As 2019 draws to a close, it’s a time of reflection and transition here at Commonwealth Hudson Valley. As some readers may have heard, I’ve been asked to join Pat Ryan’s team in the Ulster County Executive office, where I’ll be helping to implement two of the five priorities he’s articulated for the County: a Green New Deal and Economic Development for All.
In my conversations with Pat so far, I’ve been impressed by his commitment to goals of sustainability and equity. He appears to share my conviction that these are key cornerstones of any future worth creating, and to be actively looking for fresh approaches to solve the problems facing our communities. And he’s put together a fantastic team that I’m really looking forward to working with.
As I talked about in our last article, state and local governments across the country are recognizing that how we’ve been doing economic development — primarily through providing tax incentives to attract large investors and businesses — hasn’t been working. Many regions are turning to solutions that focus on strengthening local assets and deepening and leveraging local relationships, rather than looking to the national economy for salvation.
At the same time, localities are feeling the squeeze from forces much larger than ourselves. All of the major strains facing us here in the Hudson Valley — the hollowing out of the middle of the job market and the rapid rise of inequality; the longstanding structural racial wealth gaps; the crisis in housing affordability; decreasing federal budgets for education, health, and infrastructure that make it increasingly harder to serve our communities; and of course the climate crisis — have all been set in motion by national and global economic systems far beyond our direct control.
But the impacts are felt here! While our economic, ecological, and cultural environments are much bigger than the Hudson Valley, ultimately everything that happens happens locally. And maybe the solutions— at least some of them — are to be found locally, too.
One of the most heartening things I’ve seen during these ugly times that have followed the 2016 elections is the surge of people getting involved in their local governance. As I’ve argued here, I believe that kind of face to face collaboration is where we must work to revitalize our economy and our democracy. So I view this nationwide renewal of engagement as a very positive sign, and I’m excited to be a part of here in Ulster County.
We already have a wealth of community engagement and cross-community relationships — what economists call social capital — here in the Hudson Valley. It’s one of the things that makes our region so special, and one of our most valuable assets. But to meet our challenges, I believe we will need to deepen these relationships and do much better at connecting across communities that have historically been separate. Strengthening our community capacity in this way needs to be a key part of everything we do for economic development in the region.
So what happens next for Commonwealth Hudson Valley? That’s a good question. At a minimum, there will be a decrease in the frequency of publication. It takes an amazing amount of time to write these articles — something I simply won’t have time to continue. But I may be able to write an occasional piece, and I’ve had several folks propose guest articles, which I hope we’ll have out in the New Year. So you can expect more episodic publication, both here on the website and in the newsletter.
But in a broader sense, the work is continuing. I started Commonwealth Hudson Valley with the intention of simply putting information, ideas, and stories about creating a new economy out there and seeing who it attracted and what could grow around it. I very quickly met a number of folks working on cooperatives, community land trusts, lending circles, and other collaborative economy projects, and jumped into a number of efforts with them. This year we’ve helped to create two fantastic events — the Alternatives to Hierarchy discussion about collaborative nonprofits and the Surviving the Future conversation about creating a Just Transition in Kingston — as well as having the opportunity to speak at the Hudson Valley Futures Summit at SUNY New Paltz. I know these events have helped to stimulate a number of projects and efforts that are ongoing.
The very best part of writing Commonwealth Hudson Valley has been all the people I’ve met and have gotten to work with. I’m looking forward to being able to continue working with you and with folks from across the county and around the Hudson Valley in the New Year.