Along with stunning natural resources, the Hudson Valley has a rich cultural heritage. Our wealth of local, state and national historic sites contributes to the region’s growing status as a top tourist destination, while at the same time making it – as we all well know – a very special place to live and work. Since these historic treasures are so ingrained in the fabric of the Hudson Valley, it is vital we do all we can to preserve them. With this in mind, my office has been developing a historic preservation training and apprenticeship initiative called Our Heritage/Our Future to help prepare the next generation of tradespeople and skilled artisans to restore and preserve state historic properties, as well as to work on the many other historic homes and structures that dot the region.
Our Heritage/Our Future began in our office after numerous meetings with local historic sites that revealed the need for skilled workers to repair and upkeep these sites. We discovered that even the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has difficulty finding qualified workers to repair their properties. SHPO shared that they regularly get calls from private property owners looking for recommendations for contractors who know about wooden windows, slate roofs, decorative plaster or other features found in older houses – and they rarely have names to suggest.
We began to reach out to local schools, contractors, carpenters and other stakeholders to start the conversation: How do we find, teach and train the next generation of skilled tradespeople to work on these historic properties? How do we also help them develop business skills so they can stay and raise their families here in our region, where it’s been difficult to retain young people.
There has been widespread and overwhelming support for this idea, especially among industry professionals. Old structures need constant repair and upkeep and both contractors and those who care for state historic sites would love to see more skilled workers trained to handle this work. Both have offered the opportunity for hands-on apprenticeships as part of the training.
To make this initiative a reality, our office has partnered with Dutchess BOCES and Dutchess Community College to develop a local program that could be expanded to other counties. This program would give students hands-on training in carpentry, masonry and woodworking at BOCES, while offering courses at DCC in regional history and cultural studies as well as business skills to help turn this know-how into a viable career.
As chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Regional Tourism Development, I am committed to ensuring that our cultural and historic treasures are also key economic drivers for our region. In the past, learning a trade was a path to a good-paying job, a solidly middle-class lifestyle and the ability to grow a family and buy a home. Somewhere along the road we lost sight of the important role the trades play in our economy. Through this initiative we can re-energize these trades and attract a new generation to put down roots in the Hudson Valley – at the same time preserving these treasures of history for future generations to learn from and enjoy.