Agencies help launch dock company
Thomas J. Schneller's entrepreneurial spirit is why the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence County's microenterprise loan program exist.

For three years he's worked to make AKJ Marine a from-the-water dock, seawall and boat lift construction and installation company. He's now getting ready to take his 56-foot-long landing craft onto the St. Lawrence River for five jobs, and he's thankful for the agencies that helped turn his idea into a business.

"It takes all the guesswork out of it, " he said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it."
AKJ was born in 2004 when Mr. Schneller thought a buck could be made using barges to install docks for waterfront homeowners in the county with long, sloping shorelines. The Lisbon resident started buying equipment and touring the country to obtain certifications and learn the tricks of the trade.

Building steel docks seemed like a natural fit for the former St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. millwright, but crafting business plans and financing packages was a foreign concept to him.

That's where the SBDC came in.

"They know exactly what the bank needs and set it up," he said. "They make a nice, professional presentation for you."

The county Local Development Corp. granted him a $20,000 loan at 4 percent interest Tuesday. The one-man operation was a no-brainer for the microenterprise loan fund.
"It's an ideal fit," said Patrick J. Kelly, LDC executive director.
The loan fund provides up to $20,000 to startup businesses with fewer than five employees. The fund is financing about 20 businesses with its approximately $390,000 in assets.

Mr. Schneller started building docks last summer but is fulfilling his from-the-water dream this month. He uses robotic pile-driving and drilling equipment instead of building traditional wooden crib docks that can be more susceptible to ice floes.
He'll get help from son Joel - the J in AKJ - and spend the off-season thinking of ways to improve efficiency and expand. He's subcontracting welders but plans to add a few employees as the business grows.

AKJ started from an idea - building docks without running excavators across yards - and is heading out onto the St. Lawrence, in part, because of the county's small business assistance agencies.

"They've been great to work with," Mr. Schneller said. "It's very user-friendly."

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