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Hudson Valley Creates Careers in Community 

Good Work Institute and others set new models for work

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"I think that people are, generally speaking, hungry or longing for connections. Because I think that it's our natural state, that's what we all want on some level," says Stinchcomb. His Good Work Institute originated from Etsy, a business model that thrived in the digital space. One of the original employees at Etsy, Stinchcomb became a vice president there and devised a digital platform that aimed to change how business was taught. But Stinchcomb envisioned building "community in place," or a future where, say, producer and consumer could exchange over coffee at a local cafe, then share skills in collaboration. He asked to be cut loose from Etsy, while the company provided him startup capital to birth the Good Work Institute, which launched in 2015.

Working Locally

The Good Work Institute values what can be done in the local community. Forget relying on a corporation to save the day; instead, focus on your local assets and the skills of your neighbors. In 2016, it launched its first Hudson Valley fellowship program, connecting several dozen regional entrepreneurs and leaders. The institute breaks the larger group—which meets over three multi-night immersions at places like the Omega Institute and Hawthorne Valley Farm—into smaller cohorts based in local hubs (Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Hudson, Newburgh) to devise and execute projects aimed at benefitting their more targeted areas. The idea is to strengthen localities with plans that reflect a goal of regional sustainability, focusing typically on what the physical character of the area provides residents.

Stinchcomb cites the development of the Kingston Bee-Line as an example of a project that the Good Work Institute would promote and support. The Bee-Line, a proposed initiative of the Hudson Valley Bee Habitat in partnership with Kingston Land Trust and the YMCA Farm Project, includes the installation of solitary bee habits, created by local artists, along the Greenline, Kingston's network of urban trails. The plan also proposes the creation of gardens along the trail where bees can pollinate, plus workshops about bee conservation. Hudson Valley Bee Habitat cofounder Emily Puthoff was an institute fellow in 2017-18, graduating in March.

The fellowships are the first step for the institute; now, it's looking to provide a home for action through Greenhouse Kingston. Scheduled for a fall 2018 launch, Greenhouse Kingston—which will occupy the former Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson office on St. James Street—would provide development space for projects like the Bee-Line. The project is still in development and Stinchcomb calls the facility "an experiment," but it could host community programming and provide space for aligned organizations. What he does want at Greenhouse is an environment geared toward "building a future rooted in trust and equity and mutualism" where work is about improving the community first, and not just bringing in money.

In Rhinebeck, Helene Lesterlin envisions the same future, but through a more traditional coworking space. CO, which is set to open in June, will be a hub for creative and ambitious people wanting to collaborate on projects. "It's a need that's unmet in the Hudson Valley," says Lesterlin about coworking spaces. She sees the Hudson Valley as an attractive place for people who eye a high quality of life and wish to improve the world by starting with their place of residence, and she believes coworking spaces like CO can be hubs for activity that leads to real improvement. "We can be a magnet for entrepreneurs. For future-facing companies, it's 'How do we create the world we all want to live in?' It gets utopian but I think it's real."

Lesterlin hopes the state shows a commitment to hyperlocal business efforts through subsidies or tax incentives, with a proven example of the latter being the START-UP NY Program. March Gallagher, CEO of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, which facilitates philanthropy for businesses, organizations, and individuals, agrees that untangling the state's regulations web would help. She adds she has seen other states try to pull jobs out of the area because of the high cost to do business in New York, based primarily on the state's high cost of living.

But she agrees that more people are thinking about localism, citing a long history of local businesses deeply rooted in the region, like Rhinebeck-based Williams Lumber and Adams Fairacre Farms, based in Poughkeepsie. What they and organizations like Good Work Institute have in common is that they're devoted to improving their communities, whether through sponsored projects or providing support for initiative development.

So, says Gallagher, "I think we are on our way to becoming a model" for a new way of doing business. And it's mostly because those doing the hard work locally have decided that it's best to focus on location and their neighbors.

On May 8, Chronogram Conversations will host a talk and panel discussion on "Sustainable Entrepreneurship: A Model for Thriving Local Economies" at the Tavern at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck. Good Work Institute founder Matt Stinchcomb will deliver opening remarks. Powered by AT&T.

For more on sustainable work in the Hudson Valley, read our feature on community-supported agriculture from April.

The original print version of this article was titled:
"How Do We Want to Work? New Models in the Hudson Valley"

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