city-sqThe emerging focus of the economic future of the Hudson Valley seems particularly to involve the role of the region’s cities and town centers. We all know that the past decade has seen a continued drift of both population and employment to America’s largest cities. New York City now has the largest population in its history, and its workforce has grown at a far higher rate than its population. Look at all the new construction. The city is booming.

It’s not just American cities that have enlarged their share of total national population. Cities everywhere have. A widely distributed statistic tells us that for the first time in human history a majority of the total world population now lives in cities.

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TechMoney350pxWith the new undergraduate program in mechanical engineering at  SUNY New Paltz attracting an enrollment of 69 majors last fall and 84 in the spring semester of the current academic year, the local college continues to accelerate its efforts to strengthen its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) competencies. The numbers of students in mechanical engineering are in addition to the 179 other enrolled undergraduate engineering students (107 in electrical engineering, 57 in computer engineering and 15 undeclared students in pre-engineering). The 2016 total more than triples the 81 undergraduate engineering majors enrolled only eight years ago.

Undergraduate students in kindred majors such as computer science (140), mathematics (65) and physics (51) are also increasing in number. The other physical sciences — biology (324), geology (73) and chemistry, biochemistry and geochemistry (116) — also add substantially to total growth.

Between spring of last year and this spring, the total number of graduate and undergraduate students in the School of Science and Engineering increased by 75. In that academic year, enrollment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences went up by six, in the School of Business by twelve, and in the School of Fine & Performing Arts by a single student. The School of Education lost 57 students.

The total number of undergraduates at New Paltz has remained fairly stable. According to the SUNY website, it is 6501 in the current spring semester.

With more undergraduates declaring majors than did so eight years ago, enrollments in the liberal arts and business programs have also been increasing, though less dramatically than those in the natural sciences. The number of students in the fine and performing arts has declined slightly in that period, and enrollment of undergraduates in education has been dropping sharply in recent years.

Despite a large number of other important changes on the New Paltz campus, the recent focus on scientific subjects may prove the most important development of the past decade for this public university. Beyond bricks and mortar, it may become a major influence on the growth of the stock of human capital in the mid-Hudson region.

It’s a big bet. Is it a good one?

 

 Aspirations for the School of Science and Engineering go beyond the modest. “We aspire to become the best school of science and engineering at a comprehensive college in the United States,” declares its website.

“That is our aspiration, but it’s important to recognize what it means to be a science and engineering school at a comprehensive college,” says science and engineering dean Dan Freedman. “We view our main role as service in terms of educating undergraduate students and providing expertise and equipment to businesses in the region, as we have done with 3D printing.”

Such an aspiration costs big money. The new science building at the corner of Route 32 and Mohonk Avenue on the northeast part of the campus, expected to be completed prior to its scheduled January 2017 date, is budgeted to cost $48 million. There is no final cost estimate or final design yet for the new Engineering Innovation Hub near the Resnick Building, scheduled optimistically for completion in the fall of 2019. That structure, which will “address a critical shortage in engineers needed to serve advanced manufacturing interests in the region,” will include a 20,000-square-foot building to house state-of-the-art 3-D printing equipment.

Renovations at the Wooster Science Building, just completed, were scheduled to cost $37 million. The only science and engineering part of it, according to Freedman, is the 5000 square feet of “amazing undergraduate teaching labs.” The investment in science and engineering, the dean contends, is on about the same scale as recent renovations in other buildings for other subjects.

 

In welcoming the upstate venture capital group UVANY last Thursday evening, SUNY New Paltz president Donald Christian, himself a scientist by background but a staunch supporter of the liberal arts, talked of the importance of events of “community engagement” for the college. He is hoping an improved connection among various support elements in the Hudson Valley will boost innovation. The most recent generation of New Paltz college students have included relatively few future entrepreneurs. Will a greater STEM bent on the part of the school produce more?

Dan Freedman cautions against unrealistic expectations. Most New Paltz engineering graduates will be happy to find work in the new manufacturing sector or in software or consulting, he says, where digital technologies and transformational systems require a highly trained and knowledgeable workforce.

At their age and training, few of this generation’s grads are instinctual entrepreneurs, though Freedman credits them with more “entrepreneurial spirit” than their predecessors might have had.  Very few will use their skills to invent disruptive new apps, the unconditional pursuit of which will put their devisers’ futures at risk.

Just back from a conference on the West Coast, Freedman cited figures of what a venture-capital firm was investing in. The vast majority of entrepreneurs, the Silicon Valley veteran told his audience, were experienced engineers at large companies, repeat entrepreneurs, etc. Fewer than 20 percent were in their twenties, the venture-firm manager said, and that number was falling as the social-media boom seems to be past its peak. A successful business in a tech area generally requires some experience.

Freedman says that the count of manufacturers, inventors and schemers who have come to his school for solutions to fabrication, design and art problems now exceeds 150. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if some of these ideas turned out to have merit, and a subset of those would lead to the formation of value-creating new enterprises.

“The manufacturing companies that I’m familiar with in the Hudson Valley that seem healthy specialize in making hard-to-manufacture, semi-custom products,” explained the science dean. “To stay successful in this space requires an entrepreneurial mindset. For New Paltz to be a driver in the local economy, we need to be able to graduate students who think this way.”

 

 

 

 

 

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About a year ago, Jason and Lisa Foscolo, a couple with two small children, Henry and Penelope, were looking at property north of Poughkeepsie. They were disappointed. Most of what they saw was too suburban for their tastes.

They had been told to look for an area called “Redcliff,” or something like that. Late in the afternoon they found themselves in Red Hook. They liked the town.

“It spoke to me in five seconds,” says Jason Foscolo, who is nothing if not decisive. “We called the broker, who thought she was through for the day. She showed us around.”

The Foscolos had been living in Southampton on Long Island for several years. The Hudson Valley seemed a better fit for them, more rural, with occasional farms and farmstands on quiet country roads, and a lot of open space. The commercial districts in the hamlets seemed quaint, and they were told the schools in some of the communities were of good quality.

Jason Foscolo, a lawyer and principal of The Food Law Firm, LLC, felt that Red Hook had been successful in retaining its agricultural quality while other towns were losing theirs. That was important to him. That’s why he bought a home here.

“I went to law school long before I knew why I wanted to be a lawyer or how I could ever make a contribution to the trade,” he explained. “It took a ten-year personal journey to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d always loved food, and when I was about 34 I figured a way to smush together the thing I am passionate about with the legal career I chose prematurely. I had to put the passion first and mold life and career around it.

“This is the long way to answer your question,” he continued. “We moved to the Hudson Valley for the food. My practice is national, so I didn’t need to move here for professional reasons. People are real cool and creative, it’s beautiful here any time of year, the restaurants are fantastic, and I can stop by any one of four farms in my neighborhood to buy ingredients for a great dinner. I really can’t ask for anything else in my life.”

 

In 1788 Adam Smith famously described how a single pin maker’s job was made more productive when broken up into 18 highly specialized tasks. Productivity gains achieved by dividing tangible work into ever-smaller parts performed by ever-more-specialized workers was the secret of the Industrial Revolution, and it is turning out to be even more important in the digital age.

Intangible knowledge work turns out to be even more easily divisible into parts. As a July 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review marveled, “Consider how much more finely work can be diced when it produces intangible, knowledge-based goods and the information involved can be transported anywhere in the world nearly instantaneously and at virtually no cost.” The article was called “The age of hyperspecialization,” meaning the breaking of work previously done by one person into more specialized pieces done by several people.

Knowledge hyperspecialization changes the nature of entrepreneurial opportunity. It allows the combination of specialized parts in new ways. New combinations can often respond nimbly to changes in the marketplace. Communities of hyperspecialized knowledge workers can be formed to complete tasks for enterprises that don’t know how to or can’t afford to complete them in-house.

And guess what? All industries offer such opportunities. It’s just a matter of finding them and being willing to take the risk of pursuing them. The economic future of the Hudson Valley will be determined by how well our entrepreneurs do that.

 

Jason Foscolo was stationed in Japan for three years while serving as a judge advocate in the Marines. “The Japanese have an over-the-top dedication to perfecting the foods they eat,” he told a food blog called Gastrognome in 2011. “My time there definitely triggered my obsession. After that I knew it was only a matter of time before I figured out how to use my preexisting career as an attorney to make the shift into food.”

After his honorable discharge from the Marines, Foscolo got LL.M. in agricultural and food law from the University of Arkansas School of Law, at the time the only law-school program of its kind in the United States. Perceiving that farmers and food processors needed an advocate who understood how the food laws could help them do business better, he “decided to start my own gig.”

All but one of his associates at The Food Law Firm have attended the same law school. Many food attorneys work for Big Food, which he says “still pumps out moderately safe food at a good price point, but the products they make are beginning to lose their character and their relevance” compared to the products from the new breed of food entrepreneurs Foscolo represents. The Food Law Firm is a part of the pioneering effort to reorganize the food industry around hyperspecialization built around quality. The innovators in such an industry, he figures, need a lawyer on their team.

Smaller firms in an industry previously dominated by a few larger competitors — an oligopoly — are frequently at legal risk, particularly in an industry where regulations need to be quite detailed. The laws are written to favor the big guys, and outfits like The Food Law Firm have to push back. “When something’s regulated well,” Foscolo says, “the rules are clear.”

 

If knowledge workers don’t need to locate in a specific place “for professional reasons,” they can, like Jason and Lisa Foscolo did, move anywhere they want. Geographic flexibility is an important aspect of the hyperspecialization of knowledge workers. Techies can gather in Kingston, artists in Woodstock, and foodies in Red Hook. Or they can never set foot in any of those places.

Jason Foscolo sits at a table at Daughter’s Fare and Ale, a resolutely foodie eating place on South Broadway in Red Hook which “happily sources” its vegetable and proteins from five local farms and is recently “privileged to announce a partnership with our friends at Brooklyn’s finest brewery, Other Half.”

Hyperspecialization has led to many industry affiliations for The Food Law Firm. Its food marketing and public relations professional, the Gita Group out of Manhattan, is headed by a Marist College graduate who serves on the communications board of her alma mater. It is connected through a number of publications to allied food and farm organizations, including those at Cornell University. It utilizes a number of modest-sized services in the foodie network of which the firm is a part.

As a recent arrival to the Hudson Valley, Foscolo is not yet connected to all parts of the extensive local agricultural universe. Up to now, he’s been mostly a consumer. He represents a handful of local clients, “guys I can have a beer with.” He hasn’t yet met the folks at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, he says, or some of the people in the world of food distribution.

Jason Foscolo has an entrepreneurial mind. If he sticks around, he’ll find his place in the local universe.

 

Photo of Mike DelPriore and The Glass House by Dan Barton

Photo of Mike DelPriore and The Glass House by Dan Barton

Embarking on the plane to Los Angeles, Mike DelPriore found he couldn’t fit his building model into the overhead compartment above his seat. The flight attendant suggested it could go into cargo. DelPriore was adamant. No way. The model was too delicate for that.

Thus it came to pass that the model flew strapped in a seat belt in a first-class seat while DelPriore flew in coach. Both arrived none the worse for wear in L.A.

The model DelPriore was delivering was a gift to Ransom Riggs, author of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” from his wife, Tahereh Mafi. In the best-selling 2011 book, working from a single faded photograph Riggs had imagined events in an abandoned mansion that he had remembered from his childhood. Mafi had hired DelPriore to make a model of that now non-existent building. When Riggs saw the model of the physical structure built by his imagination, he loved it.

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dollar-budget-sq“Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”

So said America’s most famous management consultant ever, Peter Drucker. His famous aphorism is not so easily understood, let alone accomplished.

Though Drucker believed the role of management consisted of putting the right people in the right jobs, his emphasis was focused on the job. He was concerned with fundamental questions. The first question a business had to answer, he said, was “What business are you in?” And the only valid definition of business purpose, he believed, was to create a customer.

This isn’t the hierarchical mumbo-jumbo it might seem to be. When I taught business management several decades ago, I at first resisted this style of thinking. But I gradually came to believe that Drucker was more correct than I had been willing to acknowledge. By the time I stopped teaching the management course based on Drucker, I actually believed what I was teaching.

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Two of the more recently established brick-and-mortar bank branches in Ulster County sit on either end of the Route 9W commercial stretch in the Town of Ulster. The one on the north end, opened a few months ago by Ulster Savings Bank, is in a modestly sized building at Ulster Commons, directly opposite the state highway from Adams Fairacre Farms. Further south, on the southeast corner where Ulster Avenue splits off from Route 9W to head into Kingston, is the first Ulster County office of The Bank of Greene County, a more commodious space formerly occupied by M&T Bank and leased from it.

Both managers, Jess Davis at The Bank of Greene County and Kristin Bauer at Ulster Savings, are local, Davis living in Ulster and Bauer in Hurley. Both have worked their way up the local banking ladder, Davis working almost eleven years at Bank of America and Bauer the same length of time at Chase. Both are very active in community organizations.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) lists the two banks as similar not only in the amount of local deposits but also in their number of branches (14 each). Both institutions trace their heritage back to the nineteenth century. Both stayed as one-office banks for most of their histories.

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Nicole Langlois and Julia Robbins outside One Epic Place

Nicole Langlois and Julia Robbins outside One Epic Place

The terms are many: Freelancers. Independent workers. Part-timers. Temporaries. Solopreneurs. Contingent workers. Side-giggers.

There are an increasing number of them in the American economy. According to MBO Partners, a big consulting firm that studies them, the independent workforce is growing more than five times faster than the overall labor force. And the facilities to accommodate these independents have become very big business indeed.

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