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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

12-economy-jason-foscolo-by-julie-oconnor

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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