With the economy slipping and slumping into 2009, it’s tempting to pity our small-business-owning friends and colleagues. We might call them brave, inspiring, or even crazy. But the truth is this: Depending on where they are, they might be on to something. Greene County, which has long been considered a timeless and picturesque getaway for leaf-peepers and other weekend warriors, is also one of the fastest-growing counties in New York. This fact has not escaped notice by county’s legislators, nor has it eluded local business owners themselves. The Greene Business Partnership and the Greene County Planning and Economic Development Board have recently completed a comprehensive economic development plan designed to facilitate balanced economic growth in Greene County for the next 10 to 20 years. Some of the goals of the plan include the development of programs capable of assisting the growth of businesses in the county, enhancement of programs geared toward enhancing local quality of life, support of telecommunications and other business-oriented infrastructure, and identification of projects and programs that warrant federal, state, and local investments that would lead to better employment opportunities, especially for young people. In short, Greene County has adopted a long-term plan designed to keep its towns and villages bustling, beautiful, and open for business.
The Greene County Planning and Economic Development Board offers a wide spectrum of loan and grant programs to help existing businesses succeed or spark new businesses in target areas. The Microenterprise Assistance Program (MAP) offers small business loans of up to $25,000, ideal for new entrepreneurs. Another low-interest loan offered by the board is the Quantum Fund, which is capable of providing business loans up to $400,000. Perhaps the most visible and wide-ranging of the Board’s offerings to Greene businesses is the award-winning Main Street Revitalization Program, which has awarded about $660,000 in matching grants to some 130 projects over the past four years, in addition to leveraging roughly $400,000 in state money and $3.5 million in private funds. Overall, every dollar spent by the county has seen a six-dollar return of private or public funds invested—and, no matter what the economy looks like, that’s good business.
Although the numbers speak well for progress, it’s much more exciting to see what these investments really look like on the streets of Cairo, Catskill, or Coxsackie. With the assistance of loans from the Quantum Fund and the Bank of Greene County, gourmet chef and specialty market supplier Wolfgang Brandl was able to move his business from a cramped 2,500-square-foot location in Saugerties to a 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, purpose-built bakery that had long been vacant in the town of Catskill. Brandl’s new digs have sophisticated draining and cooling systems, an elaborate exhaust system to handle the half-ton of onions caramelized at the facility each day, new machines for pumping the sauces and salsas directly from processing to the packaging machines, and a variety of new rooms for processing different ingredients.
Lars Andersen of AIM Radiant Heating is also a recent recipient of the Quantum Loan. Like Brandl, Anderson and his colleagues were “fed up by the physical limitations of our site and almost ready to leave the country and possibly the state” when a $200,000 loan, matched by the county, made it possible for them to move into the former Wolf Center in Cairo. One of the stipulations of the Quantum Loan program is that the business accepting the loan must agree to produce one new job for each $20,000 in loaned money. For businesses like these, moving into larger spaces gives the company room to grow—for the communities they move into, a company’s expansion means more local jobs and, in some cases, more fun things to do, eat, or enjoy around town.
Perhaps the most visible of all small-business or start-up developments are those associated with Greene County’s Main Street Revitalization Program (MSRP). Eligible MSRP activities include facade restoration, painting, windows, doors, storefronts, and awnings. Municipalities and Main Street organizations are eligible for community signage and infrastructure, such as benches and decorative street lighting. Participants are able to benefit from improved commercial and residential space for roughly half the cost it would take without MSRP assistance. Renovation makes these galleries, shops, cafes, and offices much more vibrant and welcoming places that bring valuable goods and services to the community. Recent successful projects include Kaaterskill Engineering in Cairo, Fitness Concepts in Windham, Abby’s Deli in Athens, N&S Supply in Catskill, the Eagle Hotel in Coxsackie, and the Village Bistro and Pancho Villa’s Restaurant in Tannersville.
A combination of MSRP renovation grants, along with a MAP loan from the Greene County Planning and Economic Development Board, allowed Robert and Janice Lugo (both of whom were working as full-time educators) to open Retriever Roasters, a spacious and attractive shop where coffee is hand roasted, ground, brewed fresh, and served. Although the loan from the county was not the only part of their financing program, it was essential to getting them started on Catskill’s Main Street. “The loan helped us to actually purchase the building and then buy all of the equipment,” Janice Lugo explains. “We could not have done it without the money from the county. [It] made everything possible.” The Lugos made extensive renovations to the building for an entire year before Retriever Roasters opened in July of 2006. During that time, the couple had the opportunity to witness all of the other projects taking shape in their area. “The facade project was going on at the time, so a lot of people redid the fronts of their buildings, and a lot of new businesses were just getting started,” says Janice Lugo. “Some of them haven’t made it, and others have, but the whole area has really come along and developed.” Although she admits that the economy over the past few years has amounted to lots of ups and downs, business has been steady, and that is certainly positive in today’s economic climate. “We’re really happy with that stability,” she says, “and we just want to keep going as we have been.” As the couple moves into its third year in the coffee-roasting business, it’s probably safe to say that the people of Catskill feel the same way.
On the other end of the spectrum, bigger business is booming in Greene, too. Two sites in the county have recently gained shovel-ready certification: the Greene Business and Technology Park, on State Route 9W in the Town of Coxsackie, with 75 developable acres; and the Kalkberg Commerce Park, also on State Route 9W in the town of New Baltimore, with 72 developable acres. In order to better handle the increase in traffic these developments are likely to invite, the Greene County Industrial Development Agency (which owns both of these sites) will be giving the intersection of routes 385 and 9W a $2 million facelift. Renovations will include landscaping projects, paved sidewalks, old-fashioned street lighting, historical signage, and other appealing additions to the otherwise unremarkable stretch of highway. Town and village officials hope that beautifying the gateway to Coxsackie will give residents, potential employers, and tourists a good (and lasting) “first impression” of the area.
With all of these exciting new developments in the pipeline, it’s going to be a lot easier to start thinking “BiG.” Think BiG, which was launched in September 2008, is an initiative sponsored by the Greene County Legislators to encourage residents to buy the things they want and need in Greene County. With a banner headline that reads, “Believe in Greene. Buy in Greene,” the Think BiG website (www.buyingreene.com) offers a number of interactive options designed to help people find places to shop, dine, relax, redecorate—there is even a feature allowing users to search the inventories of Greene County stores for specific items, making local shopping easier than ever. If you own or manage a small business in Greene County and want to become a BiG Business, you can register through the site to join the directory and receive various BiG amenities, from reusable shopping bags to decals for your store. As a consumer, you can go to the BiG site, find a business you know a thing or two about, and enhance its listing. The site offers a number of different ways for people in Greene County to connect with each other and share information. After all, buying in Greene keeps local jobs, businesses, and services thriving—and that’s good for everyone.