By Daniel Axelrod The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Fashion designer Shelli Scott recently opened a garment-making studio in Newburgh NY. She was able to do so with help from the Orange County IDA Accelerator program. The program incubates new businesses and nurtures fledgling firms with discounted rent, business advice, equipment, training and other resources.
Shelli Scott's fashion dreams began on her pillow. The Cleveland native grew up toting it everywhere for comfort.
Then, a kindly older neighbor woman played mentor, teaching Scott how to sew colorful pillowcases.
Now, after a long career as a freelance apparel maker and a high-end seamstress -- including on Broadway and even for the U.S. Open -- Scott has a new figurative security blanket.
The 40-something-year-old resident of Monroe and Harlem recently opened a garment-making studio, with help from the Orange County Industrial Development Agency's Accelerator program, which incubates new businesses and nurtures fledgling firms.
With her June lease at 605 Broadway in the City of Newburgh, her self-named women's clothing line, Shelli Scott, became the Accelerator's third new fashion business of 2019.
The Fashion Institute of Technology graduate's company is the fashion cluster's 11th. And since the cluster's 2016 start, hers is the 50th job created.
Two of the businesses are maturing quickly toward setting up shingles without the Accelerator's discounted rent, business advice, equipment, training and other resources.
The Accelerator's parent, the Orange County IDA, is a nonprofit public benefit corporation, with an Orange County Legislature-appointed board that considers tax breaks to create, attract and retain jobs.
The Accelerator's business assistance fund -- now $11 million -- comes from the fees the IDA has collected from other businesses applying to be considered for tax breaks and incentives for economic development projects.
So, why are the Accelerator's apparel businesses growing?
"It's the access that they give you to the sewing space, the amazing space they let you rent for a reasonable fee, the equipment," and other resources, Scott said.
Scott and the Accelerator's leaders have ready replies for those doubting their efforts to partly resurrect Newburgh's former apparel industry, which was ravaged by decades of deindustrialization and off-shoring.
For one, today's clothing consumers are more discerning and more likely to buy American-made goods, said Laurie Villasuso, the IDA's acting CEO.
Plus, Newburgh, she said, has a history of apparel-making and people who want the training to work in production jobs that typically pay $15 an hour or more.
And though the city's 4.9 percent June unemployment rate was its lowest since 1990, it still leads 31 Hudson Valley municipalities with at least 25,000 residents.
That's why seven of the Accelerator fashion cluster businesses are in the City of Newburgh, three are in nearby New Windsor and one is in Warwick.
Elsewhere, the Accelerator also runs clusters for medical devices and personal care products in Middletown and the therapeutic cannabis compound cannabidiol, or CBD, in Warwick.
In the Newburgh area, the fashion cluster's promising businesses include Ziel, an on-demand sports clothing manufacturer, and Melo, which is making a backpack for the U.S. Defense Department.
"I think maybe 10 or 15 years ago it would have been" not economically viable to bring clothing-making back to Newburgh, "but you have to think about the consumer base nowadays," Villasuso said. "The people purchasing care a lot about the carbon footprint, where things are made, and how they're made, and we have an incredible market nearby" in New York City.
Orange County IDA Managing Director Vincent Cozzolino said the local fashion cluster's 50 jobs have been worth it, despite costing $12,600 per job.
Gone are the days of luring giant businesses, he argues. Most grow organically, and they're small- and mid-sized, he added.
"Right now, two of the (apparel) companies have some pretty big plays planned, and if they hit, they could each have 100 employees in the next two years," Cozzolino said. "We're trying to create an industry, and you have to be patient when you take on a new cluster, whether it's CBD or this advanced fashion manufacturing cluster."
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