City’s economic development czar retiring

After 16 years spearheading Kingston’s efforts to recover from the fiscal devastation left by the departure of IBM and reinvent itself for the new century, Steve Finkle, the city’s director for economic development, is moving on.

Finkle, 58, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year. The job pays $108,000 per year with $75,000 paid by the city and the rest from state funds.

Finkle leaves behind a legacy that includes the restoration of City Hall, the evolution of the city’s waterfront from a post-industrial wasteland to a tourism and entertainment district and the repurposing of much of the city’s abandoned manufacturing infrastructure. But, as he admits, the recovery remains incomplete and the hoped-for return of high-paying manufacturing jobs remains maddeningly out of reach.

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“In the 34 years I’ve been doing economic development in New York State, it just keeps getting harder,” said Finkle. “But we’ve had a lot of success.”

The latest coup was this week’s announcement that two companies, Stavo Industries and Wolf-Tec, Inc., will partner to redevelop the old Colony Liquor site on Flatbush Avenue into two separate facilities, a move expected to retain 100 jobs and create 41 more.

Finkle, a Queens native, has been working in the Hudson Valley since 1979 when he drew up Columbia County’s first economic development plan. He came to Kingston in 1995 after stints as an economic development specialist for Greene County, the Ulster County Development Corp. and Stewart Airport. Finkle’s hiring coincided with the closing of IBM’s massive manufacturing facility in the Town of Ulster (now called TechCity). The blow to the city’s economy by the loss of an estimated 7,000 jobs was enormous — along with the IBM jobs, dozens of smaller manufacturers and businesses that provided materials and services to the electronics giant were forced to close and the commercial real estate market was flooded with empty offices, warehouses and factories.

“There was just a lot of empty space, I watched manufacturers that I’d worked with at UCDC downsize or go out of business,” said Finkle of his first years on the job. “There were so many changes, you had jobs going overseas, the technology was changing.”

Slideshow image: Steve Finkle at last year’s Hudson Landing ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo by Dan Barton)

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