In praise of all things Ulster
Performers from Gina Marie’z Academy of Performing Arts presented a variety of dances from their repertoire at the Southern Ulster Chamber of Commerce holiday party that was held recently at Steve Turk’s Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland.
When it was time for Ulster County Executive Mike Hein to speak, he paused and took a moment to praise these young performers.
“If our future is in the hands of young people like that, we are all very, very lucky.” An enthusiastic applause followed for the troupe and their director, Gina Marie Zambito.
Hein said he was an unabashed supporter and promoter of all things Ulster County; calling this little corner of New York state the best place to live, work and raise a family. He said that for county residents, who have been struggling through very difficult economic times, “things are getting better and I’ll tell you one thing right off the bat; your [county] taxes are going down.”
Hein said he has done his best to create a business-friendly “climate” in the county “where government is not getting in your way.” He added that Ulster County also has an obligation to provide essential services “to people in need, to do it well [and] to do it efficiently; to weed out nepotism, cronyism and any of those kinds of things that may have existed in your government in the past.” To achieve his goal, Hein said he is working from a very different, but simple, premise.
“It should not be who you know; it should be about what you know,” he said.
Hein said although the Ulster County budget is 20 percent less than what it was in 2009, he has still managed to find ways to deliver more with less. One of the more difficult challenges was finding a way to sell the county-owned Golden Hill Nursing Home to a responsible private entity in a process that Hein called “a compassionate alternative to closure.” The process is ongoing but Hein said it is important to keep those jobs in the county, while ensuring that all of the patients there are taken care of “for the long haul.”
Hein said his administration has worked to improve the way economic development is done in the county, especially by “knocking down bureaucratic walls” in the hope that by streamlining the process, small businesses will decide to locate and put down deep personal and economic roots in the county.
“There needs to be a single point of access for the business owner; a single place where they can go and now there is, starting in January, the Office of Business Services – one point where you can reach out to.” Hein told the roomful of small business owners. He said March Gallagher is the person to go to for a whole host of business opportunities and services to assist new and ongoing enterprises.
“We’ve understood that we have to get better to better serve you,” he said. “We work for you and everybody in my administration fully understands that.”
Hein said the county is promoting healthier lifestyles by establishing more rail trails, hiking trails and places like the Walkway over the Hudson “whether you’re 2 or you’re 92.” He said he is also discussing with the Department of Environmental Protection on how to allow more public recreational access in and around the Ashokan Reservoir while also ensuring there are proper environmental safeguards to a system that provides 40 percent of the water for New York City.
Hein said the soon-to-open rail trestle in Rosendale will connect a walking/biking trail from the Ashokan Reservoir, down through New Paltz, into Lloyd and over the Walkway and tie into the Dutchess County rail trail system.
“This will create a regional, world-class tourist attraction right here in Ulster County,” he said. “All along the path, all along the way the numbers show it’s fantastic for business. Burgeoning businesses bounce up at that point [and] existing businesses grow.”
Hein stressed that the tourism industry brings $420 million to Ulster County each year – “a huge windfall for the people of this community with virtually no impact to the infrastructure and simultaneously growing our economy.”
Hein said the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and is growing in the country.
“We have an opportunity for greatness every single day,” he said. “Please, please remember that people fought and died so that we can live, not only in the greatest county on the face of the Earth, but in the greatest country ever conceived on the face of this Earth. We are the United States of America. We will prevail, we will innovate [and] we will do what we do best and in the end I think we are very proud to call ourselves Americans.”
Susan Eckhardt-Knoops, president of the 150-member Gardiner Association of Businesses [GAB] was the sponsor of the holiday event.
“We’re all part of this community that does so much together,” she said. “It’s great to celebrate the holidays together too.”
Eckhardt-Knoops said Gardiner is a “sleepy little town and we really do have so much. The Southern Ulster Chamber is like Walt Whitman; it’s immense, it contains multitudes and it has everything and so many people are a part of it. We’re neighbors, so it makes a lot of sense to have a few events to bring everybody together. There is strength in numbers.”
Southern Ulster Chamber of Commerce President William Farrell said the key for the small business person is to have contact with others “and to get out and know your [area] businesses.”
“Small business is what really generates the county,” Farrell said. “Say you just opened a business and you weren’t too sure and you’re in the area; you come here and you meet other small businesses. You talk to people and you all have the same problems.”
Eckhardt-Knoops said she feels business owners in the Gardiner area are “a little shell shocked” from what has happened in the economy in the past few years.
“Here you have a Christmas party and you have a county executive standing up and saying, here’s a resource, I give it to you. What a fantastic Christmas present for any small business to hear someone say that,” she said of the new Office of Business Services.
Eckhardt-Knoops said she is glad GAB was part of the evening.
“I definitely think there is a huge future in terms of Gardiner,” she said. “We can’t make it without our neighbors and I think it’s wonderful to pair with the Southern Ulster Chamber.”
By MARK REYNOLDS