Finger Lakes Welcome Center opens in Geneva

finger lakes logoA new welcome center has opened on the shores of Seneca Lake in Geneva. It is one of 11 being built across the state.

The Finger Lakes Welcome Center will be operated by New York Kitchen, formerly the New York Wine and Culinary Center, and features a “Wine and Water” theme to promote the world-renowned assets of the Finger Lakes. It will be the first welcome center to sell New York State-made wine, beer and cider at its Taste NY Market.

“The Finger Lakes are one of New York’s greatest treasures, and the new welcome center in Geneva celebrates the region’s rich culture and heritage and encourages visitors to explore the world-class attractions,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Tourism is vital to regional economies across the state, and our new visitor and spending records are proof positive of the success of our investments.”

In 2017, New York welcomed nearly 244 million visitors who generated $67.7 billion in direct spending, breaking previous tourism records, state officials said this week. Tourism is at the core of the new Finger Lakes Welcome Center, with multiple interactive I Love New York kiosks positioned throughout the facility, allowing visitors to test their knowledge of the region or design a trip itinerary.

The Taste NY Market will offer hot and cold lunch options such as seasonal soups and salads, sandwiches and a kids menu, all made from ingredients and products grown and produced by local farmers. The market also will offer grab-and-go snacks and gifts.

“The new Finger Lakes Welcome Center will serve as a destination for travelers and promote the great local attractions, beverages and food in the region,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “This project continues to move the Finger Lakes forward, strengthening communities and growing the economy in the area.”

An I Love New York sculpture is featured outside the new center and a Walk of Fame recognizes famous New Yorkers from the region. The welcome center has outdoor seating with a view of the lake, as well as a children’s play area.

“Tourism is a vibrant and vital aspect of the economy in Ontario County,” said Jack Marren, chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors and Victor town supervisor. “The center will provide a hospitable welcome to visitors and promote all of the attractions and businesses, products and services in the Finger Lakes for years to come.”

In 2016, the City of Geneva won the state’s first $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant for the Finger Lakes region. One of 10 grants awarded statewide and administered through regional economic development councils, DRI is designed to fund priority projects that transform downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise a family.

Since that win, Geneva has sought to leverage its historic assets and natural resources; support businesses, educational resources and workforce development initiatives; provide a range of services and amenities to its diverse community members; ensure its downtown and waterfront are seamlessly integrated; and serve as stewards of its natural and historic resources.

The new Finger Lakes Welcome Center is one piece of that puzzle.

“The City of Geneva is pleased to be home to the new regional Finger Lakes Welcome Center,” Geneva Mayor Ronald Alcock said in a statement. “I have no doubt that it will serve to attract even more visitors to the region while highlighting the wide range of destinations, products and local businesses that call the Finger Lakes home.”

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State money funds agriculture programs

Finger Lakes area agricultural programs will receive nearly $600,000 in state money to promote research, marketing and development of agriculture, it was announced last week (March 29) by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Programs submitted applications for the funding that were reviewed and approved by the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority.

Funded projects include:

  • New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva will get a total of $300,000 to support ongoing research. Of that amount, $260,000 will be aimed at research on malting barley to support the craft brewing industry, and $40,000 will be for food safety research.
  • New York Wine and Grape Foundation’s NY Drinks NY program will receive $200,000. The program promotes consumption of New York wines in the state’s—especially New York City’s—hospitality industry. The Finger Lakes region is the largest of the state’s wine-producing regions.
  • New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua will receive $15,000 for its annual craft beer festival.
  • Finger Lakes Wine Alliance will receive $15,000 to promote New York-produced Riesling wines in the Rochester, Albany and Buffalo markets.
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County will receive $15,000 to support the county’s farmers to develop agri-tourism.
  • Bishop Kearney High School will receive $15,000 for a vegetable garden greenhouse.
  • Homesteads for Hope, an Ogden farm and program for young adults with autism, will receive $15,000 for a cost study of a potential agri-enterprise center.
  • City of Geneva will receive $11,800 for kitchen equipment for its shared culinary incubator space.
  • Irondequoit Farmers’ Market will get $5,700 to create a nutrition fact book and promotional materials.
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County will get $4,599 for an LED sign at the 4-H county fairgrounds.

Kathryn J. Boor, dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said, “New York State is making smart investments that will assist producers in opening new markets and point the way to a more profitable and sustainable future for the entire industry.”

Added Richard Ball, state commissioner of agriculture, ““These investments in research, promotion, and business development are critical to sustaining and growing a wide range of projects that benefit the agricultural community.”

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Listening tour seeks ideas on marketing N.Y. wine, grape


That might be the one thing that all growers of grapes, owners of wineries and juice producers can agree upon.

More marketing, more sales, more research, more data.

But as to how that might look, there are plenty of opinions. And those opinions are being collected during the 11 listening sessions the New York Wine and Grape Foundation is holding with various factions of the grape industry as it tries to update its strategic plan.

Strategy consultants from Farm Credit East and staff from the foundation are visiting with industry representatives across the state this month, having already stopped in the Finger Lakes and Niagara regions. They had earlier visited with industry representatives in Chautauqua County where growing grapes for juice is big but not as big as it once was. They’ll hit every region of the state before March.

“It’s a good time for new energy and new vision, because the market has changed,” offered Hans Walter-Petersen of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s viticulture program, at a strategy session held in Geneva. The wine and grape juice industry now competes with other craft beverages that are more popular among younger drinkers, including hard cider, beer and spirits, quite a few participants noted. And some of those beverages have marketing opportunities unavailable to wine: you can sell hard cider and craft beer in a New York supermarket, for instance, but not wine.

“The pie has not grown as quickly as the people taking slices of it,” said Liz Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards in Watkins Glen.

Several participants at the Geneva gathering praised the foundation’s “NY Drinks NY” campaign, which introduces wines made in New York to consumers primarily in the New York City area. But they also said it’s time to concentrate on other areas, where Finger Lakes wines have less competition from a cosmopolitan range of choices.

They also suggested new marketing campaigns, similar to those they’ve seen by the apple industry or others.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a commercial about New York State grapes: The best of the bunch?” said Donna Gridley, owner of an 80-acre grape farm on Bluff Point overlooking Keuka Lake.

Dave Mansfield, co-owner of Three Brothers Winery in Geneva, said more effort needs to be made in-state as well, educating New York consumers about the quality of New York wines. “There will still be people 10 years from now who aren’t buying our product,” he said. He has more success marketing his wines in Mississippi and Kentucky where there are fewer biases favoring foreign-made wines, and asked whether the foundation could help New York growers and wineries market their wines to nearby Pennsylvania and Ohio.

But some winery and vineyard owners said they have to still market on their own. Chris Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards said visitors are coming to the Finger Lakes from all over. Wineries need to check those visitors’ hometowns and make sure their wine is being sold there, he said.

It would be best to focus marketing efforts on metro areas where New York wines are already being sold, added Bruce Murray, co-owner of Boundary Breaks Vineyard in Lodi, Seneca County.

That’s proven successful with New York City, said Peter Martini, vineyard manager of Anthony Road Wine Co. in Yates County. “NY Drinks NY has brought people into our winery. NY Drinks NY has increased our market share tremendously,” he said.

Some growers and producers who handle Concord grapes haven’t seen a similar boost and offered suggestions for creating new products taking advantage of those native varieties.

John Brahm of Arbor Hill in South Bristol said, “There are lots of opportunities for other grape products. If you look at national (sales), a small percentage penetration would make a significant difference.” Eating for the first time at a Waffle House restaurant recently, Brahm said he wondered why the array of syrups seemed to include every fruit flavor except for grape.

Neal Simmons of Simmons Vineyards on Keuka Lake’s Bluff Point suggested more research in using grape seeds as a source of fuel and in other byproducts of making wine.

Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, said research has recently been done to see whether the strong Concord flavor can be stripped from the juice by a denaturing process. While that was successful, the next step in the research is to see whether the resulting product works well as a blending juice in wine, such as the 30 percent “other” that is allowed in Cabernet Franc varietal wines.

Filler said the foundation will complete its sessions Feb. 25 and then meet with its board to reevaluate its mission and identify six to eight objectives to follow going forward.

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State urges New Yorkers to put up Christmas trees from the Empire State

You’ve seen the Taste NY signs around the state. New York state officials are trying to make this Christmas what could be called “Tree NY.”

On Tuesday, state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball urged fellow New Yorkers to buy locally grown Christmas trees this year, promoting the Empire State’s $8 million Christmas tree industry. The state is displaying locally grown trees in a variety of high-profile sites this year, from the State Capitol in Albany to the state office buildings in New York City.

“New York is one of the largest producers of locally grown Christmas trees anywhere in the country and there is nothing quite like a fresh, locally grown tree during the holidays. They look better, smell great and stay fresher longer,” Ball said in a prepared statement.

Domes Tree Farm in Bliss, Wyoming County, donated the 30-foot Concolor Fir that will be lit Monday, Nov. 27, at Lincoln Square Park in New York City. Domes also contributed the 32-foot Norway spruce that will tower over an annual holiday celebration Dec. 7 at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building Plaza in Harlem.

Other trees from farms around the state, from Springville in southern Erie County to Warwick in the Hudson Valley region, will be shown at state offices and gathering spots. The list includes Franke Farms in Marion, Wayne County.

Trees were selected from the first farms to participate in the state’s New York State Grown & Certified Tree Farm program.   Farms in the program follow environmental sustainability standards, including soil and water conservation management plans.

For more information about New York-grown trees, visit the state Christmas Tree Farmers Association.

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DiNapoli touts Finger Lakes’ economic growth

The Finger Lakes region is rebounding from both the Great Recession and downsizing at Rochester’s Big Three employers thanks in part to growth in the technology, health care, agriculture and tourism industries, a new report shows.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was in Canandaigua Wednesday to discuss the findings of the office’s new Finger Lakes Region Economic Profile. DiNapoli said despite the recent spate of economic growth, there still is work to be done.

“As the economy of the Finger Lakes transforms, the region will benefit from the expansion in high-tech sectors and the reliance on its agricultural roots,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “However, retaining skilled workers and tackling persistent pockets of rural and urban poverty remain a challenge. Programs and policies should build upon the area’s traditional strengths in high-tech industries, food manufacturing and agriculture.”

The Finger Lakes region—consisting of Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties—is home to more than 1.2 million people concentrated primarily in Rochester and its suburbs. Since 2010, the region’s population has dropped slightly, officials noted.

From 2010 to 2015, the Finger Lakes region saw stronger job growth than most other parts of the state in science, technology, engineering and math employment. The metro area ranked 22nd nationally for STEM job concentration, and the average annual pay for STEM employees was $80,700, 74 percent higher than non-STEM job titles.

“The strength and success of the Finger Lakes economy rests in our landscape, our products and our people,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua. “I’m proud of the strides we’ve made growing traditional industries like agriculture and tourism, while embracing emerging sectors such as health care and high-tech manufacturing. The hard work of Finger Lakes residents and businesses has positioned the region for future success through our unmatched natural resources and a steadfast commitment to identifying new, innovative ways to grow our economy.”

DiNapoli’s report noted that housing in the region remains relatively affordable compared with other parts of New York and property taxes in the Finger Lakes region are low compared with the statewide average.

But median income growth has been relatively slow in recent years and the region continues to be plagued by concentrated poverty in many rural areas, as well as the City of Rochester, where more than half of all children are living below the federal poverty line.

The comptroller’s fiscal stress monitoring system identified two local governments—Monroe County and the Town of Manchester—as being in fiscal stress, with Monroe County being in the highest level of stress for several years.

The report notes that community stakeholders in the Finger Lakes region have set ambitious goals to grow jobs, increase regional wealth and drive private investment, while also working to reduce poverty.

DiNapoli in his report cautioned that multi-million dollar investments of public and private funds for development activity need to be transparent and have strict oversight. The report also noted that municipal leaders in communities with high levels of tax-exempt property may need to be innovative as they look for ways to recoup a portion of those costs or services.

“The continued recovery of the Finger Lakes economy will require us to build upon the success of our agriculture, tourism and high-tech industries,” Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni said. “My thanks to Comptroller DiNapoli for highlighting the many great things happening in our city and across the Finger Lakes as well as for drawing attention to the challenges we face in the region. As other local officials can attest, our partnerships with the state are vital to the future of our cities and rural communities. Investments in education and infrastructure will spur economic growth that benefits residents across the entire Finger Lakes region.”

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