GHENT–The Columbia Economic Development Corporation held its annual meeting this week at Kozel’s restaurant, where CEDC Board President David Crawford told the audience of about a hundred people that the agency had a good year in 2013, while Executive Director Ken Flood said demographic data show the county has reached “a critical point.”
Mr. Flood, who is also the county’s commissioner of planning and development, began with a series of statistics, starting with U.S. Census data showing that the population of the county has not grown in recent decades and that projections indicate the number of people living here will decline by almost 10,000 over the next two decades. The county is likely to continue being grayer than the state average, with a higher percentage of residents 65 and older. And he said that home prices are less affordable now than they were in 2000, and that most employed residents work outside the county.
But for all that, Mr. Flood is optimistic, saying that the county has “healthy retail trade” and many other assets that hold promise for the future. He said the non-profit CEDC was placing its focus on businesses and in particular on entrepreneurs and developing the marketing and communications tools and materials for a county branding and marketing program.
Among the projects he cited are the development of “flex office space” where small businesses can start before they find space of their own, and long term strategies for supporting tourism, particularly agritourism, and businesses that depend on services to “weekenders,” as well at the growth of cultural activities in Hudson, Chatham and around the county.
In support of his bullish outlook on the county’s economic future, Mr. Flood introduced representatives of three local businesses that are looking to expand in different ways.
The first was Beth Chittenden, owner of Dutch Hollow Farm in Stuyvesant, a 2,000-acre dairy operation with 700 Jersey cows. Right now it produces 5,000 gallons of milk a day, with 10 full-time employees and 7 part-time workers. Ms. Chittenden, who taught school for a decade, also runs a Discovery Center at the farm, where school children come to learn about farming.
Now she wants to open a creamery where eventually the farm can produce its own brand of cheese–the milk of Jersey cows is especially well suited for cheese making–and sell it at a retail store at the farm as well as distributing it more widely. She said two cheese makers already operating in the county are already “at capacity.”
To do that she said Dutch Hollow will build a 2,500-square-foot building costing $225,000 with $50,000 of equipment, and is working with CEDC to realize the plan.
Ms. Chittenden was followed by Peter Paden, executive director of the Columbia Land Conservancy, who said that the landscape, which his non-profit organization helps preserve, is a leading reason why the county is popular and has great potential. He said CLC programs preserve the rural character of the county through voluntary conservation easements and other programs like the purchase of development rights, which allow farmers to keep using their land for agriculture. He added that these arrangements do not remove the properties from local tax rolls.
“A lot of farmland in the county is owned by non-farmers,” he said, and CLC brings together people who want to start small farms with landowners who want to see their property used for agriculture.
The CLC also owns nine nature reserves around the county that are open to the public, and free access to nature is one of the attractions that draws people to the county. But this county has less land available to the public than any of the surrounding counties, he said, adding that more land will need to be made accessible “if we’re serious about tourism.” He also said that none of the reserves managed by the CLC were purchased with taxpayer public funds.
Another function of CLC is to assist local municipalities with planning so that growth is compatible with the preservation of the county’s rural identity. “Good planning doesn’t happen by accident,” he said.
As for the future, Mr. Paden said CLC is working on plans for the North Bay area along the Hudson River in Hudson and hopes to create a strategic conservation plan for the whole county.
The third and final presentation was by the owners and developer of the Berkshire Mountain Club Resort at the Catamount Ski Area on Route 23 in Copake on the Massachusetts border. The project, which has received a government grant, is an upscale residential project with 153 units in three buildings. The main building , the first phase of the project, would have 66 units and an indoor-outdoor swimming pool, restaurant and lounge. The units would range from studio style and two-bedroom configurations to a penthouse, and would be available for single owners or timeshares.
In his introduction Catamount co-owner Rich Edwards said of the 75-year-old ski operation, which now has a summer aerial adventure park program, “We need to diversify.”
Harry Freeman, the developer, said the project would seek to attract more people from the metropolitan New York City area, though he described it as a “boutique resort” rather than one aiming at heavy volume like Killington, VT.
He said it would employ 60 people fulltime.
The developers hope to start work on the project as early as this summer.
More on the Columbia Economic Development Corporation is at www.columbiaedc.com.
To contact Parry Teasdale email .