The currently underway “Ulster 2040,” set in motion by County Executive Ryan, appears somewhat duplicative of the process and money paid for by Ulster County taxpayers six years ago by Fairweather Consulting to research economic development opportunities, and do analysis resulting in a report that identified five industry sectors (if I’m not mistaken) where the county has existing strengths and should leverage. They are (more or less): value-added agriculture (not the crops themselves, but the jams, syrups, end products); entrepreneurial tech (startups, virtual operations, software); specialized manufacturing (unique and boutique types of manufacturing); creative/arts (design, materials, fine); and tourism (recreational in particular). These industries and county have not changed that much since then. We need not wait until May of 2020 (the current time frame for a report from the committee) to implement some common-sense actions now.
Over the last decade or more, we have had some success in all these aforementioned areas, but they have not helped create many living-wage jobs and the poverty rate is slowly creeping up (according to recent studies — Pattern for Progress). Ulster is creating jobs, but mostly low-wage, and it is a real problem with real consequences. For example, while Ulster County has stopped the overall population decline in last three years, this change is due mainly to more people moving in than moving out — natives still move out of the county in troubling numbers, due mainly to lack of family-supporting wage opportunities. Also, more people have to get income from outside of Ulster (commute out of the county) — a whopping 70 percent! — than any other county in the Hudson Valley, according to a recent study.
While it’s nice that government seeks input from the public and non-profit sectors (the primary composition of the Ulster 2040 group), it’s time to put pedal to the metal on economic development and move past administration, research, episodic marketing campaigns and a few tax incentives (PILOTS) and engage in actual sales activity. First, hire some sharp salespeople to prospect companies that may be a good fit for Ulster (see list of industries above); contact and introduce Ulster to those companies; visit/meet them; promote Ulster’s benefits (get creative — out-of-the-box thinking!); prepare a prospectus/proposal (including ways county and local government are prepared to assist) for them on how they can set up operations here; host onsite visits; make introductions to locals who can help them in a transition to Ulster; keep on top of the prospect; and help to close deals. Second, develop a countywide list of “real-time” for-sale (or lease) commercial property opportunities, including details such as zoning uses, zoning flexibility, unique attributes, industry ideal uses, amenities, transportation access, etc. A resource like this would take a lot of the guessing out of the process and help potential investors greatly. Third, streamline the development process wherever possible by providing investment prospects a liaison who is familiar with the political/cultural landscape of different regions within Ulster, so no developer/investor gets ‘blindsided’ by well-intentioned activists or historical concerns, or other hyper-local “landmines.” While New York State taxes and local taxes are high (comparatively), if we can anticipate and deflect or address some of the local investment challenges, we can overcome these challenges. It’s all about fostering new business relationships, and it starts with sales.
These a just a few suggestions that could, to varying degrees, be implemented quickly, and concurrent to the findings of Ulster 2040. For some residents, time is slipping by.