Michael Smith, the newly appointed director of the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce, is no stranger to business, the Hudson Valley nor the Chamber organization, as he served as a board member on the Orange County Chamber of Commerce for many years.
While he was born in the Bronx, Smith made his way up the mighty Hudson, where he attended Marist College, majoring in Business. He and his wife settled in New Windsor, where they had a family-owned independent manufacturing businesses with 20 local employees and a local vendor that helped them turn raw materials into indicator lights that were then sold to the US Navy for its various fleets of ships and submarines. “If you’ve ever seen The Hunt for Red October, those lights blinking in the submarine were the types of indicator lights we manufactured,” he explains as he settles into his new office on 257 Main Street.
Smith is working closely with Joyce Minard, who “retired” this past year but is staying on to help Smith transition and to become a special projects coordinator with the New Paltz Regional Chamber. “She’s great,” says Smith, nodding towards Minard, who comes in and out of his office to grab a daily planner or mention a meeting that they have coming up. “She’s a legend. Her dedication to this organization and her roots in this town and the relationships she’s fostered are incredible…and she’s hysterical!”
But it was through the creation of that business that Smith became affiliated with the Orange County Chamber of Commerce and gained a respect and dedication toward the organization. “We went to them and told them of our business plans, and they did everything they could to help us get started, to match us up with a great local vendor, and supported us throughout from the onset and as we grew and evolved. The Chamber was an essential part of our success, and I never forgot that or took the organization for granted. Later I became a board member and served on various committees.”
Eventually Smith’s manufacturing company was purchased by a New York City firm, and then he moved on and held various positions in adult home health care, which is one step away from assisted living. He then moved to managing senior care, and finally toward creating a management team that could come in and assist the running of senior homes, senior assisted living and home health care agencies, one of which was right in New Paltz, with the Culinarian senior living facility.
“That was my introduction to New Paltz,” says Smith, who notes that his wife is originally from Walden. “We’ve toured and spent time throughout the Hudson Valley and of course in New Paltz, but working with the Culinarian home really brought me closer to New Paltz, which is such an amazing place.”
When the job offer went out over the wire after Minard announced her retirement, Smith thought that it was the perfect fit for all of his skills and his love of the New Paltz region. “I’ve spent so many years in business, as a volunteer, managing a not-for-profit organization and writing business articles, interfacing with so many people and spending a lot of time in New Paltz at the Preserve, Mohonk Mountain House, dining at many restaurants…it just made perfect sense.”
Smith and his wife’s two children, now in their mid-30s, also live in the Hudson Valley, so they’re very rooted to the area. “There is so much that New Paltz has to offer, as well as its surrounding areas, and I truly believe that our charter — now 112 years old — that established the Chamber as ‘regional’ truly is regional.”
He hits the high notes of the 7,000-acre Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park for recreational value, touristic value, the farms, the scenic vistas, the local independent businesses, the cultural infusion of SUNY-New Paltz, and being just off Exit 18 on the New York State Thruway as the main reasons that he believes this area is thriving and will “continue to thrive. The Chamber is here for them: the business community, those that want to stay and grow, those that want to come, the farmers and the enormous recreational opportunities…New Paltz and its surrounding communities are a gem.”
That said, Smith, as a businessman and a longtime business column writer, as well as an author on a top-selling book on golf and business, understands that there are challenges present and future that need to be addressed by the Chamber. “There is such economic instability, and it’s only underscored by legislation which is very uncertain, particularly when it comes to health care and taxes. Small businesses, which are the backbone of our community, are faced with a real quandary as to how to plan their growth when they don’t know what their health care contributions will be, the employees don’t know what their premiums will be; and this lends a real anxiety that we [the Chamber] are working on day in and day out to try and assist our businesses and their employees, as they are the heart of our community.”
To this end, Smith stays on top of all of the legislation, local, state and federal, and is working closely with Minard and the Chamber staff and Board to “help our residents, our business-owners, our employees find the security they need and deserve.”
Since he received the post only a week-and-a-half prior to the New Paltz Times deadline, Smith has been accompanying Minard to every meeting and then setting up meetings himself, with the challenge of “being able to meet, one on one, with every Chamber member that we have within the next two months, as well as our local and county officials. And then I plan to walk the streets and just meet and greet people, residents, employees on an impromptu basis. I want to know what we at the Chamber can do to assist them, what their needs are, how we can support them and work with them to make this community and this region a thriving area, which I know it is and will continue to be.” ++