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HVADC Partner: Sarah Lee, Dutchess County IDA

Jul 31, 2020

The Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency (DCIDA) has been a stalwart supporter, partner and friend to HVADC for many years.

The Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency (DCIDA) has been a stalwart supporter, partner and friend to HVADC for many years. The DCIDA is a public benefit corporation created by state law in 1976 to promote economic development and job creation in Dutchess County. Now helmed by Executive Director Sarah Lee, the relationship is as strong as ever. Since well before her appointment in 2016, Lee recognized and embraced the importance of farms and agriculturally driven businesses as a tent pole of the Hudson Valley economy. HVADC Board Member Mark Doyle, also General Manager for Fishkill Farms, serves as Vice Chairman of the DCIDA Board of Directors.  

Lee is also the Chief Executive Officer of Think Dutchess Alliance for Business, a business-led, nationally recognized economic development corporation, bringing together 11 agencies to offer a single point of contact for a multitude of programs for entrepreneurs, businesses and site selectors. Her ability to manage the wide-ranging and diverse programing of both organizations is impressive and daunting.   

“HVADC has been a really good partner,” Lee said. “Agriculture is a major economic driver and working together has allowed us to offer more services.” In addition to supporting individual businesses within the county with technical assistance through the Incubator Without Walls and the Farm and Food Funding Accelerator, HVADC has worked directly with the Think Dutchess Alliance on the planning the Food and Beverage Summit and the POK Food & Beverage Academy. Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director, is a member of the Dutchess County Ag Advisory Committee which works on implementation of the Dutchess County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan.  

Lee has lived and worked throughout the state, but has accomplished a lot in a relatively short time in the Hudson Valley. She joined the former Dutchess County Economic Development Corporation in 2013, as a Business Development Specialist. Less than a year later, she became Director of Business Development. She previously held the position of Director of Business Development and Strategic Planning for Health Quest and holds a Masters in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and is a graduate of SUNY Albany.  

Economic development skills are surely being put to the test through the Hudson Valley right now as businesses of all types reckon with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and navigate the quagmire of the reopening process. Lee says there have certainly been challenges but some businesses, especially agriculture businesses, have done encouragingly well at adapting to shifting realities.   

She said the public’s appreciation and patronage of Dutchess County’s high quality farms has only grown as folks reevaluate how they shop and what they shop for, and demand for farm-fresh food has increased dramatically. She credits local farms and food businesses for how quickly and professionally they adopted new technological and logistical practices such as online ordering and curbside pick-up.  

“Dutchess County has long recognized the importance of agriculture to the economy, particularly through the promotion of agri-tourism. HVADC values this long-term working relationship with the County, its farms, food businesses and the economic development efforts to sustain a viable agricultural economy”, said Erling.  

“As it relates to agri-tourism we’re taking a wait and see approach,” said Lee. “It’s a huge part of our economy. We are seeing things like pick-your-own take a hit but there appear to be other options as well. You have to be flexible now and have a plan A, B, C, D.”  

One of the agri-business sectors concerned about losses from an anemic tourism season are the local breweries and distilleries. Like food businesses, Lee says, the local beverage sector has adapted through online sales and, for distilleries specifically, many easily and quickly converted, and began making hand sanitizer. New entrants to the market are anticipated as well.  

“A project we are excited about a lot but was impacted by COVID is the Asahi Shuzo sake company, building their new facility in Hyde Park,” Lee continued. “They’ve halted the project for now but have no plans to stop.”  

Even during difficult times Lee says she loves her job because the vibrancy of Dutchess County’s business community is driven by its people. “It’s the connection to local. Local stories are what make people feel grounded and connected. That’s how it feels in Dutchess County.”   

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