As a mother, attorney, public servant and home economist I enjoy working within complex systems to improve our collective world,” writes March Gallagher on her personal web page, I Am What I Am. “I love to structure deals and connect people.”
And why does Gallagher, who has resigned as director of Ulster County government’s Office of Business Services to take the job this month of chief strategy office at the Newburgh-based Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, have this web page? “I have this page because I cannot bear the thought of someone else owning the url [web address] that is my name,” she writes. “And owning a url with no information is annoying. You want to learn something about me or you wouldn’t be here.”
That’s vintage March Gallagher. A former Saugerties and now a Rosendale resident, Gallagher has worked as Ulster County government’s chief contact with the world of economic development for the past four and a half years — far longer, she says, than she had ever expected to stay. Following the button-down style of the bureaucratic world is not the way Gallagher’s barely repressible personality works. It’s not difficult to intuit that she thinks of herself as a go-getter, a problem-solver.
“March has been instrumental in our overhaul of the economic development infrastructure within Ulster County in an initiative to enhance coordination and better assist the business community,” Ulster County executive Mike Hein is quoted as saying in a July 2 press release lauding Gallagher and announcing the appointment of assistant deputy county executive Suzanne Holt, an attorney and a New Paltz resident, to the position. The “overhaul” had involved the winding down of county government support for the Ulster County Development Corporation. It formalized Gallagher’s role as the point person in county economic development.
Throughout the transition and beyond, Gallagher worked in the office of county planning director Dennis Doyle but reported directly to Hein. Gallagher has liked working with Doyle. She thinks that he strikes a sensible and skillful balance between the need for economic development and the preservation of the values of Ulster County community life.
She says she has also liked working for Hein. Though well aware of his personal eccentricities, including the treatment of opposition to him as oppositional defiance, Gallagher admires his skills. “What Mike is good at is he looks across broad functional areas, sees and understands them, and suggests changes,” says Gallagher.
She attributes what she terms his thin skin to his lack of political experience prior to running for county executive. “He’s getting more thick-skinned,” she says. She says she’d work for Hein again.
Her departure was Gallagher’s idea. The long and stinging national recession made economic development in Ulster County a tough job for anyone. The slow and gradual recovery has not yet involved many opportunities for successful deals. Gallagher’s office of three people has been kept busy for the most part with trying to help existing businesses weather the tough times. That exhausting and time-consuming detail work may be necessary to help local businesses survive, but it’s wearing as well. Gallagher tired of the grind.
Could someone else have done better? That kind of hindsight is unknowable. My conclusion, for what it’s worth, is that Gallagher performed at least as well as the last few UCDC chief executives would have. It’s still faint praise to say that she in fact did better. She’s personable, imaginative and hard-working. It’s against her nature to leave doable deals undone.
As Hein’s representative on various state and regional boards, Gallagher has become well known among the planning and economic development community in the Hudson Valley. The way she tells it, Pattern for Progress executive director Jonathan Drapkin pursued her when he found she might be open to switching from her firemanic responsibilities in Ulster County to a broader regional research job.
Whoever wrote the release announcing Gallagher’s job change caught the spirit of Drapkin’s thinking, though in a rather windy way. ”We are extremely pleased to have March join the team at Pattern. Her blend of skills, knowledge and reputation for getting the job done make her an asset to the entire region,” said Drapkin. “Having come from Ulster County’s creative, change-based administration, it’s clear that March can assist Pattern in facing the region’s issues and not only help Pattern, but also the people we serve — the residents of the Hudson Valley.”
Many New York State counties, particularly the smaller ones, have been moving as Ulster County has in the direction of a focus on economic development within county government rather than within an independent and sometimes highly inefficient business organization. But there’s another significant trend, too.
Under the Andrew Cuomo administration in particular, state government has been active in incentivizing a greater role for regional thinking. Empire State Development functions through ten regional offices that distill regional input into an overall state strategy. Albany can provide projects more robust incentives and greater supporting infrastructure than individual counties can. But he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Because the Hudson Valley has no single central city, a number of organizations, including Pattern for Progress, have vied for significant roles in the regional planning and economic development picture. By and large, these entities have not played well together. Should her grand new title describe her job accurately, March Gallagher will be in a position to use her talents to continue to connect people who need connecting.