2018-01-31 / Business

MARK Project celebrating 40th anniversary; Agency has been key to economic development

Organization plays vital role in the region
By Joan Lawrence-Bauer

No Progress Edition of the Catskill Mountain News would be complete without mention of the MARK Project. Known as the area’s leading social and economic development agency, a significant measure of the progress recorded in the region is due to the leadership and tenacity provided by this homegrown agency that will celebrate its 40th Anniversary in 2018.

Born of disaster in 1978, as response to a fire that decimated the core of Margaretville’s Main Street, the agency focused on economic development from its earliest days. Driving investment and construction in Binnekill Square and the municipal parking lot behind that facility, the agency secured its first Urban Development Action Grant in 1982 to work on streetscapes and help develop the Delaware & Ulster tourism excursion rail ride which still serves as a major attraction to the region today.

MARK secured funding for municipal water systems, protected property that in later years, would house ARC, Mountain Laurel Gardens, the Community Recreation Center and in the next year or two, a major office complex, all because of the forward thinking of those community leaders. The Pakatakan Farmers Market, Main Street improvement grants, home repair and home ownership assistance all came under the MARK umbrella.

Rarely has one agency stepped in to so many different roles, always working with the community to identify needs then marshall skill and resources to achieve them. From the Village Pavillion in Margaretville to WIOX Radio station in Roxbury, MARK has supported municipalities, businesses, individuals and other non-profits to create lasting value in its communities.

Hurricane Irene tested the disaster relief portfolio MARK had developed from earlier floods and work with the Margaretville Telephone Company has helped drive major expansion of broadband service to the region.

Hitting its stride

As it hits its 40th year, MARK is really just hitting its stride in creative approaches to community problem solving. In addition to handling its own portfolio of projects, the agency serves as an administrator of grants given to dozens of other smaller non-profits keeping operating costs for them low and maximizing their impact on their communities.

The agency’s annual Main Street Boot Camps offer valuable cross-community, cross-industry and cross-sector dialogue while at the same time, delivering continuing education curricula that help even the smallest mom and pop business succeed in a global marketplace.

“The big news in 2017 was programs funded,” MARK Executive

Director Peg Ellsworth told the News recently. “We got another $290,000 for homebuyer assistance that can help with both down payments and some home repairs. It will help us assist about 10 families trying to achieve the American dream of homeownerships and with 22 on the wait list, we’ll reapply for more funding soon.” Ellsworth said the group finished Main Street improvement programs from Pine Hill to Margaretville and secured $20,000 for technical assistance for the Andes Main Street.

As a member of the Southern Tier Economic Council, Ellsworth spends considerable time raising awareness of the region’s needs outside the immediate area. Working with colleagues there, she has been instrumental in shaping a new vision of rural economic development, far different than that which occurs in urban locations. In 2017, MARK hosted a visit from the New York State Assessment Team and had the opportunity to showcase the area first hand as they moved throughout the region.

On tap for 2018 are development of a Community Kitchen for processing farm to table products, collaborative programs in tourism, and more “Brown Bag Lunch” programs covering topics like social media marketing, Quick books, getting better media coverage and a host of other topics.

MARK will celebrate its birthday with a gala event on May 27. But its community building efforts will continue every day. Hopefully for another 40 years.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2018-01-31 digital edition