by Terence P Ward
It takes something of a special incentive to pack a bunch of reporters, politicians, and local dignitaries into the basement of an old factory as tightly as sardines. As is so often the case, the reason that so many people jammed into a building in the industrial part of Newburgh on September 4 was free food, better yet—free shrimp! This wasn’t just any old supermarket shrimp either, it was Eco Shrimp. And what those shrimp represented was just as likely to get the mouth of an elected official watering as the buttery flavor of locally-raised crustaceans. That’s because the grand opening of the Eco Shrimp Garden at 99 South William Street is an example of the kind of smart growth that can turn around this city’s struggling economy.
|A Newburgh native shrimp. Photo courtesy of ECO Shrimp.|
Even after some years of economic turmoil (or perhaps because of it), not all new jobs created in the Hudson Valley are considered equal. Some communities have started taking a hard look at the fiscal and environmental impacts of allowing certain types of business to set up shop. The Niagara Bottling Company’s bid to drain millions of gallons of water from Kingston’s water supply, Cooper Lake, ultimately withered in the face of the stiff opposition it received from local citizens, concerned about the potential effects this takeover could have for them and their own water needs. The Park Point project, to build much-needed student housing adjacent to SUNY New Paltz, was denied by the town’s planning board because an analysis showed that it would cost the taxpayers more than it would benefit them, particularly after the project was granted a lucrative Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, or PILOT. County industrial development agencies have even started including “clawback provisions,” empowering those town planning boards to demand repayment of tax breaks if the promised jobs don’t materialize. More and more, citizens are calling for businesses that leave the place better than they found it, and Eco Shrimp Garden seems to fit that bill. Local pols gushed with phrases such as “river of opportunities” and “shot in the arm;” they also marveled over how one of Newburgh’s old factories could be repurposed to raise shrimp using cutting-edge technology for water circulation and reuse.
What’s going on in this Newburgh basement isn’t clear to the naked eye, because the shrimp are being grown in sixteen massive tanks laid out in rows of four. Inside each one are 4,000 shrimp, living a life that Eco Shrimp Garden founder Jean Claude Frajmund compared to being in a spa: a gallon of water to stretch those many legs in, regular feedings packed with wholesome nutrients, and no predators from which to hide. The Indoor Zero Water Exchange System (IZHEA) allows for shrimp to be grown safely in water that is continually recycled, creating a closed system which doesn’t allow for the introduction of toxins, and also doesn’t require dosing the animals with antibiotics. It’s a system that doesn’t tax the local water supply significantly and also produces shrimp that are tasty and safe to eat. Pacific white shrimp, the kind swimming around in those tanks, has a mild flavor to its soft flesh, a flavor which is never corrupted by the toxins so often present in natural fisheries; the flavor is also never subject to the freezing process. The taste, which will delight any shellfish aficionado, will be for sale from 10am to 5pm daily right at the plant. Those who are curious should also be cautioned, however: these are head-on, shell-on shrimp, which means that they still look like an animal when they are sold, which may come as a shock to those who have only ever seen shrimp after it’s been shelled and smothered in cocktail sauce.
At one point during the approval process, it seemed the business would be lost to city regulations. After months of securing environmental approvals and attending zoning board meetings, Jean Claude Frajmund got a call advising him that he needed to provide an additional $4,000 in escrow in order to move forward. Escrowed money is used to ensure that city consultants are paid by the applicant, rather than leaving the taxpayers to foot the bill. In this case, there was apparently very little notice about the additional money needed, and it was enough to break the budget and imperil the entire operation. But officials rallied, showing how much value they have placed in shrimp farm’s success, both as a project and as a model for future businesses.
“I almost went to New Jersey,” Frajmund said, but for mayor Judy Kennedy stepping in with a solution. Because the shrimp facility would not need a site plan—no exterior or significant interior changes would be made to the building—the additional money was not actually called for by the code, she determined. Due to that close call, the zoning code has been changed to make it clearer that businesses like these shouldn’t be stuck with a large escrow bill on top of the application and license fees they must already pony up to various city, county, and state officials.
The excitement over Eco Shrimp Garden doesn’t just spawn from a love of shrimp though, or even a love of sustainably harvested, antibiotic-free shrimp. What’s happened here is a good sign for a city that has a large number of commercial buildings standing empty in the wake of decades of economic hardship. Newburgh was home to a wide variety of industries in the 19th century, thanks to its strategic location on the Hudson River. Rail and truck traffic eventually eclipsed shipping by river, and many businesses relocated to areas with lower taxes to remain competitive. Many of those factories are still standing, a testament to the workmanship of a bygone era. Luring businesses into those space is exactly what the current mayor wants to see because it brings the promise of more jobs and a more vibrant community.
Jean Claude Frajmund’s factory is the first of its kind in New York state. He is ahead of the curve, and with New York City’s eager market just downstream we can expect to see great things from Eco Shrimp. He says that the 16 tanks currently in operation are only the beginning—once he finds the right investors, he hopes to significantly expand the operation, which he predicted would result in 5 to 10 new hires to handle the operations for this small part of a $6 billion industry nationwide.
For more information visit www.ecoshrimpgarden.com