petey-SQAt breakfast at the Phoenicia Diner one morning, my soon-to-be-25-year-old son Nick talked about this bunch of area kids his age who all know each other. A couple of them may have finished community college, and the others have dropped out somewhere along the educational path. Some would like to finish college if they could. Others vehemently reject that route.

These are not your standard college kids thirsty for knowledge and eager for career advancement. They’re the opposite, cynical about the benefits of schooling but extremely supportive toward each other. They’re all in the same boat, rowing against the tide. They’re the waste product of a society that once believed in equal opportunity but no longer practices it.

One might describe these young people not only as congenitally undereducated but also as chronically underemployed. Though a couple of them subsist on handouts from relatives, most work part-time or intermittently as housekeepers, waitpersons and dogsitters, as landscapers, contractors and electrical apprentices. They’re competent at what they do. They’re as smart as anyone else. Maybe smarter.

They travel a lot to North American cities, and some have been to Europe. Though they talk often of moving to the West Coast, they’re still here. Time is passing.

My son, thanks to his recent college degree and already decaying computer skills, is the only one on their frail vessel with a plausible round-trip ticket. He can go back and pass for ambitious.

Nick likes these young people he knows. He identifies with them more than he does with his college classmates. Why? Because they’re always honest, he says. They try earnestly to express who they are, how they live, what their problems are. Few false notes. They’ve traveled the territory they inhabit. They’re not phonies.

Shades of Holden Caulfield: “You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.”

July 16 was the 65th anniversary of the publication of Catcher in the Rye.

Maybe these kids should all go to college together. All for one and one for all. How could it happen? What college would have them?

To graduate from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, “every student, with faculty advice and guidance, devises an individual program in which he or she attempts to ask, and answer, a question perhaps never before posed. There is no other undergraduate college that approaches learning this way.”

A lot of these kids haven’t had perfect upbringings. Learning problems are not unknown among them. But they follow their passions. It’s a mean society that excludes on the basis of handicap rather than building on the base of strength.

So here’s my idea, I told my son across the diner breakfast table. You put this group of kids who are as good as anybody else but will probably never have the opportunity to prove it into this college that claims to want to answer questions that may never have been posed. The question you want them to find the answer to is one Socrates asked of Athenian youths 2500 years ago: how they can live meaningful lives contributing to a world that doesn’t usually ask — or answer — questions like that.

Socrates was a real pain in the ass. We need more like him.

My dear friend Julie O’Connor, who edits our Almanac, and I have worked together for decades. She’s one of the few people I know who does her best to live a meaningful life. Her daughter Lucia, who was mostly home-schooled, is a wonderful kid who I think has inherited the meaningfulness gene. Lucia has just finished her first year at Hampshire College. It’s challenging, she says, but she likes it.

My daughter Heather’s stepdaughter Emma, 16, came to Ulster County this month with her family. Heather and her family live in the affordable part of Beverly Hills. Emma wants to go to school on the East Coast, and she’s been doing a tour of colleges. When I mentioned Hampshire, which I knew she visited, her face lit up. That’s where I want to go, she said. She’s considering applying for early admission. I gave her Lucia’s phone number.

So here’s the deal, Hampshire College. Be willing to admit all these kids Nick knows as a group. Give them the opportunity to realize the American dream.

Practically all kids who go to college spend a couple of years finding themselves. Susceptible to false idealism in a false gathering place, they start isolated from one another. For self-protection, they learn a herd instinct often disloyal to who they started out as. Should education feed off weakness, not build on strength?

That isn’t what education has to be.

Admit these kids, Hampshire College. Pay the freight. Arrange for them to share in depth with their fellow students how they intend to live meaningful lives. Have an equal number of regular students tell the young people Nick knows in turn how they intend to live meaningful lives. The two groups, in conjunction with facilitators, should plan a curriculum for exploration of the alternatives. The goal will be to create in this agora a better, more holistic and more examined community life.

It’s an experiment worth conducting. If the opportunity were honestly provided, I believe it would help build what we all need: a less inequitable American society.

(Photo by Will Dendis)

(Photo by Will Dendis)

The other shoe has dropped at the financially troubled Hudson Valley Mall on Ulster Avenue. Its $49.4-million mortgage has been foreclosed upon, and Kingston attorney Catherine Charuk has been appointed receiver to sort out the situation in the interests of the creditors. Mall management is no longer making the big decisions.

According to the foreclosure action, the mall owners ceased making payments on the mortgage last September. That default entitled the mortgage-holder to the appointment of a receiver without notice, an action confirmed by Supreme County justice Richard Mott. The receiver or an agent handles the rents, maintains the premises, and directs other operational and management functions. New York City broker Andrew Scandalios has been appointed real-estate broker “to market the mortgaged premises for sale subject to court approval.”

On May 2, mall owner PCK Development formally consented to the order appointing the receiver.

The 62.6-acre Hudson Valley Mall contains 765,269 square feet of rentable space and currently generates income of about $650,000 a month. That sum includes rent being paid by tenants, including JC Penney and Macy’s, who had shuttered their stores before their leases ran out.

The mall is presently assessed at $66 million, but is suing for a reduction to $40 million. The likely success of that effort would put pressure on the remaining taxpayers of the Town of Ulster, Kingston’s school district and county government, which must come up with the tax money that the mall would otherwise be paying.

The taxable base of the town is 1.1 billion dollars, which suggests that the impact of the reduction in the mall’s taxes to the other taxpayers in the town would be in the neighborhood of 2.3 percent of the total tax base. Town government is presently dealing with the effects of reduced revenues from TechCity, formerly the town’s other biggest contributor to the tax base.

It looks very much as though someone, the creditors, the debtors or both, will have to write off a substantial portion of their investment.

With 28 persons seated on the more than 200 chairs available at the food court a few minutes past noon Friday, July 7, the Hudson Valley Mall looked sparsely populated. Five small food-service places remained. In addition to the five remaining anchors — Sears, Regal Cinema, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target — about 40 smaller stores, some local, some regional and some national — are still doing business. Visitor traffic in the corridors seemed light, as might be expected at that time of day and week. The anchors all had some customers.

The attendant at the mall’s information booth was helpful. She directed me to the Woodstock Music Shop, a newer establishment down the hallway. That was the kind of service-oriented business the mall management was trying to attract, she said.

The music store displayed a poster for the Woodstock Rock Academy, which the store clerk told me it supported but didn’t have a financial connection with. The store not only sold musical equipment, he said, but did rentals, hosted workshops and classes, and provided other services to the music community. Open less than a year, it was doing all right, he said.

A couple of the empty stores hosted displays of cars from Begnal Motors and Sawyer Motors. The custom-made auto-show vehicles from Sawyer were particularly striking.

A hallway sign said: “Support Ulster County. Shop local. Shop the Hudson Valley Mall, your mall since 1989.”

On the way out, I counted 22 people in the food court. I estimate that there were about 350 cars in the various parking lots surrounding the mall. I didn’t do an exact count.

Since the Hudson Valley Mall can’t seem to meet its financial obligations and doesn’t seem on the brink of a turnaround, the receiver’s job will involve major changes. The problems won’t solve themselves. Charuk, whose office is on Pearl Street in Kingston, had no comment on her task at the mall, other than that she hopes to handle the job expeditiously.

In terms of employment and compensation, the retail sector in Ulster County has been stable in the past decade. According to federal census data, the industry had 9676 employees in the first quarter of 2004 and 8986 in the same period of 2014. Total payroll in the low-paying sector, unadjusted for inflation, has increased in the decade from $203.5 million to $232.6 million.

Ulster town supervisor James Quigley is convinced that some level of retail business activity will continue at the mall. In the long term, will it be sufficient to maintain the viability of the mall model in a market the size of Kingston? Can a complementary use be found that will strengthen the mall? Or will other sites without the expense structure (maintenance, security) gradually draw away the critical mass of activity the mall requires for viability?

Bankruptcy law and the marketplace will decide.

shopping-cartIn a report published June 16, three Economic Policy Institute researchers used IRS data to calculate the incomes of the top one percent and the other 99 percent in each United States county. Researchers Estelle Sommeiller, Mark Price and Ellis Wezeter calculated the ratio between the two. Practically all the counties that ranked highest in median income also ranked the highest in inequality.

Money’s a big issue. One of the basic questions of economics is how the economic pie can be encouraged to grow faster while also being distributed into more equitable pieces. One’s attention between those two variables probably depends on one’s politics. But the complex interaction among economic growth, affordability and economic inequality is not easily navigated.

In income, Ulster is ranked fairly high at 305th among the more than three thousand U.S. counties, behind that of most but not all the counties in the region to its south and well ahead of most of the non-urban counties to its north and west. Dutchess and Orange counties are comfortably higher than Ulster, and Greene and Delaware are considerably lower.

Unsurprisingly, about half of the counties that the Regional Plan Association defines as within the New York metropolitan region have among the highest median-income levels in the country. Ulster County would like to be transformed into one of those. It has a long way to go.

The top one percent of families in Ulster County averaged a median income of $561,318, the bottom 99 percent $39,344. Dividing the second number into the first gives a ratio of 14.3.
That ratio ranked Ulster 1255th among all 3144 United States counties in disparity. Dutchess was 758th, meaning the gap is wider; Orange 1319th, Greene 1820th. With its high proportion of recent wealthy city émigrés and relatively small population, Columbia County ranked 108th among the counties in terms of inequality. The median income of the top one percent in that county was $1,063,446 in 2013.

How much do you have to earn, as reported to the IRS, to qualify for the top one percent? It was over a million dollars in only twelve counties in the country.
To be in the top one per cent in Teton County, Wyoming, your family needed to make $2,216,883 in 2013. The average income in the top one per cent was $19,995,834. In terms of income, Teton, an extremely attractive environment in the middle of nowhere, is the most unequal county in the country.

Second on the list is Manhattan, where $1,424,582 was the threshold amount needed to be in the top one percent. The median income of the one percent in New York County is $8,143,415.
Third is Fairfield, Connecticut (Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford), with $1,390,965 required. In sixth place is Westchester County, where one needs $1,184,603 in 2013 income for membership in the top one percent.

The report found that income inequality has risen in every state since the 1970s, and in many states was at the post-Great Recession level. In 24 states, the top one percent captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013, and in 15 of those states the top one percent captured all income growth. In another ten states, top one-percent incomes grew in the double digits, while bottom 99 percent incomes fell.

For the United States overall, the report indicated, the top one percent of families captured 85.1 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013. In 2013 the top one percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent.

“Accept it: New York thrives on inequality,” wrote the irrepressible Greg David of Crain’s Business on June 22. His slant was that the wealthy pay a lot of taxes on their income. “Inequality has increased in recent years,” David admitted, “but remains a few percentage points below the 2007 peak.”
For many, it’s worth sticking it out in the Big Apple in hopes of economic advancement and opportunity. For others, it isn’t. New York City is an exciting place to be. There are compelling reasons for staying, compelling reasons for leaving, and compelling reasons for trying to seek the best of both worlds.

Census demographer William Frey studied the population numbers from 2010 to 2013 in America’s 51 largest metro areas. Commented futurist Richard Florida, “Overall, his numbers appear to support the notion of a great inversion from the previous era of mass suburbanization.” In a third of the most populous metros, including New York City, the center cities grew faster than the suburbs.

America’s economically thriving biggest cities, most of which have a lot of rich people and a lot of poor people, host a growing degree of economic inequality. In a ranking of the nation’s 916 metropolitan areas, many of the top slots in terms of the income threshold for the top one percent are occupied by large cities. Besides the ones already mentioned, San Jose ranks fifth in inequality, San Francisco eighth, Boston tenth, Houston 20, Washington 21, Seattle 26, Chicago 29, Los Angeles 31, Miami 32, Minneapolis 33, Denver 34, Dallas 35, Philadelphia 41 and San Diego 48.

cities-HZTThe world has been steadily getting more urbanized. According to the United Nations, the world’s urban population has increased from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014, and is projected to reach 6.4 billion in 2050. About 55 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas today, and that proportion is expected to increase to 66 percent in 2050.

Tokyo in 2014 remained the world’s metropolitan area with 38 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million, and Mexico City, Mumbai and São Paulo, each with around 21 million inhabitants. Osaka has just over 20 million, followed by Beijing with slightly less than 20 million. The New York-Newark area and Cairo complete the top ten most populous urban areas with around 18.5 million inhabitants each. While Osaka and New York-Newark were the world’s second and third largest urban areas in 1990, the U.N. projects that by 2030 they will fall in rank to the 13th and 14th positions respectively, as cities with at least ten million people in developing countries become more numerous. By 2030, the world will have 41 of these megacities.

“The great thing about cities, the thing that is amazing about cities is as they grow, so to speak, their dimensionality increases. That is, the space of opportunity, the space of functions, the space of jobs just continually increases,” marveled Geoffrey West, former head of the research think tank Santa Fe Institute. “And the data shows that. If you look at job categories, it continually increases. I’ll use the word ‘dimensionality.’ It opens up.

“And in fact, one of the great things about cities is that it supports crazy people. You walk down Fifth Avenue, you see crazy people. There are always crazy people. Well, that’s good. Cities are tolerant of extraordinary diversity….”

What’s it like to live 80 or 90 miles away from so many crazy people (the word “crazy” is clearly inappropriate), such extraordinary diversity? How easy is to make a living enabling one to enjoy the best of both worlds? As the Big Apple lengthens its shadow over the region, will the opportunities for a useful and productive life in the Hudson Valley increase? Or will they decrease?

 

In 1991, the economist Paul Krugman termed the application of spatial thinking to economics the “new economic geography.” “What you have to understand is that in the late 1980s mainstream economists were almost literally oblivious to the fact that economies aren’t dimensionless points in space,” Krugman explained to an audience of geographers in 2011, “and to what the spatial dimension of the economy had to say about the nature of economic forces.”

Challenged at that time to produce evidence that increasing returns and positive external economies were playing an important economic role, Krugman recalled that he replied with a one-word answer: Cities.

Good economists have recently been producing thoughtful and elegant work about the increasing role that cities are playing in a changing world. I found one recent December 2015 working paper particularly intriguing.

Which are more productive in our world of changing communications — ever-larger megacities or a network of linked middle-sized metropolises? That’s the question raised by “Urban Networks: Connecting Markets, People and Ideas,” by Ed Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetti and Yimei Zou. The answer: It depends.

The United States turns to megacities, while Europe builds urban networks (“heterogeneous locations”). “American locations can be remarkably different even within a single metropolitan area,” observe the authors. “The less well educated residents of Oakland benefit from access to the San Francisco job market. European egalitarianism also operates at the city level, which should mean that networks make relatively more sense.”

On the one hand, the megacities provide richer and more diverse cultural amenities. On the other, affordable housing in the urban core is increasingly more problematical, and transportation and other infrastructure problems more vexing. What is the likely result? One possible outcome the authors suggest strikes a familiar if merciless chord in New York State’s upstate-downstate debate: “In such cases, the rise of a megacity would require the gradual emptying of the lesser nodes of the urban network.”

In the New York City context, “lesser nodes” can be read as code language for upstate New York. But does it also apply to the Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey and western Connecticut?

For them, an alternate scenario has been suggested. The New York metropolitan area consists of its central core, historically Manhattan, its lesser boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx plus its semi-suburb, Staten Island), its partially wealthy inner suburbs, and a geographically vast exurbia increasingly connected to it. That exurbia includes many small cities which the New York-based Regional Plan Association sees as proportionally growing more rapidly in population in the next 20 years or so than New York City. “Multiple job centers” could make the region more competitive and create more economic opportunity, RPA argues.

New economic activities emerge through technological innovation. These activities choose to locate in a spatially concentrated way, a fancy way of saying near each other. In a dynamic, knowledge-rich world, however, they don’t have remain near each other. With job categories and job content constantly evolving, they can split off and relocate elsewhere, perhaps to find kindred spirits in a quite different nearby job center.

The process is not rocket science.

The great minds of the Hudson Valley don’t think very much about the “increasing dimensionality” of the way New York City opportunities keep evolving. They do note patterns of occupational and generational change, shifts in population movement and housing availability, broad influences of shifting technology and embedded human capital. They do detect industry clusters, agricultural hubs, educational centers and population concentrations. But they don’t pull all these strands of information together very well into one actionable picture.

Maybe it’s time they did.

 

 

monopoly-house-HZT-wdIn the next two years, up to 100 vacant, abandoned or neglected Kingston houses are expected to be occupied, spruced up or converted to owner-occupied housing. Under a pair of state programs announced June 7 aimed at strengthening blighted neighborhoods in Kingston and five other communities in the state with a high concentration of zombie properties — properties no one is taking care of — up to $20,000 per applicant will be available not only for creating new homeowner opportunities but also for helping current homeowners stay in and fix up their homes. There is a good possibility the state will release additional housing rehabilitation funds to boost local efforts.

The state funding was awarded in response to applications by Kingston-based RUPCO (Rural Ulster Preservation Company), the regional provider of and advocate for quality affordable housing. Aimed squarely at community revitalization, the new state support is offered at zero interest, does not increase mortgage payments, and is forgiven over time. The program will be available citywide.

What opportunities might this recent availability of outside resources to support Kingston’s housing stock create? Could these resources be successfully leveraged with others to create a real difference in quality of life in Kingston’s neighborhoods? How could they collaborate with a private real-estate marketplace that seems to be attracting increased attention from young urban refugees from New Your City?

The recently announced programs are causing a buzz in the local banking industry, which sees a window of opportunity for its participation. “We’re looking for ways to be involved,” said Rondout Savings Bank president Jim Davenport. “It’s on our radar screen. We see the potential and want to drill deeper.”

Davenport said the area’s community banks may explore working together to provide a higher level of assistance. “It’s one of our discussion items here,” he said. He sees a coordinated effort creating what he calls “a win-win-win-win situation.”

The political world is not unaware of what’s going on. Kingston’s city government is preparing a new local law to establish a registration system for properties that have been vacant a year or longer. Mayor Steve Noble describes the legislation, which he expects to go to a legislative committee this week, as designed to provide a financial incentive for building owners “not just to sit on them.” Noble, who did not return a phone call, also said he would improve coordination among city departments to handle the zombie properties on the city’s tax rolls and other problems.

Saddled with the expenses that come with aging infrastructure, city government is anxious to increase Kingston’s tax base, something in recent decades the city has not been very successful in doing. Because residential properties are big consumers of municipal services, an increase of residential properties won’t necessarily lower anybody’s taxes. A big increase in a diversified tax base will do that, but then there might be problems with gentrification and a decline in the stock of affordable housing.

RUPCO executive director Kevin O’Connor will explain the new funding at an outreach session with the local real-estate industry at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 29, at the Kirkland hotel building on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Main Street. O’Connor would like to see more owner-occupied homes. Home ownership in some of the depressed Midtown census tracts is “in the teens,” he said. According to 2010 census data, Kingston had 10,217 occupied housing units and 930 not occupied. Citywide at that time, there were 5470 occupied rental units and 4747 owner-occupied housing units.

Housing costs in Kingston, whether via home ownership or rentals, are lower than in most Ulster County municipalities. You will pay less buying a house in Kingston than renting in Brooklyn.

“People are practical and know that buying, when factoring in today’s historically low mortgage rates, is currently more affordable than it has been in several decades, and that buying is currently a much better deal than renting in many metros across the country,” recently noted Stan Humphries of Zillow. With housing prices and mortgage rates stable, Humphries thinks, buying is becoming an even better deal all the time. He cited a recent survey showing that 84 percent of those 18 to 34 years of age intend to buy homes. (Though they self-identify as millennials, I think of them as yuppies.)

Finally, Humphries’ best guess is that the biggest winners in the housing market two decades from now are going to be small- to mid-sized cities, some close to larger metros and others more distant. Small and mid-sized cities are poised to do well over the next couple of decades.

Like Kingston.

Why did the Zillow executive think that these communities are going to fare better than rest? Because they’re close enough to where the jobs will continue to be.

“The suburbs and exurbs around large coastal metros like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, and D.C. have grown in large part because of strong job creation in these markets paired with rising home prices close to the urban core,” Humphries continued. “New arrivals coming to these markets in search of jobs often end up living in the suburbs or exurbs to find affordable housing. Or they rent housing in the urban core until they marry and have children, moving out in order to find a bigger home they can afford.”

I think that his analysis is largely correct.

Park-Point-HZTFaced with a modest barrage of opposition from New Paltz officials and residents, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) seems prepared to adopt a policy stipulating that dormitory and senior housing projects in the county secure local-government agreement before IDA financial benefits can be extended to them. Such a measure might to some degree ameliorate the hostility between the IDA and local government in Ulster County.

The agency is also likely to adjust its requirements for the use of regional labor and establish a new floor for wages paid during the construction phase of IDA-backed projects. Finally, it has made clear that it regarded itself as being already attuned to state policies in regard to “clawbacks” of IDA benefits from projects that don’t deliver what they have promised.

The UCIDA governance committee discussed these changes at a June 2 meeting attended by a majority of the agency’s members. These proposals were not fully aired at the full agency board meeting June 8, however. Further debate is possible if and when the revised policies do emerge for scrutiny and adoption.

IDAs in New York counties have been criticized by both the state, the government level above them, and local governments, the level below them, for a variety of reasons. For more than a decade, they’ve been accused of extending benefits to applicants who don’t deserve them, not monitoring whether the recipients of support create the jobs they’ve promised, and in general for undermining home rule. With upstate New York continuing to suffer from prolonged economic stagnation, the IDAs have become the convenient scapegoat, whether or not it is within their power to change the situation, for their critics.

The proposal first floated in 2010 for Park Point, a 732-bed, $60-million dormitory project next to the SUNY-New Paltz campus, caused a long and bitter battle. The developer, Rochester-based Wilmorite, the New Paltz college foundation, college officials and the IDA were on one side. Much of the rest of New Paltz, including its town government, were on the other. The IDA, which provides tax inducements most commonly for industrial and commercial projects, had created Category 5, making dormitory housing and senior housing projects eligible for agency support of a 25-year payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (Pilot) schedule. As with other classes of eligible projects, the IDA reserved decision on the tax benefits for itself. “The agency shall determine the fixed amount by considering the cost of the project and the impact the project has on the local community,” its Uniform Tax Exemption Policy (UTEP) stated. “…The agency may take into account information provided by the applicant, the local municipalities and school districts…,” and so on. The UTEP defined dormitory housing as “housing facilities designed and occupied by students attending higher education.”

The town’s planning board, lead agency for the project’s environmental review, had vowed to deny the Wilmorite application if it included a Pilot. It did.

What followed was predictable. In April 2014, the IDA unanimously granted the developer a 25-year Pilot. IDA member Steve Perfit said that a silent majority in the town favored the deal. “Without SUNY New Paltz, there would be no New Paltz,” he famously said.

The town government responded. “They have a Pilot, but they don’t have a project,” town supervisor Susan Zimet said. “The next step is the lawyers.”

A year later, state Supreme Court judge Michael Melkonian on March 17, 2015 decided in New Paltz’s favor, upholding the planning board’s conclusion that the revenues coming to the town and school district under the Pilot were insufficient to maintain local services. “We understand that SUNY believes that they need more housing and we are not against the college growing in any means whatsoever. SUNY New Paltz is critically important to the community,” said Zimet at the time. “However, it is not fair to do it on the backs of the taxpayers and the people who live in the community.”

The UCIDA has recently been reviewing its policies, procedures and application form.

In Ulster, much attention has been paid, as it has been in other counties, to the pay for construction workers at IDA-backed projects. The regional construction unions, one of which veteran IDA member Jim Malcolm works for, are concerned about the low wages itinerant non-local construction workers are paid. The local unions don’t have the clout to get the level of prevailing wages governmental projects bring, but they have been successful in getting more local labor hired at better pay. The UCIDA is discussing adjustments in its labor policies. Malcolm wants to make sure additional jobs created because of projects “the multiplier”) are taken into consideration. A “living wage” of 150 percent of minimum wage as a pay floor or perhaps 75 percent of prevailing wage were discussed by the UCIDA.

Unlike many other county IDAs, the Ulster IDA applies a points-based matrix system to calculate the eligibility of projects for support. Now it’s reviewing these policies. The matrix will come first. The points calculator will be based on the matrix.

These tools are being updated with an eye for additional detail. Inevitably, the agency’s application is getting longer. A redline version of proposed revisions to the standard IDA application is presently on the agency’s website.

At its June meeting, the agency members tossed around increases and decreases in its decision-making system for eligible projects. It was an interesting discussion. How many points should be awarded for creating or retaining jobs? How many points for ensuring environmental sustainability, removing brownfields, using alternate energy sources, locating projects near bus stops, and/or building business parks?

When all is said and done, the biggest headache the IDA has been facing is the rift caused by Category 5. It has been controversial. It was by far the item most often mentioned at the recent IDA public hearing at SUNY Ulster, and in the correspondence stemming from it.

Chairman Mike Horodyski, who had unwaveringly supported the Wilmorite application, proposed his solution at the IDA governance meeting: Strike only a deal that works for everybody. Make Category 5 and Category 5 alone subject to local approval. Create an automatic deviation that requires local approval for projects in Category 5.

Under Horodyski’s proposal, the approval of the local jurisdiction, the school board and the county legislature would be required for dormitory and senior projects.

Though no committee vote was taken on Horodyski’s suggestion, no overt dissent was voiced by other board members.

According to the UCIDA schedule, the maximum exemption for any other types of projects is 15 years. Member Floyd Lattin wanted the term of the IDA tax abatement for Category 5 cut back to 20 years from 25.

Would the proposed changes soothe the still-ruffled feathers of the IDA and of the local governments? It’s hard to say. Time will tell.

At the IDA committee meeting, governance chairman John Morrow was still fuming about New Paltz town government’s calculation of police services in its objections to Park Point. “The police thing is all bullshit,” he said. “They don’t have to call the New Paltz police. It’s a big, fat lie, and no one’s calling them on it.”

pigeon-HZTThe Big Apple’s government is considering a $50-million investment to bring a steady supply of local apples to Gothamites. The New York Times recently sent reporter Paul Post to the Stone Ridge Orchard in Marbletown, which according to the story he wrote, provides apples to the Gramercy Tavern, the Whitney Museum, and various schools and farmers’ markets across the city, “part of a rapidly expanding pipeline that carries fruits and vegetables from farms across New York State to consumers clamoring for fresh ingredients grown in soil not far away.”

“The risk to farmland is a risk to healthy food for New York City residents,” city councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, Democrat of Manhattan, is quoted as saying. Post reported in his June 1 article that Garodnick, troubled that many city farmers’ markets were in neighborhoods that had few stores, if any, that sold high-quality produce, has proposed that New York City spend $50 million for a conservation easement program to pay Hudson Valley farmers the development value of their land and include a deed restriction to permanently protect their land from development. Garodnick and other lawmakers had teamed up with Scenic Hudson to create a plan to preserve the region’s existing food system. The lawmakers are seeking for the first time to set aside money in the New York City municipal budget due at the end of this month for the preservation of farmland in the Hudson Valley.

New York City government and Scenic Hudson are not alone in these efforts. This year’s state budget allocated $20 million to protect 5600 acres on 28 Hudson Valley farms through purchases of development rights. The American Farmland Trust and a variety of environmentally active not-for-profits are involved in efforts like these.

The complex economic connection between downstate and upstate has been part of New York history ever since fur traders from New Amsterdam ventured northward almost 400 years ago. If anything, that connection is becoming stronger. The same 2017 budget in which Garodnick wants to include conservation easements outside the city will contain $350 million for “upstate water supply,” a big chunk of the projected $1.42 billion in spending by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. If Gotham is willing to pay that much for pure water, why not invest also in open space to ensure a nearby food supply? The idea isn’t illogical. DEP has been buying open space through its watershed land purchases and easements, anyway.

What will the relationship between the Hudson Valley and New York City be like 25 years from now? Hudson Valley-centered people view the coming changes from a different perspective than do Gothamites. But our regions are next-door neighbors. We share the same geographic and economic universe. We’re looking at the same data.

Let’s focus here only on the geographical distribution of two basic demographic variables, people and jobs.

The Regional Plan Association, a New York City planning institution, has been working on its Fourth Regional Plan since April 2013. Researchers, task forces and committees by the dozens have been crunching numbers, exchanging views and now coming to conclusions. RPA expects to publish the Fourth Regional Plan next year. The third plan came out in 1996.

At its recent mid-May annual assembly, the organization provided a first taste of the direction of its findings. The data suggests continued population and employment expansion. According to RPA estimates based on census data, New York City’s population in 2015 was 8.55 million. The Hudson Valley had 2.34 million people. Northern New Jersey had 7.12 million, Long Island 2.87 million, and southwestern Connecticut two million. Closing in on 23 million residents, the metropolitan area and its immediate surrounds is by far the most populous in the nation.

Futurist Richard Florida wrote three years ago about the strength of New York City’s economic recovery from the deep recession. “In 2009, I predicted that New York would in fact prove to be one of the country’s most resilient places,” Florida wrote in The Atlantic. “Even so, the speed and strength of its rebound surprised me — its explosive growth as a startup center especially so.”

Mostly because of housing limitations, RPA figures, more than three-quarters of the region’s population growth will occur outside New York City. If current trends continue until the year 2040, New York City’s population is projected to increase by 390,000 to 8.94 million, the highest number ever. The Hudson Valley’s population, meanwhile, is expected to increase by 280,000 to 2.62 million. Northern New Jersey will add 660,000, Long Island 270,000 and southwestern Connecticut 200,000.

It should be pointed out that the pattern of these population projections is not what’s happening now. All five boroughs of New York City have been steadily increasing in population. There’s been slower population growth in the inner ring of counties, and actual losses in the exurban areas. (Ulster County lost 2049 people between 2010 and 2014.)

The RPA projections expect this pattern to change. And indeed for the organization’s projections to prove accurate, something will have to change. In the meantime, however, New York City is becoming even more dense, even more crowded.

Since RPA expects the economy to grow, it figures that the population will grow, too. But where? Another set of numbers, called “RPA vision 2040,” projects an additional 810,000 residents in New York City and a population projection of 9,750,000 in 2040. The Hudson Valley’s population, 2.34 million in 2015, will increase under the vision-2040 scenario not to the “current-trends” number of 2.62 million but up another 110,000 to 2.73 million. Northern New Jersey would absorb another 650,000 people over its current-trends number, Long Island 190,000 and southwestern Connecticut 130,000.

Present total multi-metro population is 22.88 million. Current-trends 2040 total population would be 24.68 million. RPA Vision 2040 population would be 26.57 million. Can that level of population be achieved without the region being choked by its infrastructure woes?

New York City hosted a little more than three million private-sector jobs when the last regional plan came out in 1996. Now such employment is touching the four-million mark, having enjoyed several record years of job growth. During the same period as New York City employment increased about 30 percent, Hudson Valley jobs increased by about 13 percent.

RPA is projecting that New York City’s job total will grow by 2040 by another 450,000 jobs under the current-trends scenario and 810,000 under the vision-2040 scenario.

Here are RPA’s projections in its vision for the next 25 years: “In this future, 44 percent of the region’s new jobs would be in the urban core, where the region’s robust transit network connects to the lion’s share of the metropolitan area’s workers. But downtowns and centers outside of the core would grow more rapidly, expanding by 26 percent, or 2.3 times the rate of the recent past. Jobs would return to small cities and suburbs that have stagnated in the last decade and a half, but in more transit-accessible locations.”

Not in the Hudson Valley, though. RPA’s own projections are for a loss of 30,000 jobs in 25 years in the Hudson Valley under the current-trends scenario and a gain of 50,000 under the vision-2040 scenario. An average increase of only 2000 new jobs annually for a region with 1,091,000 jobs as of this April constitutes a rather bleak forecast — especially considering the vision-2040 annual projected population increase of 15,000 persons in the Hudson Valley during that same period. If that scenario proves correct, there’ll be a lot more Hudson Valley residents commuting to jobs elsewhere than the large number presently doing so.

My personal conclusion is that there’s something wrong with the RPA jobs numbers.

Oft evanescent as quicksilver, the complex two-way pipeline between the Hudson Valley and New York City will continue to evolve. The demand for “fresh ingredients grown in soil not far away,” though very real, can easily be overrated. It’s not the only thing going on.

Richard Florida points to the “incredibly high concentrations of management, media, design and creative occupations” and the tech startups of New York City. Pockets of concentrations of these folks are settling in places like Kingston, New Paltz, Saugerties and Woodstock as well as in the more notorious exurban centers of Beacon and Hudson. The rich combination of small-town culture and young knowledge workers will, I predict, in the next few years produce an alchemy of job opportunities in the Hudson Valley which appears thus far to have evaded RPA’s vision.

A breakfast meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22 at the SUB on the SUNY New Paltz campus, after which Paul Harrington, an expert on labor-market issues, will give the keynote address.

 

This weekly column reports regularly on economic trends in the mid-Hudson region. To read past columns, go to Ulster Publishing’s hudsonvalleybusinessreview.com.