A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride:
I’m up in Syracuse for a talk about The New Builders. There clear signs of a broad rejuvenation in what’s long been seen as a bleak upstate New York economy. Here are four of them:
• I’m staying at the Hotel Syracuse, or the Marriott Downtown, opened in 1924 and reopened in 2016, following a long period of decline and vacancy. It was a nearly $80 million renovation, pieced together by Marriott, developer Ed Riley and the city and state. The restoration is magnificent, and in another sign of life, has stirred controversy: the mural in the lobby was partly covered, after complaints by a guest. The covered portion shows the rescue of a fugitive slave, William “Jerry,” Henry in 1851 by local abolitionists.
Today, it’s hard to tell what was offensive – the depiction of slavery, or the revisionist depiction of white Syracuse citizens as heroes. The real problem would be if nobody cared enough to restore the mural – and nobody cared enough to look.
• I spent the morning at the Salt City Market, the name a nod to the area’s first industry, salt. It’s a new retail market on the model of the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, financed by the Allyn family, and filled with women and immigrant-owned businesses. I spent the morning at Salt City Coffee and had lunch at Big City Burma.
• Meanwhile, upstate is spawning sizeable tech companies, including a Buffalo-based online auto dealer marketplace ACV Auctions (a unicorn that had an IPO during the pandemic), TCGplayer, a platform for trading cards, and Squire, a barbershop app. There’s a VC fund here, too, Armory Square ventures, whose principals, Somak Chattopadhyay and Pia Sawhney, were recruited by a group of businesspeople with deep ties to the community.
• A few years ago, people started to talk about signs that the manufacturing economy was coming back to life. It’s a process that was likely accelerated by the pandemic, which brought to light the vulnerabilities of long supply chains. Increasing geopolitical tension means chips are especially important. Syracuse supporters were awaiting word on whether a chip manufacturer will locate a new plant here.
I got a nice note from Donna Williams of Delta Dirt Distillery, which I visited in January 2021 as part of our Arkansas Reporting Project.
She and her husband Harvey invested their savings to open the distillery in their home community of Helena, Arkansas.
Their sweet potato vodka is now distributed across Arkansas, Harvey has retired from his corporate job to focus on the company and the vodka received received a double gold award from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
“We celebrated our 1-year anniversary on April 2nd, 2022 with a thank you party for community where Harvey and his brother, Kennard, grilled burgers and brats and the official release of our Tall Cotton Gin. The burgers, brats, and gin were all received!!! Staying true to our mission statement, we donated $500 to the Boys and Girls Club of Helena,” she wrote. See the story, below, in What You May Have Missed.
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This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.