A new beginning?

NewBeginning_Dollar_WIDE“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
— Romeo and Juliet

Farewell, Ulster County Development Corporation. Welcome, Ulster County Partnership.

Last Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 29), 12 persons gathered around the conference table in the Karen Binder Library on the sixth floor of the county office building in Kingston to facilitate the name change and plan a re-branding campaign.

Said county executive Mike Hein, seated at the head of the table surrounded by the people he had appointed as directors of the new entity, “I believe this is an important part of the county’s future.” As he looked around the room, Hein said, he saw person after person dedicated to making Ulster County a better place through its economic development.

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The meeting went through some of the steps to reincorporate the same legal entity with a new name. A revised certificate of incorporation will be filed with the state. New bylaws will be adopted.

The session began with a meeting within the meeting, a required event in the transition. The “Sole Member Meeting,” as its agenda described it, consisted of Hein calling the meeting to order, appointing the new board, recessing, re-opening the meeting, certifying the re-incorporation, and adjourning. The process took but a few minutes.

Then came the finance committee meeting, a committee of the whole which discussed and adopted a budget and adjourned. A proposed 2014 budget, including spending $155,000 for re-branding and marketing — $100,000 from the county government, $50,000 from projected private contributions and $5000 from another source — was presented by Suzanne Holt, a Hein assistant who on July 20 replaced March Gallagher as director of the office of business services for the county.

Then the newly constituted board of directors met.

Anthony Campagiorni, who has considerable experience with UCDC and other development groups in the region, is chair of the Ulster County Partnership. Members of the new body include top Hein aides Robert Sudlow and Ken Crannell, county legislators Jim Maloney and Peter Loughran, and Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce head Ward Todd. Budget officer, J.J. Hanson, who has resigned, was replaced on the board by county finance department head Burt Golnick.

The meeting was devoted almost exclusively to legal and administrative changes. Bylaws were distributed but not discussed. Campagiorni was firm in his view that marketing and auditing services be handled through requests for proposals and competitive bidding rather than through sole-source contracts. The other board members assented.

 

Long way to go

Campagiorni, who is assistant vice president for governmental affairs and economic development at Central Hudson, admits that his own views of economic development in the Hudson Valley have been changing. In a telephone interview a few days after the meeting of the Ulster County Partnership directors, he explained that he had once seen economic development mainly as a real-estate-based strategy for matching employers and facilities. The downsizing of industrial space needs in the past few years and other factors have changed the equation to some degree.

“I never thought I’d be saying this,” he said late last week, “but [we] may need a 15-to-20-year strategy about what we do…We may need to create more desirable places to live.”

The mid-Hudson region, he thinks, is in some ways ill prepared for the new knowledge economy. It has other shortcomings. “We don’t have the entrepreneurial culture some other places have,” he explained. “We’ve lacked a real innovation institution. We have a long way to go.”

The recession hasn’t helped. Citing recent work by Marist economics professor Christy Caridi, Campagiorni said that recent regional trends in job pay have not been encouraging. “To some degree, we’ve replaced good jobs with bad jobs,” he said. His personal view is that tourism jobs, which are low-paying and often seasonal, ought not to be the centerpiece of an Ulster County strategy.

Campagiorni supports the Ulster County Partnership re-branding effort. He thinks it will be money well spent. “If you’re not out there,” he said, “it’s an important first step. We should put some dollars into it.”

 

Clean slate opportunity

According to the 2014 Ulster County budget, Suzanne Holt, who was paid $68,111 plus benefits in her previous job as a Hein assistant, will be paid $88,500 plus benefits in her new job as director of the office of business services. The budget indicates that she’ll be paid the same amount that March Gallagher, her predecessor, was getting.

Two other former Ulster County Development Corporation employees will appear on the 2014 county payroll in the office of business services within the planning department. According to Hein’s budget, Melinda Beuf will be paid $69,992 plus benefits and longtime UCDC office manager Linda Clark will be paid $40,996 plus benefits.

It’s easy to make fun of re-branding and other examples of Immaculate Conception. The fact is that a clean slate represents an opportunity to think outside the box, to encourage greater participation, to improve and clarify goals, to review organizational arrangements, and to assign clear responsibility for achieving results.

With such an important subject as economic development, though, it’s important not to allow for the puffery of giving credit for results both inevitable and invisible — as happened for so long with the Ulster County Development Corporation. It’s also important to view the new arrangement through the lens of high community expectations.

The next meeting of the Ulster County Partnership board has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, December 3 at the same location.

 

 

 

 

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