Fulton County working to rebuild local economy: Times Union

Officials market low costs, infrastructure to attract companies, people

 By Robert Downen, Originally published in the Albany Times Union

In their quest to reverse economic downturn, Fulton County officials are focusing on three words: Live, work and play.

By 2026, they hope their county will attract residents who want to do all three.

Once the epicenter of the upstate leather industry centered in Gloversville, Fulton County has steadily watched economic opportunities dwindle as niche manufacturing jobs go overseas.

Since 1970, the number of people directly and indirectly employed in the leather trades has dropped from 10,000 to 400, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

“These businesses employed towns,” Johnny Evers, director of government affairs at the Business Council of New York State, said at a seminar on Fulton County economic development Tuesday,

Now — and hopefully, with buy-in from local business leaders and elected officials — county officials are hoping they can transform the area into a hotbed of growth by attracting businesses and young people alike.

Boosters believe they have the resources both in infrastructure and human capital. The question is how to get people to use them.

The pitch is simple: Cheap cost of living, coupled with the factory buildings left over from the heyday of manufacturing, should make Fulton County immediately attractive to those seeking metropolitan amenities at a discounted rate.

“Upstate New York is a beautiful place to explore and enjoy, but in many areas the cost of living can be too high,” Jim Mraz, Fulton County planning director, said in August. “In Fulton County, that’s not the case, and that’s something we’re proud of.”

Add in a low crime rate, a new focus on regional partnerships and the county’s location in the middle of myriad nature destinations, and officials are confident they “can establish Fulton County as one of the Capital Region’s premier economic and residential destinations,” said Charles Potter, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors.

Since undertaking the development initiative called Jump Start Fulton County in 2014, officials have focused heavily on luring new businesses and young workers to shovel-ready sites.

Fulton and Montgomery counties at that time brought in Mike Mullis, a corporate site selector, to assess the region’s ability to attract large corporations. Mullis identified seven clusters on which the counties should focus, with biomedical research and development, food and beverage services and health care products among them.

By reorienting towards such high-tech sectors, officials hope they can use their location in the middle of what they’re calling the “Tech Triangle” of New York as a selling point. (Both Utica and the Capital Region tout significant biotechnology sectors, and Albany was rated last week as the most friendly place to do business in New York by Forbes).

A cornerstone of that strategy is the Tryon Technology Park in Perth. The 515-acre park, once occupied by the now-shuttered Tryon Detention Center, has been the focus of the Fulton County Industrial Development Agency. Last year it moved in its first tenant, medical marijuana company Vireo Health.

“In the greater Capital Region, there’s a tremendous amount of human capital,” Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung said in September. “There’s a lot of talent.

“We want to bring back more (than the 325 jobs) that were lost (at Tryon).”

County officials are also banking on growing agricultural industries statewide.

Since 2000, gross domestic product from upstate New York’s dairy sector has increased by more than 38 percent, to more than $600 million, according to the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth.

In this region alone, international yogurt makers Fage and Chobani have created more than 1,650 jobs, making New York the No. 1 yogurt manufacturing state in the country.

rdownen@timesunion.com • 518-454-5018 • @Robert_Downen

Medical Marijuana Plant Approved for Tryon in Fulton County

medical marijuana to be one of the first manufacturing operations at Tryon Technology Park

Medical Marijuana Plant Approved for Tryon Technology Park in Fulton County

Fulton County will host the manufacturing operations for one of five organizations given health department permission today for the production and sale of medical marijuana in New York State.

“Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in the implementation of New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a written statement. “The five organizations selected for registration today showed, through a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation process, they are best suited to produce and provide quality medical marijuana to eligible New Yorkers in need, and to comply with New York’s strict program requirements.”

ESHS is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based Vireo Health LLC, a medical cannabis company which works to “insert standard medical, scientific, business and operational principles into the medical cannabis industry, which often lacks the expertise to meet specific scientific and medical standards,” according to its website. Kyle Kingsley is the CEO of both Empire State Health Solutions and Vireo Health.

Tryon Site in Fulton County NY

The first phase of the medical marijuana project involves renovating and retrofitting one of the existing buildings on 20 acres on the west side of the Tryon Technology Park for grow rooms, security and offices.

 

The first phase of their project involves renovating and retrofitting one of the existing buildings on 20 acres on the west side of the Tryon facility for grow rooms, security and offices.  The second phase would be the first greenhouse, and the third phase, scheduled for this fall, would be to develop additional facilities around the greenhouse.

ESHS plans to start with 20 employees in Fulton County – with an average starting wage of $22 – adding another 20 by the end of the year. When the facility is fully operational in October 2016 there could be as many as 100 unionized workers, according to Fulton County Senior Planner Sean Geraghty. The average worker would start at $22 per hour, he said.

Three top staff have already been hired, including a head horticulturalist from Austin, Texas. The company is advertising locally for some of the key entry-level positions. Applicants should search indeed.com to apply.

While New York is one of the largest states to embrace the drug’s use for medical purposes, it is hardly the first: 22 other states as well as the District of Columbia allow some form of medical marijuana,

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a national drug reform group, 22 states and the District of Columbia have changed their laws to allow the production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. California was the first in 1996.

Gov. Cuomo’s opposed partial marijuana legalization when he campaigned for governor in 2010, and blocked attempts by lawmakers to create a medical marijuana program in 2011. In early 2014, however, he proposed his own plan to make the drug available at select hospitals across the state. That plan was opposed as too restrictive by advocates of patients likely to benefit from the pain-relieving affects of marijuana, such as those with cancers, seizure disorders and AIDS.

Cuomo’s next proposal, the Compassionate Care Act, also kept restrictions in place – such as barring the administration of the drug by smoking. New York producers will create alternate methods of  using the drug, including a vaporized delivery system similar to an e-cigarette.

Medical Marijuana Site Plan Approved for Tryon

The Fulton County Planning Board has approved the site plan for a proposed 208,000-square-foot medical marijuana manufacturing facility at the Tryon Technology Park.

The proposal is a significant step toward transforming the 515-acre facility into a biomedical research and manufacturing center. New York State turned the facility, a former state youth detention center, over to the Fulton County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) for redevelopment in 2013.

If Empire State Health Solutions (ESHS) receives a state license to make medical marijuana, it plans to build greenhouses, laboratory space, offices and a manufacturing and processing area at Tryon. Registered as a New York State limited liability corporation, ESHS would be the first tenant in the technology park.

ESHS is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based Vireo Health LLC, a medical cannabis company which works to “insert standard medical, scientific, business and operational principles into the medical cannabis industry, which often lacks the expertise to meet specific scientific and medical standards,” according to its website. Kyle Kingsley is the CEO of both Empire State Health Solutions and Vireo Health.

If ESHS wins one of the licenses, the first phase of their project would involve renovating and retrofitting one of the existing buildings on 20 acres on west side of the site for grow rooms, security and offices.  The second phase would be the first greenhouse, and the third phase, scheduled for this fall, would be to develop additional facilities around the greenhouse.

A marijuana crop takes about eight weeks from germination to harvest under controlled climate conditions.  ESHS indicated it may need to build additional greenhouses as demand requires.

“If they’re issued a license in three or four weeks, they need to start dropping some seeds,” according to Fulton County Senior Planner Sean Geraghty at the June 16 Planning Board meeting at which the site plan was approved. “They want to start up by January.”

The New York State Department of Health began accepting applications for medical marijuana manufacturing licenses after the passage of the Compassionate Care Act last year to make marijuana available as a treatment to patients with certain serious illnesses. There are 43 applicants for the five licenses the state plans to issue by late July. Each licensee will be allowed to open four dispensaries throughout the state.

ESHS plans to start with 20 employees in Fulton County – with an average starting wage of $22 – adding another 20 by the end of the year. When the facility is fully operational in October 2016 there could be as many as 100 unionized workers, according Geraghty. The average worker would start at $22 per hour, he said.

Three top staff have already been hired, including a head horticulturalist from Austin, Texas. The company is advertising locally for some of the key entry-level positions.

Mike Mullis, of the site selection research company J.M. Mullis Inc., said  the Tryon facility is “one of the region’s greatest marketing assets.”

“It’s the best property I’ve seen in New York State,” Mullis said. “It has the topography access, buildings and acreage that will appeal to major companies. It’s all there, including a backup power generator, $5 million worth of barbed-wire security fencing and a road network that is amply sufficient for most companies.”

Some of the fencing was removed at Tryon when the youth detention facility was closed a few years ago. Empire would augment the existing fencing with 12-foot high barbed wire and at least 60 security cameras.

The ESHS facility would use solar panels to produce more than 1 million kilowatt hours of energy, a third of its requirements. Geothermal energy capabilities would be employed, as well as recycling of rainwater.

The Fulton County Center for Regional Growth sees biomedical technology as its next opportunity for luring a “cluster” of compatible – and even symbiotic – manufacturing companies to Fulton County. It has already worked to attract and support a cluster of food processing companies such as Fage Yogurt, Crystal Geyser Spring Water, Euphrates Cheese and Pata Negra old-world sausages.

No.22 Bicycles Opens Production Facility in Johnstown

A Toronto precision bicycle designer has opened a new U.S. bicycle frame-building production facility in Johnstown, NY, in a former textile plant called the Johnstown Knitting Mill.

No.22 Bicycle Company designs the kind of precision-crafted road and track bikes that inspire passionate obsession in their owners. When it was ready to expand from design into production, No.22 chose Johnstown, which has an inventory of affordable manufacturing spaces ripe for repurposing, as well as easy access to multiple methods of shipping.

The Johnstown Knitting Mill Company was a large employer in Fulton County throughout the entire 20th century, manufacturing knitted goods and work glove cloth. By 2000, the Johnstown Knitting Mill Company succumbed to the financial stresses of foreign competition and closed after more than 100 years.

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The industrial-age mill at 309 West Montgomery Street was renovated five years ago to accommodate multiple tenants, making it a flexible choice for the young and growing bicycle company, which was founded in 2012.

A Ready Workforce

No. 22 Bicycle Co. Production facility in Johnstown, NY;The location was attractive, but it was the availability of talent that drew the Canadians to upstate New York. No.22 hired three of the craftsmen who had been responsible for making the now-defunct Serotta company in Saratoga Springs the bicycle industry benchmark for build and finish quality.

The 40-year-old Serotta was sucked into the December 2014 bankruptcy of Divine Cycling Group, a private equity firm formed in 2012 to acquire Serotta and other high-end bike makers. A new company, Saratoga Frameworks, was promptly formed to try to keep the craftsmen working, but financial and legal complications forced it to close six months later.

“There are only a couple of places in the world that have experience with high-end titanium bikes, ” said Mike Smith, who founded No.22 with partner Bryce Gracey. No.22 had been having its designs produced by a large Tennessee manufacturer. In an effort to move their products upmarket, they had started to shift production work to Saratoga Frameworks.

 “The talent pool is 100 percent of the reason we’re in Johnstown,” Smith said. “When we were looking at setting up the facility, we were looking for a place that was close to the employees we wanted.”

Scott Hock, No.22’s new director of operations for the production facility, is a Johnstown native. The Canadian partners contacted real estate agent Clayton Sitterley and began to tour vacant Fulton County manufacturing buildings of all shapes and sizes, from modern industrial parks to old glove factories.

“There’s no shortage of nice space, and the rents are extremely affordable,” Smith said. “What we really loved about the Knitting Mill is the character of the space. It’s a beautiful building. There are hardwood floors and these big, beautiful windows. You can’t help it when you walk through there, you want to hatch an idea to be able to take advantage of it.”

No.22 has outfitted 4,500 square feet in the 100,000-square-foot Johnstown mill with a mix of vintage and new equipment, such as a bank of 50-year-old US-made Bridgeport vertical mills for precision mitering and a new HAAS CNC lathe to remove minuscule flecks of titanium from the frame tubes for a precise fit.

Hock, head welder Frank Cenchitz, welder Bryar Sesselman, and a newer hire named Sam Dries are producing No.22’s Great Divide titanium road bike, Broken Arrow cylocross cross-country racing bike and Little Wing track bike, as well as working under contract to produce high-end frames for other brands. Great Divide and Broken Arrow bikes start at $4,800 and $5,500 respectively.

 A new No.22 race-focused model, The Reactor, was introduced at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Kentucky in March, and it took home the blue ribbon for best cyclocross bike. The Reactor frame kit (not a complete bike) starts at $5,200.

Smith says No.22’s sales will probably triple this year over last. The Knitting Mill offers room to grow, and Smith thinks the company may need to expand soon. He likes the fact that the tenant across the hall is a high-end machine shop, making it convenient to order supplies – “May I borrow a cup of titanium, please?”

The incubator-style nature of the Mill opens a lot of different future scenarios for either expansion or building a community of businesses with compatible interests. No.22’s production team was thrilled when a craft brewery briefly made plans to open in part of the building, but that ended up not happening.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to work with this team as the long-term manufacturing home for our bikes,” Smith said. “We have been building our brand around the resurgence of North American craftsmanship, and the frames that Scott, Frank and their colleagues are able to build have us thrilled about this relationship. We feel privileged to be working with them to produce bikes that we can all be proud of.”