By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY October 4, 2005 The future of Sullivan County might just lie in its past.
The recent changing of the guard at two of the countys biggest agencies on the business development front has made two county natives the faces of the future.
Its a positive sign in a place where, as Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Marc Baez puts it, youth have historically run out of the area.
Baez graduated from Liberty High School in 1983.
His counterpart at the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, new President Terri Hess, graduated from the former Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School in 1998.
The presidents share a love for their hometowns and a passion for spreading that love to others.
Baez left home after attending Sullivan County Community College for two years to pursue his business administration degree at SUNY Oswego.
He spent five years in Albany working at a dot com with some friends a business they built from the ground up, eventually contracting with AOL to spread their golf information database around the world.
But Baezs family was back in Liberty, and so was his heart.
He returned to Sullivan County in the mid-1990s to take a job with the countys planning department.
But it wasnt hands-on enough for someone with his entrepreneurial spirit.
So when a position opened up at the Partnership, Baez hit the road.
I basically walked into [the county managers] office and said, You better send me over there Im your guy, Ill straighten the place out in that arrogant young guy kind of way, Baez recalled with a laugh.
That was eight years ago.
Today Baez is building on programs he helped start with former president Mike Sullivan, an Orange County native who led the Partnership into the 21st century.
It was a really good working relationship, Baez said of his time at the Partnership with Sullivan at the helm. When Mike was here, we had goals and we did a lot of neat projects.
But in that time, the county has changed drastically.
The key to success, Baez said, has been changing with the times.
When he stepped up to the plate, there was little focus on small business.
These days the Partnership has broadened its horizons, recently hiring a new vice president who will work not only at business development but on helping existing county businesses expand.
A Main Street Day forum held earlier this year was the first of many programs aimed directly at the small business districts that the countys residents use every day.
Were bringing back Main Street, Baez said.
The businesses that have already succeeded here are the examples of what could make it in the long run in Sullivan County, he said.
Bringing in some big new corporate client is difficult to do, Baez explained. Looking at what you already have is easier.
You look at what has worked here and ask, Can we expand on those things?
The Center for Discovery has worked, he said. Theyre expanding yet again, and theyre employing at least 1,300 people on a variety of levels.
Plus, Baez said, theyre very good neighbors in the community.
Thats what the Partnership is looking for these days businesses that mesh with the community.
Once we welcomed all new business, he said. Now we have to look at whats coming in to see if it fits our individual communities.
That means taking into account whats good about Sullivan County to find something that can make it better.
And theres plenty to crow about right here, Baez said.
Theres a million people coming up to Sullivan County for things weve all taken for granted, he explained, the things we often dont think about things like the Delaware River, the little Beaverkill, Walnut Mountain . . . things we have in our daily lives like being able to be home 5 minutes after you leave work.
Thats not to say we dont need growth, Baez continued. We do theres 1,100 square miles in this county, theres room to grow.
I have access to everything everyone else has, Baez continued. If I want to go to New York City, its 1 1/2 hours . . . I can go in and see a play, but do we have all the job opportunities?
Thats why Im here, and thats what Im working on. You can balance both you can show we have this wonderful bucolic area here without scarring it.
When I came back here in 1996, there was nothing here, he recalled.
Today the county has Mamma Sez, a company that makes the biscotti you get on Jet Blue Airlines, and Ideal Snacks, the Liberty business that has contracts with Quaker Oats and Frito-Lay.
The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts being built in the woods of Bethel is the largest economic development project in the Hudson Valley outside of IBM, Baez said.
And its right here in Sullivan County!
If you want to get something done, Baez said, roll up your sleeves and do it sometimes youve just got to dive in and work a little hard, and when opportunities come up, you have to capitalize on them.
Is it going to happen overnight? he asked. No way, but if you have the strength to hold on . . .
Thats where Hess comes in.
The Chamber President likes to say Baez gets em here, I keep em here!
Hess has stayed here her whole life.
After high school, she lived at home near Jeffersonville and commuted to SUNY Oneonta to earn a bachelors degree in communications.
She worked her way through school at the Liberty Pet Center.
I travel a lot, Ive been all over, Ive been to Australia, she said. But this is my home.
I felt that this is just such a great place to be I couldnt leave it behind.
Its a great place for Hess simply because its a place on the move.
Look at Jeffersonville alone, she said. We have furniture stores and kids clothing stores, and its still the same beautiful place I grew up in.
Were looking for the kind of economic development that keeps with the pride of Sullivan County, the beauty of Sullivan County.
Im not looking for insane, huge development.
Its the moms and pops who pioneered the Sullivan County economy with their stores, and Hess is finding those mom and pop stores are providing for the people of Sullivan County.
Thats what Hess wants small growth that really serves the community.
So we dont have to go to Orange County to get a gift for our friends bridal shower or cleats for our kids, Hess said. Id like us to be self-sustaining.
Were not for illegal or terrible development, she added. But wed just like to see people have places to shop and places to go.
Were trying to work very closely together, Hess said of the partnership and the chamber.
Hearing that the county tops the country for new job growth is great news, she said, because it means people are finding opportunities within the borders of Sullivan County.
But theres still a ways to go, she noted.
I dont think theres ever going to be a point where Im satisfied, that its enough, she said.