For NYC transplants, finding good work in the Hudson Valley can be a challenge

Lisa Protter and Steve Treccase teaching a class at the National Gourmet Institute in New York City.

For many people living about 100 miles outside of Gotham, as we in Ulster County do, migration between here and there is an important part of economic life. For the last several years, the big city has offered greater employment opportunities.

For many of our young people, what has started out as that first temporary city job had led to a semi-permanent change of residence. Others have preferred a necessarily long commute to work. Some of these young people move back. Other don’t.

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For many city people a few years older, what begins as a casual weekend country escape has led to a similar semi-permanent change of residence. Some folks go back to the city for work purposes, and a portion of those end up back down there. Many others stay.

Migration cuts both ways.

Both for those wanting to come back and those wanting to stay, finding a good job in Ulster County has been no easy trick. One of the ways to do so has been somehow to create one’s own job. Though that’s a tough road, thousands of people have tried to do it, combining their creative skills, business acumen, imagination and not a little tenacity.

Most of us locals know examples of those people. These transplants are important contributors to our economy and to our community.

Guess what? Not everyone who successfully creates his or her own job gets fabulously wealthy. Not all businesses are easily scalable, that is, able to grow or to be made larger. Not all lives, whether urban or rural, are happy. And not all fabulously happy people are fabulously wealthy.

In 2002, New York City residents Lisa Protter, involved in entertainment promotion and marketing, and her partner Steve Treccase, a musician, sound designer and music director, bought a house in Saugerties. After lengthening their stays in Ulster County, they each decided they wanted to relocate here.

They wanted to capitalize on their passion for the vegan food movement, they told Saugerties Times reporter Katie Cahill in 2008. “We wanted to do something of value,” Protter explained.

Protter describes her partner as “an intellectual overachiever.” An innovative foodie particularly interested in unprocessed, gluten-free vegan foods cooked only at low temperatures to preserve maximum nutritional value, Treccase began experimenting with agave syrup, a sweetener extracted from agave plants in Mexico.

Setting up a business called Organic Nectars in 2005, Protter and Treccase began to import agave syrup, pour it into bottles, and sell it to local grocers, and then later to a network of a few large distributors and hundreds of stores.

Other products of Treccase’s fertile imagination — all organic, vegan and gluten-free — are Cashewtopia®, cashew cream-based gelatos, gelatos, raw cacao chocolates sweetened with organic coconut sugar, agave dessert syrups, and various ingredients such as raw cacao nibs, cacao powder, pink crystal salt and gojiberries.

It’s not enough to find and sell the healthiest of food products on the market. The products must be delicious — “absolutely delicious,” says Protter. Every aspect of the business must focus on quality, freshness and healthful production processes.

With a Saugerties warehouse and two full-time employees, the pair of owners are, a dozen years later, still running the company hands-on. Protter says Organic Nectars has considered possible retail outlets, like a pop-up store or even an ice-cream truck. Food manufacturing employs about a million and a half people in this country, a number that’s fifteen percent of total manufacturing employment and growing. The natural-foods portion of the industry has grown enormously. Small firms in that space need to know what they’re doing.

According to the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, whose food and beverage alliance membership keeps growing, the number of people employed in the sector in the Hudson Valley has increased by 20 percent in the past 15 years and now employs more than 57,000 people in 5000 firms. Both state and regional efforts at economic development have identified the food and beverage industries as important regional business clusters.

Last November, FuzeHub, a not-for-profit that connects New York’s small and mid-sized manufacturing companies to the resources, programs and expertise they need for technology commercialization, innovation, and business growth, held a Solutions Forum for food manufacturers at the Manufacturing and Technology Enterprise Center in Highland.

Organic Nectars’ proprietors continue to find opportunities along the path they’ve chosen. Lisa Protter concedes she might have done things differently “because I’ve learned.” But she isn’t sorry.

“I didn’t realize how gratifying this would be,” Protter said last week at the Village Diner in Saugerties, where in classical “Cheers” fashion she seems to recognize almost everybody.

This particular transplant seems to have been a success.

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