CATSKILL — A technology-based economy is on the horizon in Catskill, village officials say.
The village is drafting plans to open a technology center in collaboration with a group called Innovate 518. Innovate 518 connects those with business ideas to funding opportunities, potential facilities and other resources.
Crawford & Associates has been hired to develop a business plan, which Village President Vincent Seeley expects will be completed in 30 days.
“The ultimate goal of the technology center is to provide resources to our growing maker, technology and arts community,” Seeley said. “We need to have a diverse local economy with good-paying jobs in the technology sector. Relying on an economy based on tourism and fluctuating consumer confidence is a recipe for disaster.”
The village is eyeing three locations on Main Street — a former dance studio, the third floor of a former liquor store and warehouse space — for the center.
The village hopes to have a site locked down within 60 days, Seeley said.
“The goal is to have it up and running and productive in 2019,” Seeley said. “It will continue to evolve as the needs of the community expand.”
Seeley estimates that start-up costs will be $125,000, not including equipment.
The center will feature equipment such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and a machine that prints fabric patterns.
“People with an idea for a business or a product will come to the tech center and we will help you bring that product to market or develop that business,” Seeley said. “This is going to set us apart from other communities in the Hudson Valley.”
By having a more tech-savvy community, Catskill will attract bigger technology businesses to the area, Seeley said.
“By not just knowing how to use the equipment but also knowing how to maintain it, that translates to a good-paying job,” Seeley said. “These are jobs that will be sustainable. We cannot ride this tourism wave forever.”
The technology center will be broken down into four components, the existing Catskill Maker Syndicate on West Bridge Street, a training center, STEAM or science, technology, engineering, arts and math collaboration, and resources for businesses, Seeley said.
“We’re integrating arts and putting on an overlay of technology,” Seeley said.
Resident Richard Wagoner, who recently helped organize a festival to honor Rip Van Winkle and the village’s heritage, questioned the idea.
“I’ve heard rumor of this project and the push to move Catskill in the direction of becoming a tech-based community, and although I understand the need for area investment and jobs, I have doubts about the feasibility of Catskill becoming a tech hub,” Wagoner said.
Wagoner’s friends in the technology industry believe the area’s lack of reliable high-speed internet, faltering infrastructure, rising taxes and education standards would inhibit success of the project, he said.
“In my humble opinion, we’ve missed the tech train and shouldn’t run ourselves ragged chasing it, but there’s still time to jump on the hemp wagon while the ground is fertile and the market is prime,” Wagoner said.
Local author and illustrator Hudson Talbott said he believes the new direction will be beneficial to Catskill.
“It only adds to what Catskill is about, which is a great center of creativity,” he said. “Catskill is at a point right now of reimagining itself. We want to grow and develop a local economy here and this is a good way to do it that corresponds with what is going on everywhere.”
Talbott said he sees Catskill as a great pool of talent.
“This is a great way to capitalize on that and attract people to come to Catskill because of them [the makers],” he said.