefit to the community because the public transportation system isn’t practical for these folks. How are you supposed to get a job if you don’t have reliable transportation? I would say these projects are what really make us innovative, because we’re helping them get what they need so they’re in a position to be at the cutting edge of technology coming down the pike,” Paben emphasized.

Keeping an Open Mind in an Ever-Changing Future

With 30 years of experience under her belt, Paben has learned that a good business plan includes the understanding that new innovations and compliance requirements can change things quickly. “Even though it’s uncommon in the world of business, I’ve never really had a master plan for Renaissance Groups,” said Paben. “In the compliance world, things can change really quickly. In terms of what the future looks and sounds like, I’m following my instincts in terms of what’s coming next. If you had told me five years ago that we’d be opening up a Green Economy Lab, I would have thought you were crazy.”

One plan Paben does have for the future is to hopefully take what the company has learned through its projects in California and implement similar projects in high-needs communities throughout Upstate New York. “I’m a Syracuse girl at heart. If I can figure out a way to bring some of this back to Syracuse and collaborate with people who are forward thinking, that would be monumental,” she said.

No matter what the future holds for Renaissance Groups, however, Paben is committed to remaining true to the goal of helping the people who are at the heart of every project. According to Paben, the way to continue doing just that is by keeping an open mind and being flexible when new challenges and opportunities arise.

“I want people to stop for a minute and think about what’s possible,” Paben said. “There are so many ways to change the world. We just have to think outside the box and be innovative, and really think about how we can use the infrastructure funding that’s out there to change people’s lives. If it’s important, you figure out a way.”

State of Construction Industry

Earl R Hall, Executive Director – Syracuse Builders Exchange

By most measures, 2023 was a strong year for construction industry employers throughout upstate New York.  Measuring growth can be subjective, however, the increase in membership at the Syracuse Builders Exchange is one standard metric which is objective.  Membership increased to 970 at the end of 2023, with 42 new member employers joining during the year.  Today, the Syracuse Builders Exchange remains the largest construction industry Association in the state of New York.

Another metric used to measure growth is the total number of building projects for bid compared to 2022.  Building projects for bid increased 3.6% from 5,064 in 2022 to 5,244 in 2023.  The increase was driven by continued public investment in the medical, secondary and higher education markets, coupled with strong private capital investments in the industrial, multi-family residential, and commercial markets. 

Central New York is poised to continue sustained construction growth into 2024 with many regional project owners beginning work on such projects as:

  • Onondaga County STEAM School
  • Turning Stone Expansion
  • Onondaga County Aquarium
  • Syracuse Inner Harbor Development

The continued optimism associated with regional economic development, coupled with increased construction bidding opportunities, is somewhat tampered by a potential recession, lack of adequate skilled labor, increased material costs and aggressive project schedules.  The construction industry is not immune from periodic challenges, but contractors have proven to be resilient over the past century as they continue to deliver finished projects to owners.

Labor will continue to be the most concerning matter going into 2024 as the lack of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen may impact contractors’ abilities to bid additional work and/or to complete tight schedules on time.  Although the building trades’ unions and non-signatory employers have been aggressively attempting to recruit, train, and retain construction workers, such efforts have not produced a labor pool large enough to accommodate the current projects scheduled to being in 2024.  There remains much optimism the abundance of work will attract skilled craftspeople from other geographies throughout the United States.

Labor wages continue to increase at rates upstate New York has rarely seen.  Wage increases vary by trade but have averaged close to 4% per year in the past two years, and in some cases higher.  Such wage increases have been driven by high inflation, huge demand for skilled labor and significant increased costs associated with food, gas, and clothing.   Labor costs and the availability of skilled labor will continue to be of concern throughout the year.

The anticipated economic development to hit central New York will be led by the construction industry.  Although many leaders in the secondary and higher education arenas are focused on careers inside these yet to be built new buildings and facilities, those project owners need to first build those facilities.  Most suburban school districts are a decade behind in developing career and technical education programs, in particular construction career pathways.  And while regional BOCES programs remain vital to the construction industry, those student seats are limited.  The need for a four-year construction curriculum is essential in developing the next generation skilled workforce contractors and project owners desperately needed.  The only way to meet the incredible economic development opportunities that await central New York is to have the skilled work force to build those projects.


These issues are not unique to upstate New York as such is prevailing throughout the country.  Although such headwinds are anticipated to continue in the short term, contractors and project owners alike remain resilient and will explore developing alternative methods to deliver a finished project. 

Navigating an Uncertain Economy: Forecasting Manufacturing Needs

By: Jim D’Agostino

Manufacturers are no strangers to economic uncertainties. Whether facing global financial crises, recessions, trade disruptions, or unexpected events like pandemics, the ability to accurately forecast manufacturing needs becomes even more critical during turbulent economic times. In this quarter’s column, we’ll explore the best strategies to forecast manufacturing needs effectively in an uncertain economy.

Data-Driven Decision-Making: In uncertain economic times, relying on data-driven decision-making is paramount. Manufacturers should invest in advanced analytics and data collection tools to gather real-time data on production, inventory levels, customer orders, and market trends. By leveraging this data, businesses can make informed decisions about production schedules, inventory management, and resource allocation, thereby minimizing risks associated with economic fluctuations.

Scenario Planning, Contingency Planning, and Risk Mitigation: Scenario and contingency planning involves creating multiple hypothetical scenarios based on different economic outcomes. Manufacturers should develop a range of scenarios, from optimistic to pessimistic, to understand the potential impacts of economic changes on their operations, and then they should identify potential risks, assess their impact on production, and develop strategies to mitigate these risks. This proactive approach allows companies to adjust their production strategies swiftly and efficiently in response to different economic scenarios, ensuring resilience in the face of uncertainty. These plans may include workforce adjustments, temporary production slowdowns, or alternative sourcing strategies.

Supply Chain Diversification: Manufacturers often rely on global supply chains, which can be vulnerable during uncertain economic times due to disruptions in transportation, logistics, or raw material availability. Diversifying supply chains by sourcing materials from multiple suppliers or considering localized sourcing options can help mitigate risks associated with supply chain disruptions. This strategy ensures a more reliable flow of materials, reducing the impact of economic uncertainties on manufacturing operations.

Collaboration and Communication: Effective communication and collaboration between various departments within a manufacturing company are crucial during uncertain economic times. Cross-functional teams should regularly share insights and updates regarding market conditions, customer demands, and supply chain disruptions. This collaborative approach helps identify potential bottlenecks and allows for quick adjustments to production plans and inventory levels.

Demand Forecasting and Predictive Analytics: To forecast manufacturing needs accurately in an uncertain economy, manufacturers should invest in demand forecasting tools and predictive analytics. These technologies use historical data, market trends, and customer behavior analysis to predict future demand more accurately. Implementing predictive analytics can help businesses adjust production schedules, optimize inventory levels, and align their resources with expected market fluctuations. Manufacturers should not view their forecasting strategies as static; instead, they should continuously monitor economic indicators, market trends, and customer behavior. By staying vigilant and adaptable, companies can respond swiftly to changing economic conditions and adjust their production plans accordingly. This ongoing monitoring allows for more accurate forecasting in the face of uncertainty.

Lean Manufacturing and Inventory Management: Lean manufacturing principles focus on minimizing waste and optimizing resource utilization. During uncertain economic periods, it’s essential to adopt lean practices to enhance flexibility and reduce costs. Efficient inventory management is a critical component of lean manufacturing, as it ensures that materials are readily available while minimizing excess inventory that can become a financial burden during economic downturns.

Customer-Centric Approach: A customer-centric approach is vital for manufacturers looking to successfully navigate uncertain economic waters. Close communication with customers and a deep understanding of their evolving needs can help manufacturers tailor their production efforts to meet changing demands. This customer-focused strategy not only enhances customer satisfaction but also improves forecasting accuracy.

In uncertain economic environments, forecasting manufacturing needs is a challenging yet essential task. By adopting data-driven decision-making, scenario planning, collaboration, demand forecasting, supply chain diversification, lean manufacturing principles, continuous monitoring, contingency planning, and a customer-centric approach, manufacturers can position themselves to thrive amidst economic uncertainty. These strategies allow manufacturers to adapt, mitigate risks, and make informed decisions, ultimately ensuring their resilience and success in turbulent economic times.

If you are a small or mid-size manufacturer and would like to further the discussion, TDO’s team is fully certified to help. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation!

Happy New Year—In Your Companies!

Pierre Morrisseau

While 2024 will present many of the usual business challenges and, I’m sure, some novel ones, I believe there is much to be excited about and new opportunities for growth and success.

In my last installment I shared interesting viewpoints on how incorporating happiness in our careers and workplaces has a major positive impact on employee attraction, retention, and performance. I also shared what I learned about how the brain can be rewired through repetitive reinforcement to achieve a positive mindset.

As we head into a new year, I want to share what we’ve learned from implementing changes in our own workplace to increase happiness, and ultimately, results.

We started the process with a focus on helping leadership understand and embrace the psychology and goals of promoting the power of happiness in our workplace. They needed to know that the science supported what we were about to embark upon. After all, it would be a major challenge to have our leadership adopt the behavior of being always positive and continually sharing that positivity and enthusiasm with their teams if they themselves had negative views of what we were trying to achieve. Of course, it all had to start with senior-most leaders.

I can share that it was a clear challenge amidst all the negativity, division and bad news that seems to be pervasive in our society. However, by forcing myself to stop and find the good in each situation and finding what author and happiness expert Shawn Achor calls the Third Path. By always looking for the Third Path, our leadership team was able to avoid either/or, this or that, or worse, or else situations that paralyze employees and submarine true collaboration.

I am pleased to see as our leaders evolve, there is far more positivity in our workplace, more collaboration, and increased empathy for each other which has led to far greater desire to help one another—all of which has had a clear impact on the happiness factor in our workplace.

Since implementing (changing our attitudes may be a better way of saying it) our initiative, we have seen a marked improvement in turnover, better candidates being attracted to our company, and, while a bit early to attribute increased sales results to increased happiness, we are experiencing healthy growth above our norm. Certainly, in our minds, happier employees tend to make our clients happier. Data analysis throughout 2024 will provide a clearer picture and I look forward to sharing our findings.

Here is what our roadmap for changing attitudes and creating an environment of trust and happiness looks like:

  • Pause: find the good in every situation and individual;
  • Use clear, direct, open, honest communication and active listening;
  • Invite participation (proactive inquiry) encourage feedback;
  • Value input and adopt suggestions;
  • Encourage risk-taking and making mistakes as positive learning experiences (what Achor calls Falling Forward);
  • Engage only in productive disagreement;
  • Nurture a learning, growth, mentoring/coaching environment.

While this might seem a forbidding list of actions, it turns out the psychological science is correct: when you begin with one behavior—seeing the positives everywhere around us—we naturally progress to the next step in the process.

I have a strong belief in creating happiness in the workplace and I’m driven to achieve a happiness culture. The opportunities and rewards are simply too great. The potential of people working together in harmony is very powerful. Together we are able to achieve amazing things. We are well on our way. And for that I am happy!

As always, I am most interested in learning about what others are doing to reduce risk and solve business challenges. I would love to hear your thoughts.


Corporate Transparency Act

by Benjamin Goldberg

On January 1, 2024, a new federal law, the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”), will go into effect. The main purpose of the CTA is to crack down on the proliferation of shell companies used as shields in money laundering, tax avoidance, and similar activities. However, the new reporting requirements will also compel most businesses created by filing documents with the Secretary of State to provide the information outlined in the CTA. Any business entity that must report to FinCEN is called a “reporting company” in the language of the CTA.  The information will have to be reported to the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), which is part of the Department of Treasury.

There are three main parts to the new reporting requirements: beneficial ownership information (“BOI”), company applicants, and information about the reporting company itself.

Reporting companies must submit the information of everyone possessing beneficial ownership. A beneficial owner is defined in the CTA as an “individual who, directly or indirectly, through any contract, arrangement, understanding, relationship or otherwise, exercises substantial control over the entity, or owns or controls 25 percent or more of the ownership interests of the entity or receives substantial economic benefits from the assets of the entity.[1]” While owning or controlling over 25 percent of the business entity is fairly straightforward, the definition of “substantial control” is less obvious. Within the CTA, the definition of substantial control is expansive. It includes, but is not limited to, any senior officers of the company, persons having authority over the appointment or removal of any senior officer or a majority of board members, persons who direct or have substantial influence over important decisions made by the entity or have control over an intermediary entity that exercises substantial control over a reporting company. Since the definition of a beneficial owner is expansive, careful consideration will have to be given to make sure everyone who meets the definition of a beneficial owner has their BOI entered into the FinCEN site.

A “company applicant” is the individual who files the application with the Secretary of State and, in addition, the person who directs or controls the filing if more than one individual is involved. However, at least at this point in time, there can only be two company applicants. The company applicants might not be anyone who works for or controls the reporting company in question. The company applicant could, for instance, be the lawyer and paralegal hired to help bring the entity into existence. The company applicant information will only have to be submitted once.

The reporting company will need to disclose its 1) legal name, 2) DBA names, 3) business address, 4) state of formation, and 5) Taxpayer Identification Number.

The beneficial owners of the reporting company will have to disclose their 1) legal name, 2) date of birth, 3) residential address, 4) unique number from an acceptable document such as a U.S. passport, state ID, or driver’s license, and 5) an image of that document.

The company applicants will need to disclose the same information as the beneficial owners with one potential difference: if the company applicant is registering the company in the course of the applicant’s business, such as lawyers, paralegals, or others, then the business address of the law firm will be substituted for the residential address. Also, the company applicant information will be required only for business entities that are formed on or after Jan. 1, 2024. The BOI will be required of all entities that are reporting companies regardless of their date of formation.

Businesses already in existence on Jan. 1, 2024, will have one year to file an initial report. For Businesses formed on or after Jan. 1, 2024, and before Jan. 1, 2025, an initial report must be provided to FinCEN within ninety days of formation. On and after Jan. 1, 2025, businesses will have to submit the required information within thirty days of formation. Another thing to note is that changes in beneficial ownership will need to be filed. Any changes in ownership or changes in organizational structure will require subsequent filings to keep the BOI up-to-date.

Certain businesses are exempt from the reporting requirement, but most of these businesses are those in heavily regulated areas of finance. Otherwise, the important exemption to note is the “large operating company.” To qualify as such, a company needs 1) more than 20 full-time employees, 2) more than 5 million dollars in gross receipts/sales in the US, and 3) a commercial, physical street address in the US. All three of these elements must be met. For example, a business that operates online with no commercial, physical street address will not qualify for the exemption even if it has more than 20 employees and over 5 million dollars in gross receipts or sales. The other exemptions will be listed at the end of this post.

While this legislation has mostly flown under the radar and might come as a surprise to many business owners, there is still time to prepare the necessary information. CCBLaw is here to help answer any questions and assist your business to ensure compliance with the CTA.

In the meantime, to avoid potential civil and criminal penalties, entities that will qualify as reporting companies should make determinations as to who will be considered a beneficial owner under the CTA and gather the necessary information to submit to the FinCEN portal once it is active. Importantly, reporting companies will also want to consider who will have the responsibility of updating any changes in BOI to FinCEN because, as addressed above, as beneficial ownership changes, BOI is required to be updated within 30 days of any such change.

More links:

FinCEN website

Small Entity Compliance Guide

FinCEN contact page

Benjamin Goldberg is an associate at CCB Law.  He can be reached at 315-477-6214 or

[1]31 C.F.R. § 1010.380(d)

Artificial Intelligence   

By: Kathryn Ruscitto

We are planning a Heritage trip and have spent hours doing research.  My daughter pulled up Chat GPT, gave it a few directions and in 30 seconds it listed an itinerary, things to visit, and lots of other info for consideration. 

In a moment it became clear to me how Artificial Intelligence can augment my work. I still had to decide who, what, where, and when, but AI took the data that exists, boiled it down and gave me options to start with. It saved time, and while not perfect, gave me info I had not looked at prior.

Can AI do the same thing in health care? From chronic illness , to assisting in the development of new devices and drugs, can AI supplement clinicians work flow? Can it review charts and data, predict at risk patients, and match patients to treatments?

The current use of AI in some phone processes, has proven to be a barrier when a question did not fit the algorithms.

In time, those early designs will be improved. For AI to work in health care, it needs to be integrated into clinician workflows, not added as yet another step.

The debate about AI replacing human decisions is concerning and deserves consideration. But more likely it will free the workforce from analytical tasks and move to higher level thinking.  In addition, other concerns relate to the bias of the data.  But the advancement of AI will likely be similar to the integration of computers, smart phones and laptops into our daily lives.  They didn’t replace humans, but a human without a smart phone or laptop does not have the advantages in easily accessing info and education. If AI can improve care for patients, by adding to the analytical knowledge of clinicians in an era of accelerated information and inventions, it will advance care.

I looked for some examples where AI is integrated in health care and found  specialists are using AI in nephrology and cancer treatments. “Penny” at UPenn is helping clinicians with complex patients between visits, “The technology has the potential to improve patient health by guiding them through complex medication schedules, keeping clinicians routinely updated about a patient’s condition, and enabling clinicians to step in at early signs of trouble.”

Additionally there are  many  applications already in use for detecting disease through programs that analyze bacteria, and other disease criteria to lead to diagnosis and treatment in radiology, pathology and cancer treatments.

For clinicians to be comfortable with machine learning, or language learning that reads patient records and integrates info to recommend treatment, they will want a clear understanding of the quality of the ap’s learning. Also, it’s track record in making accurate diagnosis, and their ability to integrate their own clinical  history and knowledge. The AMA cautions clinicians about bias and inaccuracy in todays AI algorithms, but notes it will continue to improve and tomorrows physicians will see a reduction in paperwork burden and back room operations from chart reviews to billing.

In the past 100 years we have moved from an agrarian society, to an industrial society, to an age of information. We have now entered what is being called the age of knowledge, or the creative age.  Understanding AI’s  potential is our best advantage to adapting it in applications for health care.


AI Won’t Replace Humans

The Current State of AI in Healthcare:


Kathryn Ruscitto, Advisor can be reached at or at