By Christine Graf
A shortage of new, young talent in the workforce is one of the issues the Saratoga Prosperity Partnership deals with, said Shelby Schneider, its new president and CEO.
The economic development organization was established in 2014 to enhance economic growth in Saratoga County.
Schneider, a mother of four who lives in Wilton, earned a degree in management and business administration from Skidmore College. She entered the economic development field in 2000 and spent thirteen years working at Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC). During her early years at SEDC, she served as the Empire Zone Coordinator. The Empire Zone tax incentive program allowed qualified businesses to take advantage of a variety of tax credits.
“I oversaw the New York state tax incentive program and administered it on behalf of county,” she said. “We worked with businesses as well as towns, cities, and villages to help grow the economy, attract business, and create jobs. The program was one of the key instrumental tools for attracting GlobalFoundries to New York state.”
GlobalFoundries received Empire Zone tax benefits of approximately $586 million, she said. Before it was closed to new applicants in 2010, the program provided tax credits to 4,000 businesses throughout the state.
“It wasn’t just useful for large-attraction projects like GlobalFoundries,” said Schneider. “Many Saratoga County-based existing businesses took advantage of the program so that we could attract additional capital investment to keep those businesses viable.”
Schneider left SEDC in 2013 to become the national marketing director for Shmaltz Brewing Co. in Clifton Park. While at Shmaltz, she helped create a workforce development program to train entry level brewers and support the craft brewing industry.
In 2016, she returned to the economic development arena after accepting a position at the Prosperity Partnership. She began her career there as the director of business retention and expansion. She took the helm of the organization after former president Marty Vanags resigned at the beginning of 2020. The Prosperity Partnership has two employees in addition to Schneider.
“We are a local development corporation that was created by Saratoga County to grow our economy and support our communities in key sectors throughout Saratoga County,” she said. “Sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, and office support. Our intent is to attract investment and jobs and essentially plan for a prosperous future in Saratoga County. We also want to capitalize on the next wave of opportunity that should come as a result of the Luther Forest Technology Campus being developed and GlobalFoundries coming to Saratoga County.”
As part of a Next Wave Communities Initiative, the Prosperity Partnership works with communities to formulate economic development plans and plan for future economic growth. Schneider said having economic development plans makes it easier for communities to apply for grants.
“We help them to understand what their assets are, get a comprehensive idea of what their tax base looks like, and position themselves for opportunities in the future,” she said. “That positioning helps them plan for infrastructure, site development, and provides a process of predictability so that businesses looking at the community know how to do business there essentially. It’s helping a community know what it wants and how to position itself for economic growth.”
The Prosperity Partnership also works with small, medium and large businesses. For example, they offer assistance with business retention, business expansion, workforce development, and business plan preparation.
“We have a broad list of contacts and partners that we bring to the table depending on what the need is,” she said. “Our relationships are very important, as is our understanding of the business community and resources that are needed to be successful. There are so many tools and resources to assist small businesses.”
According to Schneider, a nationwide skills gap is one of the biggest challenges faced by local businesses.
“It’s a real demographic challenge across the U.S.,” she said. “It’s called “the silver wave.” Baby Boomers are retiring faster than we can backfill the positions with people who have skills they are leaving behind. We are finding that with GenX and Millennials that the skills they have been taught or careers they have been educated for don’t always align with what’s needed out in the workforce. When we do outreach and surveys, one of the key critical issues that everyone is facing is a talent shortage. We need to work hard to address this to ensure that our employers have the workforce they need.”
In order to do that, the Prosperity Partnership is working closely with workforce development systems at the state, regional and local levels. They are also working with institutes of higher education.
“We are aligning our resources to help solve these challenges for our employers,” she said. “We are working with our K- through-12 system, community colleges, and employers. We are sharing critical needs so that we are training properly.”
As an example, she mentioned the P-TECH (Pathway to Technology Early College High School) program. The Capital Region P-TECH, a program that begins in grade 9, is led by Capital Region BOCES. It is focused on engaging students in hands-on, project-based learning to help them prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Schneider’s own son recently enrolled in the program at Saratoga Springs School District.
“Had I not been in the field of economic development, I would probably not know how beneficial these programs are,” she said. “They help develop career pathways for students.”
The Prosperity Partnership also works closely with SEDC and the county Board of Supervisors. It was the Board of Supervisors that formed the Prosperity Partnership in 2014. It is funded primarily through the county’s room occupancy tax. Additional funding is provided by grants.
In 2019, the supervisors approved a collaboration between the Prosperity Partnership and SEDC. It allocated $150,000 to SEDC, a private sector, nonprofit, consulting firm that works to retain existing businesses while creating new jobs in Saratoga County. SEDC is the first point of contact for business development.
According to Schneider, the alliance with SEDC is beneficial to both organizations. It allows them to develop a unified economic development approach in Saratoga County.
“I am committed to working closely with them to ensure we aren’t duplicating efforts and that we are working together to ensure that businesses have the services that they need to succeed here,” said Schneider. “My goals are to fulfill the obligations of our unity agreement.”
Schneider is passionate about her work.
“The reason I chose this field is that I grew up outside of Amsterdam. My dad worked for GE, and from the time I was a kid, I saw economic decline and industry downsizing,” she said. “I became really aware of the impact that had on a community. I decided that if I was going to stay here (in the Capital Region), I wanted to be part of something bigger that made this a better place to live.”
For more information, visit www.saratogapartnership.org.
By Christine Graf