Localizing Orange County’s Economy

By Shawn Dell Joyce

I was invited to speak to our county’s Planning Board about ways to localize our economy. We first have to realize what our assets are, what resources we have that we can build on. In Orange County, we have a picturesque countryside, a rich history, a growing arts community, many small family farms, a few large scale industries, an international airport, and an underemployed population.

We also have to take notice of where our money leaks out of the local economy (called an “import leak”) and how we can plug that leak with a local source to keep our money flowing in the local economy. Two big areas are energy and food.

Lots of our local bucks go to pay for electricity and oil generated outside our community. This is a huge export leak, with a good chunk of our paychecks going to home heat, electric, gas, and fuel oil. A leak this big will need more than one plug.

–If we support large scale local power generation like Taylor Biomass, we can generate power locally that stays in the region. If we could work with Taylor, we could make it our own local utility and get a much better rate than dirty coal, or nuclear could provide. It would also generate local jobs.

–Home heating costs could be localized by creating our own local source of biofuel; pellets made from crop residues. This is already in the works, and provide local farmers a use for crop residues (press them into pellets) and local homes a source for inexpensive carbon-neutral heating. Let’s incentivize this program and encourage this local industry.

–Other home heating and power costs could be greatly reduced and localized through the PACE program (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) This national-level program encourages counties to offer low-interest rate loans through property taxes to pay for solar hot water, solar electric, energy-efficiency upgrades, and other “green” home improvements. This involves a local bank loan, local green energy provider and builders, and generates great LOCAL economic impact while lowering homeowner’s monthly bills.

Probably no other program, instituted on a county level, could have a bigger impact on reducing our monthly bills and generating local green jobs and economic impact than the PACE program. A similar program was set up in Cambridge, MA, designed to lower small businesses operating expenses by connecting them with energy efficiency auditors, local banks and local upgrade providers (insulators, contractors, etc). The money all stayed local and small businesses were more solvent.

Additionally, Orange County is part of the food shed for New York City. Much of what our farmers grow gets shipped elsewhere, meanwhile we import tons of food for our schools and restaurants from other states. It is criminal that our schools buy apples from Washington State while our apple farmers have surplus crops rotting in storage. This is a huge economic leak.

If our county mandated local schools and kitchens to order directly from local farms, even incentivized the process to level the cost difference, it would make a huge difference in the bottom line of our local farms. A way to plug this leak is set up an agent who would have local farms grow specifically for several school districts. Perhaps work with PTA’s to offer local apples as fundraisers instead of Florida citrus as well. Create salad bars as part of the school lunch program, and connect farms and schools through a county agent to make it happen. Winter Sun Farms in New Paltz already offers industrial-scale lots of frozen produce from local farms to school districts.

Other communities depend on attracting large corporations and big box stores as a way of bringing in more economic activity. This strategy has been proven to work in reverse as small independent businesses make up about half of the economic backbone of our communities. A recent study revealed that $1 earned by a local farmer had the impact of $2 on the farmer’s community because it changed hands so many times locally.

“About 42 percent of our economy is “place based” or created through small, locally-owned businesses,” notes Economist and author Michael Shuman. He estimates that we could expand this figure to 70 percent or more, by localizing some of our main expenditures. In the process, we would boost our local economy, and save money at the same time.

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning sustainable artist and writer and director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

2 Responses to “Localizing Orange County’s Economy”

  1. Tom Pahucki Says:

    Interesting article although I hesitate to MANDATE anything to any institution. In July I took the Commissioner of the Office of the Aging to a local company that grows and packages various salad greens here in Orange County. The company is East Coast Spring Mix Inc. and they grow these beautiful salad greens in my back yard. Ann Marie was excited and interested but since then we in County government have delt with various important issues beside working on the budget and now I have renewed the effort to get County government interested in purchasing local. I have a meeting set up for December with our purchasing manager to see how we can incorperate County government into buying local and keeping people in our funded programs like office of the aging, meals on wheels and Valley View residents eating healthy local fresh fruits and vegetables. I would rather have County lead by example than mandate and if we can prove successful in this initial program who knows, perhaps we can offer a regional distribution office for local farmers to subscribe to.
    Tom Pahucki
    OC Legislator; Dist. 21

  2. Steve Stone Says:

    Let me see if I can summarize your article in one sentence. All facets of Orange County must support “green” local businesses to enhance our local economy. I support local green business that does not rape and pillage the residents or the land. How do we make this happen? Let’s start by pulling the plug on the PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) and the IDA. Why? Because PILOT’s are being used to bring jobs to Orange County that are not green and do not pay a “living wage”, a salary that can allow a worker to pay the rent, fill the fridge, cover health care, and put clothes on their back. PILOT’s put the business tax burden on the backs of the residents for ungodly lengths of time.
    PILOT back businesses that do not pay a living wage resulting in higher social service expenses for the county. There are SO many empty buildings in our county, why do we need to rip up fertile grounds and wetlands for another place to store stuff or a fossil fueled power plant that will be built to cover the peak demands of metro NYC and not Orange County? Let’s call the PILOT what it really is… a bribe.. a business pays $5k to the IDA and in return the IDA might grant them a “SUPER PILOT”. Super my butt.
    I don’t think a young adult fresh out of college is looking towards spending a lifetime working a forklift in an IDA supported wharehouse or stoking the turbines of a fossil fueled power plant in Wawayanda. Think outside of the box.
    This is what drives people out of the state.

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