No two working days are ever the same for Suzanne Holt, who heads the Ulster County Office of Economic Development in Kingston. “Today, I got to my desk by 8 a.m.,” she says. “I’ve already spoken with a farmer who is partnering with a nearby bed-and-breakfast; we discussed financing incentives. Then I had a conversation with a nonprofit group in Woodstock that’s looking for financing for an anti-bullying campaign. Next, I’ll be meeting for coffee with a small local advertising agency to discuss their needs.” All that before noon.
Holt says her wide-ranging responsibilities tend to fall into three categories: encouraging new companies to open in the area; helping current businesses thrive; and boosting networking among Valley business owners and entrepreneurs.
“I do a lot of what we call ‘business concierge services,’ things like introducing companies to each other,” she says. “For instance, I’m working with two local food manufacturers who both regularly deliver to New York City, but neither has a full truckload. By introducing them, they may be able to work out a viable truck-sharing arrangement.”
Holt is originally from Philadelphia and lived in New York City for 11 years. Trained as an attorney, she got a job out of law school working for the New York City legislature, and has also served in nonprofits. “When my husband and I decided to move from the city, we first drew an enormous circle on a map — a 100-mile circle radiating out from White Plains, where my husband was then working one day a week,” Holt says. In 2002, they began their search in earnest. “We spent about 13 months looking around this region and in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.” Then they discovered New Paltz. “We knew it was the place for us,” Holt says. “New Paltz had the quality of life we wanted; there was biking, hiking, good food, the college.” They’ve lived there ever since.
Holt did a stint practicing Social Security disability law in Newburgh, and, in 2009, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein hired her as an assistant deputy county executive. After four and a half years in that spot, she was tapped for the Office of Economic Development post. In a way, it was a natural leap, she notes. “I already knew a lot of the businesses and was familiar with other issues in the community.” Among the most rewarding of her office duties: helping match local businesses with ideal employees. One successful project, dubbed the Guaranteed Jobs Program, helps Ulster residents train for specific jobs.
Working with SUNY Ulster, BOCES, and the Office of Employment and Training, Holt mapped out an employment-training pilot program that resulted in jobs for 13 people. Another county initiative that Holt says will help Ulster shine is known as The Ellenville Million, which allots $1 million to assist the economically struggling Ellenville/Wawarsing area.
She notes, too, a current campaign that focuses on encouraging “techpreneurs” to relocate to Ulster County from Manhattan — just as she was drawn to the Valley herself.
“Our proximity to New York City and Boston, and the daily quality of life here, I think, are two of the Valley’s strongest selling points,” she says.