Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan delivered his first state-of-the-county address Thursday at his alma mater — Kingston High School. He focused on reinvigorating opportunities for the next generation.
Ryan, a Democrat who was elected in November to a full, four-year term after serving since June following a special election, stood onstage in the newly renovated Kingston High School auditorium. He began his address in front of his Class of 2000 Kingston High School yearbook photo. Ryan says, now, 20 years later, he wants to impart a different message.
“I’m here mostly to tell you today that the idea that you need to leave Ulster County to be successful is bull****, and we have to turn that around,” Ryan says. “And that’s what we’re really here today to focus on. And I want you all to be involved in doing that. And I’m sorry that I cursed there, but I feel strongly about this.”
He says a survey of high school students across Ulster County showed that fewer than 15 percent planned to stay in the county after high school. Ryan is hoping to turn this around, and unveiled initiatives he says would further the county’s position as a leader in the green economy while spearheading new youth programs.
“First, I’m proud to announce the launch of our first ever Green Youth Fellowship. The plan here is to place high-school and college students at partnering green businesses and nonprofits who we’ve already identified across the county. You’ll gain mentorship and critical skills. That organization will gain your passion and knowledge and expertise,” Ryan says. “And ultimately, I think, I hope, we’re providing you with a platform to fight climate change at the ground level, which I’m convinced is where we have to start to address this problem.”
He says the county has secured funding so that the fellowships are paid. After launching an 8-week Green Careers Academy at SUNY Ulster, Ryan announced a NYSERDA grant of nearly $250,000 for tuition assistance. The initiatives further Ryan’s goal of transitioning Ulster County to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
This grant was part of a pair of announcements he’d also made in the days leading up to his address. The second was a Call to Service youth program, partnering with UlsterCorps. Programs under this heading include one to partner area youth with area senior citizens to document living history. And there’s the county Explorer Program to train young people in emergency services fields. The county executive’s office will also be launching a “Call to Service Scholarship Fund,” designed to recognize young people who go above and beyond in their service. Kingston High School senior Cianna Mennona likes the environmental programs and service opportunities.
“A lot of the environmental things, I’m very interested in. And, personally, I plan on leaving but, because there so much enviro… It’s kind of in my head, I’m thinking, what if I didn’t,” Mennona says. “It is exactly what he’s saying, it is bringing us back and it’s not as much of an effort to leave because there is more opportunities now.”
She says having Ryan deliver his address at her high school instilled school pride. Hannah Shambo is a junior at Kingston High School. She appreciated that the address did not conflict with after-school or evening activities.
“Having it during the school day made it accessible to a lot of students,” says Shambo.
Students from other schools in the county were also in attendance. Shambo says she was planning to stay in the county prior to Ryan’s speech.
“I’m actually very interested in a lot of the topics that he talked about. I think it’s very important that the youth get involved in this because nobody else is going to be able to change things like this,” Shambo says. “And I think it’s very important that he addressed the fact that a lot of people don’t plan on staying in Ulster County and plan on moving. And if everybody leaves, there’s not really anybody left. So making jobs here and things available to people is a very important thing.”
“This is the initiative, I’ll be honest, I am most excited to launch. We are going to set a very aggressive goal to create pathways to 1,000 new jobs in 1,000 days in Ulster County,” Ryan says. “It’s an ambitious and, I think, to my knowledge, unprecedented program that no other local government has undertaken.”
The county Department of Economic Development will lead the effort that Ryan says will prioritize emerging industries such as technology, value-added agriculture, green and clean jobs, film and the creative arts, and more.
“And I’ll be having nine — one in each school district — youth-focused town halls so that all these things I talked about today and some of the promises we made, you all can hold me accountable to, tell me how they’re going, give us feedback on how we can do them better,” says Ryan.
Ryan says the county will also create a youth council, made up of high-school students. Andy Bicking is Scenic Hudson director of public policy.
“He’s made the environment, economic development and service top themes today,” Bicking says. “And it’s so encouraging to see a local leader step up with an aggressive climate agenda and also really think critically and proactively about how we can be getting young people and the next generation involved in solving the problems of today to make a better tomorrow.”
“How would Scenic Hudson play into this?” Dunne asks.
“That’s a good questions,” says Bicking. “I’m looking forward to exploring that with Pat.”
Apart from green and youth initiatives, Ryan says the county will invest $73 million into roads, bridges and other such infrastructure; $17 million in SUNY Ulster and will launch, with the county legislature, a housing initiative.