HUDSON–The Future Hudson gathering in the Hudson Area Library community room May 18 featured five guest speakers, each with a different angle on “economic development.” Future Hudson describes itself as a series of events to “inspire conversations with forward-thinking people.” Common threads at this meeting included the importance of funds and the failure of many opportunities to reach the people they were intended to help.
Speakers included Michelle Hughes of Rolling Grocer 19, Kendra Home of the community development organization RUPCO, Kevin Irby an investor, Maureen Boutin of Workforce New York, and Linda Kelly of Pittsfield’s Westside Neighborhood Initiative. Todd Erling, executive director of the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corp., moderated the event.
“We feel everyone deserves to eat the best food,” said Ms. Hughes. Rolling Grocer 19 sells fresh and organic groceries, priced based on the customer’s economic status, from its store on Second Street in Hudson. Seeking “fair food for Columbia County,” it started last fall in a traveling trailer and settled later into the brick-and-mortar store. This summer, in addition to keeping the store, it plans to send the trailer to other parts of the county, possibly including New Lebanon. “We’re looking to be here for the long haul,” said Ms. Hughes.
She lived in New York City for about 10 years, helping immigrants who had done farming in their home country set up farms in the United States. Now living in Linlithgo, she shopped at Rolling Grocer 19 last fall, found it “really great,” and now is its co-manager and director of development.
One trouble, she noted, was “getting in people who have the most need for affordable food.”
In addition, the pricing system has four tiers, and some people who really do not qualify for a lower-price tier “are reluctant to sign up for” higher prices, “because they say they’re subsidizing those paying cheaper prices. But actually, we need to raise funds to keep functioning.” Part of the funding has come from grants.
Grants also featured in Ms. Home’s talk. The more in grants RUPCO gets, the less in loans it has to borrow, and the lower in rent it can get away with charging its tenants, she indicated.
RUPCO, headquartered in Kingston, reconstructs buildings and develops lots for “affordable” housing, but now it is “going into commercial real estate,” Ms. Home reported. The organization manages 588 units with 700 tenants on 20 sites. One of the current projects is developing a building in Kingston with affordable rent for “community services and small businesses.” RUPCO started in 1981 as the Rural Ulster Preservation Company, but now it also has projects in Dutchess and Greene counties.
County Supervisor Richard Scalera (Hudson, 5th Ward) asked what commitment Hudson would need to make in order to get RUPCO to come. Would the city need to create an incentive package?
“It must come up with a building-specific project and name people who identify something they want to do. Then we look at what funds are available for it,” answered Ms. Home.
Some movements start with a service mission, get frustrated when what they support does not make money, and turn to just profit, observed Mr. Irby.
In addition, he said that at most companies one leader and a few other people get all the benefits. A goal, he implied, should be companies whose workers themselves get “living benefits.”
“Farmers work very hard.” Mr. Irby said. So how can we pay them enough money so they can survive while paying their employees a living wage? The answer, he said, is funding. “Give them hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Furthermore, he noted, many farmers also have side businesses, such as holding weddings on site.
“We need the idea of regeneration. Leave something for the next generation,” Mr. Irby added.
Ms. Boutin reported that businesses are finding it “hard to find people, hard to fill jobs. The tricky thing is that there are so many jobs that don’t pay well.” Meanwhile, there is “untapped talent,” including disabled people, immigrants and people without high school diplomas.
She also said, “Hudson is doing a lot of stuff, it’s doing something right.”
Ms. Kelly said, “Cities and organizations provide services, but neither they nor the people are seeing the results they want to see.”They can receive grant money, but how can they apply it to “raise everybody?” She has held 15 listening sessions around Pittsfield, and “what surprised me the most was that people did not feel appreciated. If we tell people what’s good for them, they will never be participants. If you have services but feel less than human when getting them, are you going to use them?”
“Thank-you!” boomed Reverend Edward Cross of Hudson, speaking from the audience.
“We held listening sessions in places that were accessible,” Ms. Kelly continued. “I went to a free meal center for lunch and told people I would save a place for them at the meeting. We were able to get people who would never come to a city council meeting.”
Ms. Kelly said she starts meetings “by asking about positive things” and conducts the sessions while posting everybody’s suggestion on a board. “It’s no good to have people speak up and feel they aren’t listened to.”
In the question session, a woman from Linlithgo asked about economic development linked to tourism and mentioned the culinary and hospitality industries.
A small business owner asked how to “fuse new technology to ending poverty and pollution.”
“You need great ideas, great people, and funding that comes from good sources,” said Ms. Home.
The “high tech” jobs will be hardest to replace by Artificial Intelligence, said Ms. Kelly.
“Good food, safe food, we want to be brought down to less tech. But tech can help us trace where food came from,” Mr. Erling said.
Hudson is a community within a community within a region, Mr. Erling said in summary. “Kingston, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie and Beacon have similarities to our community. As much as we want to be part of our community, there are ways in which we rely on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world relies on us.”
The next Future Hudson conference will take place Saturday June 15 and have the theme: Where does Hudson Gather?