A New Vision for Food Industry Workforce Development at SUNY Orange
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15 April 2021
Photo courtesy SUNY Orange

Over the course of 2020 and into early 2021, KK&P worked in collaboration with Orange County Community College (SUNY Orange) to create a plan for building career pathways into food industries through targeted workforce development programming based at the college’s Newburgh, NY campus. Our team analyzed secondary quantitative data sources to understand industry and occupational trends. We conducted a wide range of interviews with mid-Hudson Valley food industry employers, as well as regional leaders in economic and workforce development. And we executed an environmental scan of institutional assets—from curricular strengths to a dormant commercial kitchen—and other local and regional assets, from existing programs to potential partners. Weaving all of these inputs together, we identified an opportunity to expand SUNY Orange’s role in workforce and economic development in partnership with regional food industry leaders in order to magnify the County’s and the region’s strength in food manufacturing and food service/hospitality; to meet those industry sectors’ greatest challenges to growth and stability (human capital, retention and training) with creative and responsive solutions; and to leverage and re-imagine the existing kitchen and education physical plant and infrastructure with those ends in mind.

Our work with SUNY Orange began just weeks before COVID-19 hit the East Coast of the United States, and thus the plan and vision developed needed to respond to trendlines that preceded the pandemic, those that emerged during it, and those that were magnified by it. For example, with homegrown businesses seeking to scale and national brands taking root in the area, both food manufacturing and hospitality sectors were projecting and expecting growth, despite pandemic-related shutdowns. In a trend that began before COVID hit the United States and which picked up speed during the pandemic, food businesses and people have been heading north from New York City, seeking refuge, affordability, and space. Newburgh, in this process, has emerged as a destination unto itself and as a gateway to Hudson Valley tourism, including food-related tourism. And Newburgh is also a city in which 30% of the population was living in poverty before the pandemic. A strong food workforce plan would need to focus not just on jobs, skills gaps, and training, but on articulating clear, accessible, attractive and inclusive career pathways. There are opportunities to pursue growth careers in the food sectors but workers need resources and training to see these opportunities and to achieve them—and food industry growth and food-based economic development will depend on it. Anchor institutions like SUNY Orange – and approaches like these – will be critical to regional economic competitiveness and national recovery in the coming years. We sought to design a plan that enabled opportunities associated with regional economic growth—jobs, careers, and economic mobility— to accrue to all, in the city, the county, and the region.

Built on strong partnerships with the food business community, other educational institutions, and community partners, we crafted a vision and plan for the SUNY Orange Food Industry Workforce Program, with a flagship commercial kitchen and adjacent training, education and event space, which will launch with a laboratory year in which new ideas, partnerships and programs can be trialed and tested. With a broad range of potential programming elements—credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing trainings, co-delivery models with other schools, technical and general business training, Registered Apprenticeship opportunities in food manufacturing, entrepreneurship supports, and programming in support of food-based community development—we will have our eyes trained on SUNY Orange’s new facility and program to see what creative programming and community wealth they cook up.