Last week Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan returned to his Alma Mater, Kingston High School, to deliver his first State of the County address. The audience was filled with hundreds of students from across the county along with state and local leaders and a cross section of members of the community.
Ryan recalled the staggering loss of 8,000 jobs at IBM in the early 1990s, saying that once the company was the beating heart of the county. He said the county took another big hit during the downturn of 2008.
“We have recovered but we still have a really long way to go,” he said. On the bright side unemployment levels are at record lows, overall economic activity and tourism is up and the county has added more than 1,700 new private sector jobs just in 2019.
Ryan said despite those positive statistics he still finds, “families struggling to keep their heads above water. Some have recovered since 2008 and are doing better but way too many families are still struggling in our county.” He said 4 out of 10 households are living from paycheck to paycheck. He pointed out that about half of the jobs that have been created are in the lower wage sector of the economy, at about $20,000/year, while the average student loan debt hovers around $30,000.
Ryan put a spotlight on several new, next generation entrepreneurs who have located their businesses in Ulster County; Bryan Graham of Fruition Chocolates and Ashley Knox, Executive Director of Go Beyond Greatness, a college and career reediness program to ensure that students receive the skills needed to succeed in the 21st Century.
“Bryan and Ashley are just two examples of young people who are not just committed to reinvigorating our community but they’re having incredible success doing it. There are hundreds more of those kinds of stories happening across our county and a lot of other people are noticing that,” Ryan said.
Ryan unveiled several new initiatives aimed at young people that are, “designed to support and hopefully to empower you to bring our community to our maximum potential.”
Ryan announced the first Green Youth Fellowship, “that will recruit, place and pay high school and college students to work at partnering green businesses and non-profits in Ulster County. The goal is to connect young people to local job opportunities so that they can have a workforce pathway to stay in Ulster County while at the same time increasing participating organizations and business capacity and providing mentoring for the next generation of green leaders.”
Ryan said a grant of $249,700 has been secured to fund a Green Careers Academy at SUNY Ulster. The Academy is designed to help Ulster County build a skilled clean-energy workforce with a focused outreach to individuals who have not had access to clean-energy training. The money will go to offset tuition costs.
“By the end of the program you will understand anything on how LED technology works, how to design a solar array, and ultimately you’ll earn a Building Performance Institute Certification, which is the nationally recognized standard in this area,” he said.
Ryan added that both of these programs are part of a commitment to fight climate change and transition Ulster County to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Ryan has promised to create “1,000 jobs in 1,000 days” as a way to encourage college graduates and workers in transition to stay in Ulster County. The program is being spearheaded by the Ulster County Department of Economic Development and will help pair job applicants with local businesses, in such areas as technology, green jobs, agriculture and the creative arts sector and will utilize a digital marketing campaign to connect applicants to jobs openings.
Ryan also announced a Call To Service Youth Program to engage a new generation of volunteers.
“This initiative includes a partnership with not for profit Ulster Corps to recruit volunteers with organization throughout Ulster County. As part of this effort Ryan is starting a program called Living History where young people will sit down with seniors and record their life stories that will be shared with the residents of the county at large.
Ryan touched upon a host of other topics. He has secured $3 million to combat the opioid crisis in the county.
“In 2018 Ulster County had the second highest number of overdose deaths of 62 counties in New York State,” he said.
Ryan pointed out that there has been a precipitous drop in the ranks of those serving in the Emergency Services. To stem this decline Ryan is launching the Ulster County Explorer Program that will introduce young men and women ages 14 to 20 to the possibility of career opportunities in the fire and other emergency services.
Ryan said his administration will be investing $73 million to maintain, fix and upgrade the roadways, bridges and infrastructure in the county over the next five years. In 2020 the county is investing $17 million in SUNY Ulster, “to make sure that continues to be a great institution that produces qualified young people and workers who can be part of this new economy that we’re going to build.”
Later this year Ryan will also roll out a Mobile County Government initiative that will bring services across five different regions in Ulster County, “that will make it easier to get the help and services that folks need.”
Ryan promised in 2020 that he will hold nine town hall meetings in school districts across the county. He added that this year he will also establish the first ever Ulster County Youth Council that will be made up of high school students from every district, “to ensure that your voices continue to guide the investments, priorities and the policies” of Ulster County.