When searching for answers, look within. That piece of age-old wisdom applies equally to local economic development, according to the Poughkeepsie Wealth-Building Summit, as it does to our personal lives. On Friday, April 22, Vassar hosted the Summit to foster grassroots economic development through local stakeholders such as local businesses, non-profits and educational and medical institutions.
Conference Director of the Poughkeepsie community Wealth-Building Summit Justine Porter spoke about the event and why it is of importance to the economic development of the county and the community as a whole.
“Often times when we think about economic development on a county and city level we think about how we can attract businesses, but annually in the U.S., we spend over 800 billion drawing businesses from one community to another. The problem is that this is a net loss over all because we are just taking jobs away from another county. And often when you attract a business the jobs that are created are for educated, highly trained workforce and there are not necessarily jobs for people who are unemployed in that area. I live and work on Main Street, I’m a community organizer and I work in a community space and I work with many of the non-profits in the city of Poughkeepsie.” Porter’s mantra to support locally developing businesses, rather than pioneer new growth from outside communities was built on more than intuition.
As a community organizer, Porter has done extensive on-the-ground research, some of which happened five minutes away from campus. “Living on Main Street I see a lot of the poverty there because I’ve worked with a lot of organizations and I feel that unemployment is a big issue here. We have a 14.5 percent unemployment rate in the city and 30 percent poverty rate which is pretty high. When we talk about economic development we need to talk about creating jobs for people below the poverty line and for people who are unemployed,” said Porter.
High rates of poverty bring a host of other problems along, not least of which are medical complications. “We have so many hospitals in this area. How can we connect these incredible resources with those in need? This event is all about getting together the people who make decisions at big institutions like Vassar and getting businesses and non-profits to really hear how other communities are doing this successfully and getting them to do more,” said Porter.
This is the Poughkeepsie Wealth-Building Summit’s inaugural event, and they hope to have many more that will help the community. “Originally I thought maybe I could find a way to connect some colleges to businesses but I wanted to host this event so that everyone could find out more about this idea and apply it at their own institutions and help their own communities. There will be an event next year, hopefully,” added Justine Porter.
She also explained why the decision was made to hold this event at Vassar. “We held this at Vassar because it’s a huge space and Allister Hall, the sustainability coordinator at Vassar helped me set this up. To hold this event here the people who came had to drive through the city and see the poverty and then come to a college full of wealth and prosperity and I think this really juxtaposes that difference and shows that we can connect this resource to the community.” With all its resources, Vassar stands in a solid position to play a key part in the Summit. Porter explained how this is just the beginning and there is still a long way to go for the community to start reaping benefits from this program. “This is a start of a conversation. This day was basically about getting the information about this model into the hands of people who are leading institutions and getting them to think about how they can connect their institutions with the community. This will lead to more flourishing business and industry. There is a huge hospital expansion program going on, as well as recent changes in colleges. And this event is definitely the start of this conversation.”
The 50 organizations which partnered for the event such as Bard MBA, the Culinary Institute and local coffee shops and banks that attended the event are willing to cooperate and help out as much they can.
AmeriCorps Vista, Nora Culhane, also talked about the event and what it means for the outreach of the community. “I work for Hudson River housing on the middle main initiative and I’ve been placed there through AmeriCorps. Our mission is to make poverty history and we are placed in areas that need help. I work on the middle main initiative and I help revitalize main street Poughkeepsie. So being here is really exciting because we are trying to redirect all the wealth that’s already in the community.” She also talked about all the people who want to help make this dream a reality. “I’ve met so many new people and I’m so glad they’re all interested in this plan. I’m so excited to see everyone collaborate because that’s what we need. This is a long-term thing that will take a long time, and a lot of planning but it is definitely an amazing start.”
The Poughkeepsie community Wealth-Building Summit is the beginning of a long-term plan to boost the economic growth and development of the city of Poughkeepsie. As part of the community, Vassar hopes to build from within and promote economic development in a sustainable way.