TOWN OF ULSTER – Ulster County Executive Mike Hein was joined on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, by government officials, local farmers and growers, food distributors, craft food and beverage producers, and representatives from the agri-business sector to support and recognize the growing food and beverage cluster in Ulster County and to announce financing opportunities available to help these businesses expand and grow.
“Ulster County’s food and beverage industry is incredible! From Fruition’s ‘best in the world’ chocolates to the award winning wines of Whitecliff Vineyard to our abundant apple orchards, which make Ulster County the 14th largest producer in the nation, Ulster County’s food and beverage industry is bigger and more exceptional than you think,” said Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. “We are here today to bring attention to this industry, which is critical to our local economy, to celebrate its successes, and to offer food and beverage business owners who want to locate here or grow their businesses here assistance they need.”
Local Food is a Growth Market
Local food is in high demand and local food sales are increasing significantly throughout the United States. According to the USDA, local food sales hit $12 billion in 2014 and are estimated to climb to $20 billion by 2019, a 66% increase. 60 million people who would benefit by eating healthy local food live within a 5 hour radius of the Hudson Valley. In its 2015 Foodshed Study, Scenic Hudson documented an enormous unmet demand for fresh produce with the NYC market, valued at nearly $900 million annually.
Ulster County’s Strategic Advantage
Ulster County has high-quality farmland, a collaborative business culture, robust institutional support, transportation access, affordability and an excellent quality of life. According to the Industry Targeting Analysis for the Ulster County Economic Development Alliance (Targeting Analysis) conducted in 2015, Ulster County’s proximity to the NYC market makes it uniquely positioned to take advantage of the emerging trend of local food and beverage. As a result of these strengths, Ulster County’s food processing and manufacturing industry grew 64% from 2009-2014, providing over 1,300 jobs in 2014. In 2014, the County was home to nearly 500 farms, 44 food and beverage manufacturers, and two companies focused exclusively on aggregating and distributing local food and beverage products to local, regional and national markets. These “food hubs” – which hosted today’s announcement and offered tours of their facilities – play a crucial role in scaling the county’s food and beverage cluster to respond to market demand.
Food Hubs Represent the Evolution of “Local”
While agricultural production; food and beverage manufacturing; and retail and wholesale trade are often thought of as separate industries, in Ulster County they are recognized as a single interconnected cluster. “It’s a fact that the demand for local is booming, but if we don’t have all of the pieces in place and working together – from field to fork – our local businesses will miss out on the opportunities that this growing market represents,” explained County Executive Hein.
In many cases, the missing link in the local food system is at the distributor level. By aggregating outputs from smaller local farms, and by contracting to pack (co-packing), process and distribute those products in ways that allow consumers to trace their food back to its source, food hubs bridge the gap.
Ulster County is fortunate to be the home of several pioneers of the food hub model. Building on its groundbreaking 2013 Hudson Valley Food Hubs Initiative, the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation has provided targeted investments to build the capacity and infrastructure of our local food system. One of their early investments was to Farm to Table Co-Packers, now Farm Bridge.
Today, the Farm Bridge offers its expertise and full food production services to local farms, and to local food entrepreneurs seeking to expand their markets. Between 2012 and 2015, the Farm Bridge increased its output by 55%, from 2 million pounds of produce in 2012 to 3.1 million pounds in 2015.
Hudson Valley Harvest, founded in 2011 by Paul Alward, aggregates and distributes fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, beef and dairy, as well as shelf stable items like local honey and hot sauce from over 50 Hudson Valley farms to restaurants, grocers, and institutions in the Tri-State Area. In 2013, it distributed 516,250 pounds of local food. Just two years later, in 2015 it distributed well over 2 million pounds of local food.
Through the efforts of these and other local businesses, Ulster County’s food and beverage cluster has begun its evolution toward a more scalable and robust system – one that has the capacity and infrastructure needed to provide healthy, local food to the growing population that demands it, and that can support a sustainable future for our county’s farmers, craft food and beverage producers, and other food related businesses.
Ulster County Announces Food and Beverage Cluster Initiatives
“We recognize that the county has a role to play in helping our local businesses continue to evolve, and that the resources we can bring to bear must align with the needs of our target industries” said County Executive Hein. “And so I am proud to highlight several new efforts being undertaken by the County, which are a direct response to the needs expressed by businesses like Hudson Valley Harvest and the Farm Bridge,” he added.
At its most recent meeting, the Ulster County Revolving Loan Fund Committee, chaired by Legislator James Maloney, authorized the targeting of County loan funds toward the food and beverage cluster. The Committee also expressed a willingness to streamline the application process and lower interest rates on loans to new and expanding food businesses.
“The Ulster County Revolving Loan Fund Committee understands that Ulster County’s businesses – both small and large – need access to capital to grow and prosper. We want to ensure that businesses in the industries we know are flourishing, such as agriculture and tourism, can take advantage of this new lending initiative, as well as those in other industries,” said James Maloney, Ulster County Legislator and Chair of the Ulster County Revolving Loan Fund. “The availability of lower interest loans coupled with the new streamlined application process will allow people who qualify to move quickly in today’s competitive business world,” he added.
In addition, following on the recommendations of the Targeting Analysis and based on numerous inquiries from existing and prospective businesses, Ulster County recently contracted with the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) to complete a Food and Beverage Processing Study. HVADC and its partners are currently reviewing whether additional co-packing space, shared infrastructure, new funding sources and/or the development of new programmatic support in the County would be useful to help these businesses add more production and more jobs in the County.
Paul Alward, Founder and CEO of Hudson Valley Harvest said, “Hudson Valley Harvest couldn’t have become the country’s leading local food company without a close working relationship with over 50 talented local farmers who enable us to sell the best food to be found anywhere. Ulster County is the epicenter of the food revolution taking place, the Napa Valley of the east. This year we’ll deliver close to 5 million pounds of the healthiest, most nutritious, freshest, most amazing food to be found anywhere. From Albany to NYC, NJ through CT and now Boston we’re happy to be working out of Kingston facility to bring people the best.”
The Hudson Valley is a premier location for all things food and drink. From a humble start six years ago, I see tremendous opportunity to continue to grow this diverse food cluster and to attract even more food business involved in manufacturing, marketing and distribution. With continued collaboration between public and private entities I see no limit to the ways we can continue to support our local economy and especially our local farms,” said Jim Hyland, Founder and CEO of The Farm Bridge.
More information on these programs and others aimed at growing Ulster County’s economy can be found online at www.ulstercountyny.gov/economic-development or by calling the Office of Economic Development at 845-340-3556.