Orange County considers agri-business expansion plans

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    GOSHEN-Agriculture-related business is a natural sector for growth in Orange County, and the county should be promoting as a center for this type of business, a consultant advises. County government has a role in attracting and retaining agribusiness, L. Christopher Campany, the county's Deputy Commissioner for Planning, told the Education and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. He is hoping the county can organize a meeting of relevant development agencies within the next month to begin working on the ACDS recommendations. A primary recommendation is the development of an "agribusiness park" to bring in businesses that would become the core of a larger agribusiness industry. These businesses might be based partly on local produce and partly on processing produce from outside the area. However, the presence of these businesses could encourage the county's farmers to diversify, Campany said. Campany added that he does not see the county getting into the business of actually buying land and developing an agribusiness park. However, he described such a park Sullivan County developed on land it owns near Liberty. There are now two beef-related businesses and a bakery among the five businesses located there, he said. Agriculture and Community Development Services (ACDS) found that Orange County has the existing farm production, available work force, competitive wage rates and an excellent transportation network. The county should be capitalizing on these advantages. Zoning regulations can encourage businesses to locate in the county, Campany said. He noted that Warwick and Goshen already have agricultural-industrial zones. "We should be encouraging this," he added. The addition of certain businesses can make new farming ventures possible, Campany said. For instance, local upland farmers could take advantage of the growing demand for grass-fed beef if small, nearby slaughterhouses were available. In fact, meat quality would be highest if the slaughter facilities were right on the farm - but this would require changes in regulations. Likewise, the small dairy operations in Orange County could be ideal for the production of organic milk, another specialty item for which demand is growing. While Orange County gains some agribusiness in the normal course of events, it could do much better if it marketed itself. One problem is that there is now no one person or agency that speaks for the county on agriculture. The development of a coordinator would offer business information about the county's opportunities. "Pad-ready" building sites - that is, sites that have been approved and on which construction can start relatively quickly - would help attract business, Campany said. The availability of such sites in nearby counties has cost Orange County some possible businesses. Businesses in the agricultural sector tend to cluster in certain areas, Campany said. "So if we get a good, big business, that will attract others," responded Leigh J. Benton of Newburgh. He noted that the town of Wallkill has developed a marketing strategy targeting high-tech industry. What the ACDS report is suggesting is a similar effort in agriculture, he said. An initial meeting to begin developing a marketing strategy could be set up within the next month. This would involve economic development agencies, such as the Orange County Partnership and the Empire Zone, and agriculture development agencies such as Cornell Cooperative Extension. Later meetings would bring in the towns, which would be major players in developing the zoning and the sites for industry. The major agricultural towns, like Goshen and Warwick, and the industrial areas, like Wallkill and Montgomery, would be ideal candidates. "We want to teach the towns that we have business opportunities that could help them with ratables," said Antoinette Gluszak, the Legislature's counsel.Among the opportunities outlined in the ACDS report were: • A large adjacent consumer market of some 33 million people within 200 miles of the county making more than $133 billion in retail food purchases. • An adjacent consumer market within a 40-mile radius hat spends on average 77 percent more than the national average on food purchases. • Good transportation links between Orange County and the rest of the Northeast. Among the consultants' recommendations are: • Develop a formal program to target food manufacturing and big box retailing. The Orange County Department of Planning should begin this planning immediately and seek partners, such as the Orange County Partnership to work with. • Work with industrial park developers and owners of industrially zoned land, real estate professionals and towns to increase the number of pad-ready pre approved sites. • Improve economic development conditions. This would include creating a plan that integrates agriculture, food and related industries. Towns and the county should review the available incentives. In the absence of a countywide plan, the Department of Planning and Development should take the lead in improving coordination and streamlining the licensing and permitting processes. Campany said he has presented the report and its findings to Orange County Executive Edward Diana, and he is supportive of the idea. Diana was in a meeting and was not available. His spokesman, Steve Gross, was also unavailable.