Completely Unique

Mark Schienberg's mom was in the crowd, among the movers, shakers, dealers and politicians attending the opening of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn.'s $25-million dealership training facility, an industry first. He publicly recognized her, while also thanking those who contributed financially and politically to the association's completely unique Center for Automotive Education and Training

Mark Schienberg's mom was in the crowd, among the movers, shakers, dealers and politicians attending the opening of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn.'s $25-million dealership training facility, an industry first.

He publicly recognized her, while also thanking those who contributed financially and politically to the association's “completely unique” Center for Automotive Education and Training on a 7-acre site in Queens, east of LaGuardia Airport.

Schienberg, the dealer association's president, recalls that, as a boy growing up in Queens, his parents stressed education.

Of the new center, he says, “It's so great to be a part of a project that will provide young people with opportunity and training and a chance to obtain high-paying jobs in the automotive industry.”

Schienberg is more than just a part of one of the most important projects in the 650-member association's 95-year history.

He first envisioned the facility, secured industry contributions and partnerships, lobbied for governmental funding and tax breaks, oversaw the design, tended to details and guided two years of construction.

He is quick to credit others.

“The center would never have got off the drawing board without the commitment of a whole army of supporters from every corner of the industry, city, state and nationally too,” Schienberg says. “This really has been the most amazing team effort.”

He particularly praises the New York dealer association's board. “Going ahead with this was a gutsy move by the board,” he says. “But they are a gutsy board.”

Yet virtually everyone agrees Schienberg made it happen.

“He worked tirelessly on it,” says project architect Allen Kopelson. “It was a very personal effort. He was involved in every facet of this project.”

Says Don Savage of the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, “On the way down here, I was trying to think of an adjective for Mark. I think ‘tenacious’ best describes him.”

And maybe “direct.”

Recalling a conversation with Schienberg, State Senator Frank Padavan of New York says, “I asked him, ‘What do you need from us?’ He said, ‘Money.’

Padavan has no regrets aiding the cause. “It was a wise decision on our part,” he says.

That's because such an educational facility addresses the need for well-trained qualified dealership employees, particularly service technicians.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates an annual shortage of 30,000 auto technicians. That number soon could hit 60,000, according to federal forecasts.

“The center is tremendously important for New York on many fronts,” says Robert Fusco, chairman of the New York dealers association. “It will help prepare thousands of individuals for rewarding, high-paying jobs in the automotive service and sales industry.”

He adds, “These jobs are highly technical and challenging. Many master technicians in our area make more than $100,000 a year. I have three on my staff right now making that kind of money.”

Occupying 50,000 sq. ft. of the 90,000-sq.-ft. facility is anchor tenant Lincoln Technical Institute. It expects to train more than 1,000 post-secondary students a year.

“This new facility is an excellent example of how a school-to-work transition initiative should be orchestrated,” says Larry Brown, president and CEO of Lincoln Educational Services.

Meanwhile, Toyota has signed a long-term lease to use a portion of the building for the continuing education of Toyota and Scion dealership employees.

Toyota's training wing includes dedicated classroom and shop areas. Much of the training will focus on servicing vehicles with gasoline-electric hybrid engines.

“Toyota is pleased to be part of this precedent-setting arrangement with the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn.,” says Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

The association will also use the facility for its own education and training programs, which currently consist of nearly 100 seminars and workshops held each year for local dealership personnel.

The training includes service, management, billing, bookkeeping and sales. The centerpiece of the building, a 5,000-sq.-ft. glass atrium, is designed to resemble a dealership showroom for simulated sales-floor training.

The atrium can also be used for special events, displays and receptions. The association is urging auto makers, suppliers and dealership service providers to use the facility for ongoing educational programs and conferences.

“You could probably do weddings and bar mitzvahs here, too,” quips Congressman Gary Ackerman.

It was easy getting New York dealers aboard early on because they know first-hand the need for a local facility that trains technicians and other dealership employees, says Schienberg.

State and local officeholders whose districts include the Queens facility also “were fine with it,” he says.

The challenge was convincing elected officials outside the district that backing the project would be a worthy cause.

“It was a question of sitting down with legislators and going through the same pitch over and over,” says Schienberg. “You just got to do it to prove its value. Once the ball got rolling, it became easier.

“Then we went to the industry because they had the deep pockets and a great need for training such as this.”

Land for the building was purchased in 1998. The association then did its due diligence to line up funding and support. A ground-breaking date was impending when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“When 9-11 occurred, a lot of the governmental funding we were hoping to get disappeared because it was redirected elsewhere,” says Schienberg. “We also found ourselves with a labor shortage because of all the work going on at ground zero. And mentally, we were trying to figure out where the country was going to be.”

Those obstacles and traumas abated with time. Support for the project returned. A ground breaking finally occurred on a soggy day in 2003.

“Everyone on a non-partisan basis wanted to make this happen in record time,” says Congressman Ackerman.

New York Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette says, “It doesn't seem that long ago that we were standing on wet ground under a tent for the ground-breaking ceremony here.”

Lafayette is a former dealer who learned how to fix cars as a youth at his father's dealership. The basic mechanical knowledge needed to fix yesterday's cars pales when compared with the advanced training that service technician need to fix today's vehicles, he says.

“A while ago someone asked me for a boost, and when I opened the hood of the late-model car, I couldn't find where they had put the battery,” he says. “A lot has changed. I was a grease monkey. Today's technicians aren't.”

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall praises the New York dealer association for “doing things the American way.”

She explains, “They took the helm and said we are going to band together to create a facility to train mechanics. Other industries should take heed. Our dealers are at the cutting edge of tomorrow.

“The young people trained here will be our future heads of households. This is the kind of investment I like to do and see every day.”

Among the facility's first students is Joey Lopez. He says recruiters went to his high school and spoke of opportunities for service technicians.

“It sounded great,” says Lopez.

Classmate John Makhanlall says he tried to get a decent job out of high school, but quickly learned “you need a proper education.”

For tech-in-training Nick Mazzarella, it's a matter of love. “Service techs love money and they love cars,” he says. “So going to school here is great for us.”

Dealer Michael Koufakis owns Star Toyota of Bayside, just blocks from the new training facility. He operates a 60,000-sq.-ft. service facility.

“We're minutes away and I don't think there's a dealer that can benefit more from the training center,” he says. “We'll have no more excuses about not enough tech training.”

Schienberg hopes the center will serve as a model for other dealer associations in regions facing a shortage of qualified personnel.

“Mark Was an Executive Paperboy”

By Steve Finlay

One of Mark Schienberg's first jobs was as a 12-year-old paperboy for the Flushing Tribune in Queens, NY, where he grew up.

He wasn't a typical paperboy, recalls his old boss, Gary Ackerman, now a congressman, back then publisher of the newspaper.

“Mark was an executive paperboy,” says Ackerman.

Schienberg this year observes his 20th anniversary as president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn. When he hired on, the staff consisted of three employees. Now it employs 50.

He spearheaded one of the association's greatest achievements, the Center for Automotive Education and Training, a new $25-million facility to train service technicians and other dealership personnel.

The seed for such a place was planted 18 years ago, when Schienberg toured New York public schools' vocational training facilities.

“It was horrifying,” he recalls. “Kids sat on benches that were splintering. They were learning from an old curriculum. Conditions and equipment were substandard. It got me angry to see kids just being pushed through the system without any real hope or opportunity. That's when I realized we needed to step up to the plate.”

He and the dealer association got actively involved in raising the level of training for young people interested in dealership jobs.

Working first through the school system proved too bureaucratically challenging. So, the association established its own educational program, ranging from technology competitions to seminars.

“About 15 years ago we started thinking, fantasizing really, about building our own complex,” says Schienberg. “Slowly, we started piecing the concept together.

“We did it slowly because we didn't want to make any serious mistakes and we wanted people to take us seriously by seeing what we were doing with our existing training programs. It was a long time coming, but the dealers really stuck with the idea for the new center.”

Dealers he cites individually are:

  • Gary Schimmerling and Colleen Morrissey, who chaired the association when the idea for the center took root.

  • Doug Callaghan and Michael Lazarus, co-chairs of the building committee.

  • Marvin Suskin, association chairman when ground was broken in 2003.

  • Robert Fusco, current association chairman, “whose dedication to this project goes back many years.”

Schienberg is an advocate of education who has taught urban studies at Queens College and arts and photography at the Parson School of Design.

His father ran the world's largest importing business for women's hats. “He was one of the smartest guys I know,” says Schienberg of his dad. “He came out of the Depression and taught me a lot about life and hard work.”

His mother, who earned a college education relatively late in life, was an executive in the airline industry. His brother is a psychologist.

His wife has run the New York Auto Show for 15 years. Stepson Daniel shares Schienberg's love of photography. “But he's a better photographer than I am.”

Strength In Numbers

Auto dealers are a major economic force in metro New York, as evidenced by their new $25-million training center as well as some impressive market statistics.

They sold 456,000 new vehicles valued at $18.6 billion and contributed $1.27 billion in tax revenues to state and local governments in 2003 — an average of nearly $3 million per dealership, according to a study on New York dealers' impact on their market, one of the most important in the U.S.

Franchised car dealers in greater New York employ more than 55,000 people with salaries totaling nearly $2 billion a year. The average dealership employs 71 people and carries a $3.1 million payroll.

The average dealership serviced 16,100 vehicles in 2003, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the new center will employ 100-125 people and generate more than $8 million in tax revenue over the next 25 years.
Steve Finlay

Center's Design Reflects Modern Dealership

By Steve Finlay

The Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn.'s new Center for Automotive Education and Training makes an architectural statement about the people behind it.

Architect Allen Kopelson says it was relatively easy dealing with an association board of about 40 directors because they knew what they wanted.

“All of them wanted to participate in the initial design discussions, and they unanimously agreed the building should reflect a 21st century dealership,” says Kopelson.

Evocative of that is the center's centerpiece, a rotunda-shaped atrium. It is designed to resemble a dealership showroom. It is intended to be multi-functional, serving as a site for sales-floor training, special displays and industry receptions.

“Everyone agreed the building should have a ‘techie’ feel, but not be trendy,” says Kopelson. “They wanted it to stand the test of time, like a classic car.”

The 2-story, 90,000-sq.-ft. center features classrooms outfitted with long-distance learning and satellite capabilities, state-of-the-art training areas with the latest digital teaching systems, lecture halls and a 108-seat auditorium.

Kopelson says the dealer association wanted the building to be as “green” as possible, and received a $500,000 state grant for that. Heating and air conditioning systems are highly efficient. The building's airy layout lets in much natural light.

“You don't have to turn the classroom lights on that much,” says Kopelson.

The exterior and interior are blends of contemporary materials and well-appointed details. Not ornate, it is upscale professional.

Says association spokesman Nick Crispe: “They wanted furnishings and a décor that says to the students using the building, ‘This is an important industry and so are you.’”

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