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Entries in Mike Triolo (1)

Wednesday
Jan042012

It's a Wonderful Life. Literally. And figuratively... 

I meant to post this before the New Year, so the George Bailey ref seemed more topical. But hey, it's not 12th night yet, so I'm getting this in under the wire. And the subject -- Mike Triolo – has been like Bailey for our neck of the sticks... This was in last week's Catskill Mountain News.

Meeting with Mike Triolo is a bit like stepping into It’s A Wonderful Life. Not because it’s Christmastime, and he certainly doesn’t look like Jimmy Stewart. Instead Triolo is the small-town banker working to help his community.

More than just one town, however, he’s been working for the entire region. Until this week, he’s been the Catskill Watershed Corporation’s (CWC) Economic Development Director, a job he’s held for the past nine years.

He came to the CWC from a background in small rural banks where he served several banks in a number of roles including president and chief financial officer. Having been reelected in November, he is also the supervisor of the Town of Stamford. He still lives in the house, just up the Back River Road from South Kortright, where he grew up, raised his own kids – and worked the family dairy farm, selling most of the land when it came time to retool.

“The kids didn’t want anything to do with it, and I looked at my hands and had all 10 fingers.” He wiggles them as he speaks, “And said that’s enough.” Far from the tall, rangy Stewart, Triolo is soft spoken, dressed in Dockers and a checked shirt, with balding hair that befits his age.

He came to the CWC thinking he could make a difference, and, no doubt he has if you see what he’s funded. There’ve been companies who make goalposts for football fields (their posts have been in the Super Bowl), a microbrewery, a distillery and a hairdresser, plus more than a few B&Bs. Since he started, the CWC’s business loan portfolio has grown from $8 million to $48 million. Reading the business plans and tax returns that companies submit with their loan applications has given him a unique perspective on the region. Add to that his job as supervisor and his farming background, and

Triolo is an authority on the region’s economy.
He calls making loans, “an art not a science.” As he speaks you can almost see George Bailey himself.

“We’re builders,” he says. With the amount of money they’ve lent, “We certainly have been a key instrument in the economy of the Watershed.” The CWC though has a limited pool. There is only $59.7 million so he has to treat the money responsibly. The only way they can keep lending is for the existing loans to be repaid – and not written off.

Serving big region
The CWC serves part of five counties west of the Hudson, and while he says there’s no universal truth for the region’s economy, there’s not even a “monolithic economy” in Delaware County. “It’s the state’s second or third poorest area,” he explains, “depending on the year” – topped only by The Bronx. The western part has a larger farming and manufacturing base with a thousand manufacturing jobs in Hobart and Stamford alone. The Route 28 corridor is primarily a second homeowner and tourism economy. “In all honesty,” he sighs, “those jobs aren’t the highest paying.”

What he doesn’t have to say is they’re also often only seasonal and rarely come with benefits.
He describes the area as “stably depressed,” something of an irony, and says our economy here will start to grow once the second homeowners start to feel a bit more comfortable financially. There are bright spots, he insists, “glimmers of hope,” he calls them across the county like Delhi-based Clark Companies, which builds sports fields. It’s grown by developing business outside the region, while its employees still live locally.

Another growth area? Farming. Yes, agriculture is a key economic driver. The dairy industry continues to suffer where a two to three percent fluctuation can drive prices radically and producers compete against a national market when it comes to milk.

Many ingredients
But, other products like cold weather crops from cauliflower to kale and locally produced beef, maple syrup and cheese all are important.

He reaches for a wrapped piece of cheddar from Palatine Bridge on his desk. “You have to be able to transition from selling milk with a regular paycheck to making cheese where it takes six months to age, but eventually producers who do, make a pretty substantial living.”

Healthcare too is growing. “Clinics are opening with doctors in Delhi, Walton and here in Margaretville. Those jobs are above the county average wage and come with benefits.”
Still employers can have problems attracting staff from outside the region thanks to issues ranging from schools to culture, shopping and even housing.

“People seem to want those new” (and he shakes his head as he says this) “2,500 to 3,000 foot homes built in the last 10 years.”

What pains Triolo most as he prepares to leave his job is the flood.

“The economy had survived the recession fairly well, that is until August 28. Since, it’s been a battle.”

Lots of funding
The CWC has made $5 million available in grant money with more than $2 million of it out in the community. “But,” he says, “it’s depressing.” He has a harrowed looked on his face as he describes the outlook now. This is his fourth major disaster.

“In my experience at least a quarter, if not more, of these businesses will not survive.” The statistic is stark and when asked what people can do, he says, “If nine million people drinking water from the Catskills each gave a dollar, that would be $9 million for flood recovery.” As he describes it, it sounds as hopeful as It’s A Wonderful Life. Maybe, if a bell rang every time someone turned on a tap in New York City.