Sullivan County, NY
Mountains of opportunity
Business View Magazine interviews County Manager, Joshua Potosek, and representatives of Sullivan County, NY for our focus on Sustainability in American Cities.
With a charming collection of fifteen towns and six villages, and an ideal setting in the Catskills, Sullivan County, New York offers a mix of rural/small town character and mountains of opportunity for businesses. Some of the County’s 76,000 residents prefer the more walkable environments of its Village and hamlet centers, while others enjoy living in a rural, farmland atmosphere. Monticello, the County Seat is approximately an hour and a half from New York City, which attracts many urbanites and gives the County a diverse, cosmopolitan vibe. According to Dan Hust, Communications Director for Sullivan County Government, “Everyone wonders where the line is between upstate and downstate NY. I don’t claim to know where it is exactly, but we straddle it. We are a place where there is a transition boundary between the two, with upstate being the more rural agricultural sections versus the downstate New York metropolitan region. It’s the best of all worlds.”
Primary industries in Sullivan County are tourism, agriculture, and healthcare. The new Resorts World Catskills is the largest private employer. Coming in second is the Center for Discovery, a world-renowned medical research facility that attracts people from around the globe to Sullivan County for the treatment of autism and other complex conditions. They are currently expanding, with completion of a Children’s Research Hospital set to add another 300 jobs in the next 18 months. County government, utilities, and the municipal school districts round out the list of top employers.
Sullivan County Manager, Joshua Potosek, admits, “Diversification is where we need to head. Tourism was our bread and butter. Then the market and people’s vacation habits changed, dramatically, in the ‘60s, leading to decades of stagnation. While we have adapted to support new types of tourism, and it is coming back, we need to ensure there is other industry coming in. We’re working with our economic development partners to create shovel ready sites in and around the county for manufacturing and distribution; Kohl’s Distribution Center is already located here. We have a lot of relatively cheap, vacant land that doesn’t exist in the Hudson Valley north of New York City. As those areas have already been built out, developers are looking for land in places like Sullivan County.”
Food and beverage manufacturers are drawn to the area, including Nonni’s Biscotti, Formaggio Italian Cheese, and Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Capitalizing on the New York craft beverage and artisanal food movement, Sullivan County also has a number of new local distilleries, breweries, wineries and cider makers. One such maker has just planted hundreds of new trees in advance of a large-scale biodynamic cider production company. More artisanal food products are emerging from new commercial and community kitchens recently developed in the County to serve as incubators.
“Entrepreneurialism goes hand in hand with tourism,” explains County Planning Commissioner, Freda Eisenberg. “While the large, old-style Catskill resorts are long gone, people now come for our high quality farm-to-table eating experiences, to sample local food and beverage products where they’re made, shop our farmers markets and makers events, and find treasures in the unique art and design stores lining our hamlet Main Streets. Tourist itineraries – and local quality of life –arebeing enhanced by new performance spaces for live music, comedy, film, and theater.To support the growth of these, and other micro-enterprises and small businesses, the County offers entrepreneurial training to help create business plans, low-interest revolving loans, occasional grants, and assistance with identifying and applying for State and Federal grant programs.We have a great team of agencies working together to support new and expanding businesses that includes the SC Partnership for Economic Development, SC Tourism Association, SC Industrial Development Authority, SC Center for Workforce Development, and SC Chamber of Commerce.
Geographically, the County embraces a wide swath of diversity, including the iconic Catskill Park, and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, a unit of the National Park Service. A scenic, 70-mile stretch of Route 97 that parallels the river is a New York State designated Scenic Byway. Serious about its responsibilities for environmental stewardship, Sullivan County has become an award-winning champion in the realm of “green” sustainability. Helping lead that charge is Sustainability Coordinator for the County, Heather Brown, who reports: “We adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2014. What’s exciting is that we’ve met or exceeded a lot of the goals we established for ourselves. So we’re looking to update that plan in the next couple of years. I’m working closely with our Sullivan County planning department because they are actually spearheading a Climate Resiliency Planning process, right now, so we see those two plans going hand in hand.”
The County’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020 was surpassed in 2017, when they brought a two-MW solar project online. Currently, about 27 percent of electricity needs for county operations are sourced through a two-MW solar array in the town of Liberty. And they are in the process of working through the interconnect of a two-MW hydroelectric project. When all is said and done, about 70 percent of Sullivan County electricity will come from New York State renewable resources. Greenhouse gas emissions have been cut by nearly 60 percent just from those two projects – an amazing accomplishment.
“We are operating these through power purchase agreements, so we do not actually own the assets, we simply purchase the credits,” says Brown. “The important thing is that they are New York State assets, so we are greening the NY State grid, as opposed to us purchasing renewable energy credits from another state. One of those assets is located here in Liberty, so that’s putting nice clean energy directly onto our local electric infrastructure and providing residents all around that system a much better quality of electricity. That will, hopefully, lead to some grid upgrades, which is really important right now.” In addition to the two power purchase agreement arrangements, about 26 MW of community solar are in various stages of development throughout the County that will provide cheaper electricity to residents and small businesses. And Sullivan County Community College also has a two-MW solar array that powers a significant portion of their electric needs.
With the forecast that as many as 25 percent of vehicles on NY State roads will be either plug-in hybrid or battery electric by 2025, Sullivan County is preparing to accommodate those needs. “We have begun some initiatives to create a network of EV charging stations,” says Brown. “We had a program, which a couple of our municipalities took advantage of, where we cost-shared the installation of level-two charging stations; one is located at the Thompson Town Hall and another in the Town of Bethel municipal lot. The County will soon be installing two charging stations at the government center in Monticello and we have several other businesses investing in the infrastructure themselves. New York State currently has a program called ‘Charge Ready New York’ that will cost share the installation of the charging infrastructure and we’re encouraging everyone to take advantage of that while the funds are available. We started off with two publicly accessible locations two years ago and now we’re up to about 10 and we’re continuing to develop that network.”
Climate Smart Communities is a New York State program that encourages counties, towns, villages, and cities to be more climate-resilient and involved in the budding clean energy economy and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. As Brown explains, “Our Climate Action Plan, the purchase of renewable energy, the EV charging stations, support of our local farmers’ market initiatives, are all considered actions that are creditable for the Climate Smart Communities program. It’s not easy to become certified and we’re very excited that we’re one of the first 15 municipalities in New York State to achieve the Bronze level, and several of our communities have been certified as well. We’re also proud of our Clean Energy Communities designation by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).”
Taking it one step further, Sullivan County has created its own internal Office of Sustainable Energy that recognizes clean energy as a priority starting at the community level. In addition to working to make county operations as sustainable as possible, the Office provides assistance and guidance to the business community and residents; seeking to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. “It all ties into the fact that we’re known for our natural beauty, and we want to preserve that,” says Potosek. “We obviously want development in the right places, but we want to make sure we have clean water and a clean environment where we can go out and recreate. That’s where we’re attracting a lot of people from the Tri-State area into Sullivan County. It gets them out of the city into a more natural environment. It’s one of our strategic advantages of being so close to New York City, where you can be out in the country and still near one of the most populous urban centers in the world.”
Giving a shout-out to local green leaders, Catskill Brewery is a craft brewery located in a LEED Platinum-certified building, and the site of one of the County’s first EV charging station sites promoting environmental tourism. Delaware River Solar is responsible for deploying much of the community distributed generation. Located in Sullivan County, where they started business, the company now has 55 projects across the state of New York. The Center for Discovery has been involved in environmental sustainability for a long time because of the positive impact it has on the health of their clientele. As part of that, they operate organic farms. Growing organic produce to feed their residents is a big part of their program.
Sullivan County, New York – clean, green, and just simply a joy to experience for residents, business owners and visitors, alike. When it comes to the growing benefits of sustainability and the joint efforts and hard work involved, County representatives all agree, “It was tough to get the ball rolling, but it is
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Sullivan County, New York
What: Mixed rural/urban county; population 76,000
Where: Catskills region of New York State
Peace, Love, and Doves: Celebrating WOODSTOCK’s 50th Anniversary
Thanks to Sullivan County, the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association (SCVA), and some incredibly talented artists, 36 fiberglass doves have found their perches across the County to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. About 5 feet tall and 7 feet long, each dove is mounted on a metal pole at highly visible locations in every community in Sullivan County.
Dan Hust, Communications Director for Sullivan County Government, shares, “It’s exciting, and we hope it will brand us in a new and positive way. The project is designed for the 50th Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, which was hosted in 1969 in the town of Bethel, but they’re also designed to be permanent, so people can come again and again to visit our Dove Trail. Three dozen doves scattered around our 1,000 square miles; each paying homage to Woodstock, while representing their community in unique and interesting ways. Artists are given a vivid palette of bright, ‘60s-era colors to follow other than that they have free rein.”