Jan 13, 2016
TOWN OF ULSTER >> Part of TechCity is being demolished, and the whole property is for sale, but that doesn’t mean there are no success stories at the sprawling former IBM plant.
The site has proved to be fertile ground for two agricultural packaging and distribution companies that deal with produce grown in the Mid-Hudson region.
The heads of Hudson Valley Harvest and The Farm Bridge (formerly Farm to Table Co-Packers) say the changes at TechCity, and the possible sale, have not changed their plans for growth.
“It’s been a wonderful place to get started,” said Hudson Valley Harvest President Paul Alward. “With us and Farm to Table across the way, it’s a mini food hub incubator. It’s a great place to build a business.”
Alward said Hudson Valley Harvest, which has 20 employees, uses 20,000 square feet of space to work with 150 farms.
“The current [TechCity] management team has been extremely supportive,” he said. “We’ve been here for a couple years and have recently taken more space.”
Hudson Valley Harvest distributing produce that’s grown at farms throughout the region.
“We have up to 10 trucks on the road on any given day,” Alward said. “Over 52 weeks of the year, we are distributing fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables and fruit.”
Alward said the location of TechCity provides easy access to U.S. Route 209, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge and the Thruway. He says that ease of transportation helped Hudson Valley Harvest expand from fresh produce shipments of 10,000 bushels in 2013 to 32,000 bushels in 2014. Frozen fruits and vegetable shipments, meanwhile, increased from 30,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds during the same period.
Hudson Valley Harvest also went from shipping 15,000 jars of fruits and vegetables in 2013 to 27,000 in 2014, and its meat shipments rose from 100,000 pounds to 250,000 pounds, Alward said.
The Farm Bridge is the packaging part of the symbiotic relationship. Owner Jim Hyland said the business uses about 35,000 square feet, and he, too, says TechCity management has helped the business expand.
“I started out nine years ago with Winter Sun Farm and then five years ago started Farm to Table Co-Packers,” he said. “When we did Winter Sun Farm and were selling to places like Bard College, Vassar College ... there was no real facility for what we wanted to do. So very quickly, I knew we needed to build some infrastructure, and the infrastructure to do this kind of packaging was just no longer around.”
Hyland said he isn’t troubled by TechCity being on the market.
“I think TechCity has kind of been for sale since we started,” he quipped.
The Farm Bridge provides services to about 60 farms and small food companies, including the packaging of produce and turning raw products into cooked items.
“If a farmer wants a salsa made, we can make a salsa under their own label,” Hyland said. “We also have our own brand of products. ... So we’re really connecting the farm to people who really want that clean, healthy, nutritious food.”
TechCity has proven to be a good location for The Farm Bridge because there was a commissary kitchen available when production began.
“We took an old, run-down IBM kitchen that was moth-balled for 10 years or so,” Hyland said. “... When I first signed the lease, it was raining, and it was raining inside, so they had to fix the roof.
“We turned it around and it really became a high-functioning production kitchen, which is what we created here and is really exciting to see,” he said.
Hyland said The Farm Bridge uses 60,000 square feet of space and had production of 2 million pounds of food in 2015, a gain of 40 percent from 2014.
TechCity had about 2.4 million square feet on building space before demolition began and will be about 940,000 square feet smaller when the process is done.
TechCity spokesman Steve Alschuler said in September said the targeted buildings are being taken down because they are obsolete.
“Based on feedback we’ve received as we market the property we’re demolishing several obsolete buildings that are not usable for any practical purpose,” he said at the time. “This work will better position the property for sale and future occupancy.”
IBM operated at the site from the mid-1950s until the summer of 1995 and at one time employed more than 7,000 people there.
The computer company sold the site to downstate developer Alan Ginsberg in early 1998 for just $3 million, and he renamed it TechCity.
Ginsberg initially said he could fill the site with tenants within three years of his purchase, but the property has never been more than about 40 percent occupied under his ownership.
TechCity management has not said how much it wants for the site, opting instead to see what kind of offers — if any — it gets.
• • •
GETTING TO KNOW: JIM HYLAND
• Founder and chief executive officer of The Farm Bridge (previously Farm to Table Co-Packers) at TechCity in the town of Ulster. (Established its predecessor, Winter Sun Farm, in 2006.)
• With wife, Jule, has three sons.
• Graduated from Yorktown High School in 1987 and earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Hartwick College in 1991.
• Included in Farm Bridge mission statement that it must work with local food pantries, work to held residents who speak English as a second language and have environmentally sound business practices, such as using solar energy.
• Raises money for the Eamonn’s Energy program to assist the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
By, William J. Kemble
Source: Daily Freeman