The Cornell Creative Arts Center (CCAC) at 129 Cornell Street in Midtown Kingston isn’t just a place where people with disabilities can take art, dance, and pottery classes. They can do businesses alongside people from the mainstream community, helping to break down barriers. This bustling business accelerator rents space to seven companies for the manufacture and/or packing and distribution of food and CBD products. In exchange for a reasonable rent and access to high-end equipment they otherwise couldn’t’ afford, participant companies are required to hire ARC clients.
ARC of Mid-Hudson, which owns the facility, assists with the hiring, training and on-the-job training of the clients.
Many of the companies “have had good hiring practices with the ARC folks,” who represent a wide range of disabilities, according to Tom Dellatorre, director of business development at Galileo Technology Group, which has been contracted by ARC of Mid-Hudson to operate business accelerators in Kingston, Ellenville and Catskill. “The ARC folks enjoy the work and paycheck, and socially and business-wise, their participation is very suitable for the companies.”
The center, located in a 2000-square-foot building, began renting space to companies two years ago. The current tenants are Edenesque; Ram’s Valley, which makes hot sauces and spicy ingredients from vegetables; Off the Wheat Sweets and Eats, a gluten-free bakery that sells to Union Square and other farmers’ markets in New York City; CurrantC, which makes jams and juices from currants; Hennepin, a producer of CBD topical creams and ointments and edibles; the Blackbird Bistro café, which is run by Hennepin and serves the CCAC’s employees and clients as well as the public; Canniback, which makes CBD oils and teas; and Green Panda, a producer of organic toothbrushes which sells to Whole Foods and other large retailers.
Galileo Technology assisted ARC of Mid-Hudson in obtaining a state CFA (Consolidated Funding Application) grant for the initial outfitting of the accelerator and art center. The government money has made the relatively low rents possible. Dellatorre said T-SEC, which obtains manufacturing equipment for the education, industry and manufacturing sector in the Hudson Valley, acquired high-end equipment for the facility that a small company normally couldn’t afford, which increases their production capabilities. It includes equipment for bottling and labeling (which the companies use collectively), food processers, fridges, stoves and the like.
The Workforce Development Institute also was a supporter, providing equipment obtained through grants.
Besides the benefit of these capabilities, a focus on food production for the accelerator makes sense in that many of the positions “can be performed by people with disabilities. Many of these people are very capable and just need access to jobs,” Dellatorre said. Most of the companies are packing and shipping theirs product from the center, not manufacturing it, he added.
Ideally, after three years a company so expands its capacity that it “graduates” and moves out to another, larger space, Dellatorre said. There have been companies that dropped out due to lack of sales, but so far no graduates — although he noted that companies that continue to operate at a small scale at the center and keep up their employment are obviously a success story.
As in the rest of the business world and society, the pandemic is throwing a wrench into operations. For example, Off the Wheat Sweets and Eats, which has been phenomenally successful, can’t sell its breads and bakery goods until the farmers’ markets in New York City reopen, Dellatorre noted. Green Panda, a new tenant and an expected major new source of employment, faces another big challenge. Is toothbrushes are made by inserting organically grown fibers into bamboo handles, which are imported from China, and unfortunately, the supply chain for the bamboo handles has broken down.
Dellatorre explained how the accelerator at the CCAC is different from a business incubator. Whereas an incubator helps startups, an accelerator is designed for companies that already have a product and a brand.
The Kingston accelerator has pretty much reached capacity, and Galileo Technology was focused on building out the centers in Ellenville and Catskill. Until the pandemic, that is. Hopefully it won’t be long before the current challenges are overcome, and the CCAC is back up and running.