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GROWING | Fulton County Creates Opportunities for Entrepreneurs and Artists

GROWING | Fulton County Creates Opportunities for Entrepreneurs and Artists

Commercial loft space available. Photo: Shannon Rose Web, Design & Marketing

Most Upstaters are most familiar with Adirondack Park — you know, the 6 million-acre playground in our backyard, dotted with mountains peaks, valleys, fabulous rustic-hip shopping opportunities, and an unfettered zeal for living well, simply — but even Adirondackers sometimes overlook the gem of Fulton County nestling in the foothills at the southern end of the Park. With 533-square miles and not quite 54,000 residents, it is a gently sleeping beauty of the rural ideal.

That may change soon, Scott Henze, the planning director for the Fulton County Planning Department, tells us.

“In the summer our population nearly doubles because there’s so much to do here between the Great Sacandaga Lake, the Northville-Placid Trail, and the exceptional public campgrounds in the region,” he says. “But we want people to not just pop in from the Capital Region for a day of hiking or a week of camping and sunbathing. We want them to see the growth potential for business in our towns.”

Sunset over the Great Sacandaga Lake. Photo: Flickr Darron Birgenheier

A recent visit from Saratoga Springs (it’s about 30 minutes away), revealed a gorgeous, green landscape, filled with farms, mountains to climb, lakes to dip into, and farm-to-table fare to sample.

Approximately 220 farms operate in Fulton, with herds of grass-munching cows and goats and flocks of bossy, clucking and crowing chickens sprawling across 40,000 acres. The region grows fruit, vegetables, and grains and produces more than its share of dairy products. There are 44 lakes here, the jewel in its crown being the 29-mile long Great Sacandaga, sporting some of the best fishing opportunities in the area. Sacandaga, which means “Land of the Waving Grass,” is brimming with walleye, northern pike (held the world record at one time!), smallmouth bass, rock bass, yellow perch, landlocked salmon, and brown trout. Scattered around the lake are well-maintained campsites and sleepy, yet progressive, rural towns with all of the adorable farmers markets you always hope to find (and rarely do anymore) in country towns.

Picking a favorite location in any region is like choosing a favorite book or wine — totally subjective and inherently impossible. Still, if forced, the Village of Northville, occupying one corner of Sacandaga Lake, would be at the top of the list. With a population of about 1,000 and exactly zero streetlights, it is at once charming, laid-back, and lively. In the middle of town, Waterfront Park welcomes visitors for picnics, walks, and quiet contemplation. It’s also the official start to the Northville-Placid Trail.

The Northville Placid Trail was one of the first hiking routes carved out of the Adirondack Park in 1922, before the car was a staple and train service could be relied upon. It runs 138 miles through the Park, traversing several wild forest areas, including the Moose River Plains and High Peaks Wilderness Area.

“A lot of people, especially families, just come up for the day, do a hike, and then end at The Timeless Tavern & Inn, which has a fantastic menu and six rooms above where families can stay for a taste of Adirondack life,” Henze explains.

In 2018, he and the Planning Department decided to launch a formal campaign to draw in new businesses looking for a relatively inexpensive region with recreational opportunities and nearby agricultural resources, with easy access to Albany, Troy, Saratoga Springs, Boston, Montreal, and New York City.

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Fulton County is currently home to a crew of successful, boot-strapping entrepreneurs in the gourmet food and manufacturing space, including FAGE yogurt, feta-maker Euphrates, Inc., French bottler CG Roxane, specialty sausage maker Espuna, Epimed International, and Townsend Leather.

So what’s the pitch?

Fulton County was home to manufacturing giants in the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown, historically known for their glove-making and leather industries, until manufacturing moved to cheaper locales, and many of those beautifully constructed 100-year-old brick buildings sit empty (read: the land values and rents are more competitive here than almost anywhere else in the State).

Downtown Johnstown (left) and Gloversville (right). Photo: Shannon Rose Web, Design & Marketing

“Here, if business owners are willing to roll up their sleeves, they have the opportunity to take advantage of historic, grand buildings — many with exposed brick, raw wood, high ceilings, big windows — and re-imagine them for the 21st century,” Henze says. “And the lease rates are less than half the New York average.”

Indeed. In Fulton, average office rent per square foot goes for $7.15, compared to a state average of $18.70; industrial rent per square foot goes for $3.17 in Fulton, compared to a state average of $7.25, Henze says.

Commercial warehouse space available. Photo: Shannon Rose Web, Design & Marketing

“Fulton is an amazing place for businesses, and we want them here,” he says, and Fulton County Center for Regional Growth's Executive Director Ron Peters strongly agrees. “In the past year, we’ve made some real progress in bringing new companies in; and we work with them one-on-one to find the best opportunities and help them find financial assistance and the guidance they need to start a business.”

One recent renter says he’s thrilled. “What we really loved about the Knitting Mill, where we settled, is the character of the space,” said Mike Smith, co-founder of No. 22 Bicycle in Johnstown, which moved into a former textile plant. “There are hardwood floors and these big, beautiful windows. You can’t help it when you walk through here, you want to hatch an idea to take advantage of it.”

Mike Smith, co-founder of No. 22 Bicycle. Photo: Shannon Rose Web, Design & Marketing

And for small businesses that do not need an entire building, Henze says Fulton County’s Center for Regional Growth is converting the 35,000 square foot former Ohm Laboratory building (built by Sears and Roebuck Co.) into an incubator space for entrepreneurs to grow their biz.

Curious to see if you can grow in Fulton? Take a peep. Or, just pop up there for a hike, a swim, and some Main Street-type of exploring.

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