Outlook 2023: Tori Riley relishes role of boosting existing businesses, drawing more to Saratoga County

A woman at her office desk
Tori Riley reviews a promotional video in her office at the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation headquarters in Saratoga Springs.
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SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation, Tori J.E. Riley brings candor and infectious enthusiasm to an organization that works to keep Saratoga County’s economy humming into the future.

Day to day, that means networking with industry leaders, attending trade shows, talking to industrial site-location consultants — and, just as importantly, taking the economic temperature of local communities.

“We’re always working with the towns and villages and cities to understand what they want and to find them opportunities,” said Riley, the organization’s vice president. “It’s good to see people come together and make magic out of air.”

After the retirement of former president Dennis Brobston at the end of last year, Riley spent all of January as SEDC’s only full-time economic development specialist — meaning her days were crowded with phone calls, site visits and consultations — and a lot of time wearing out tires on the road. SEDC is expecting to add more professional staff in the near future.

SEDC has helped attract most of the dozens of companies that have moved to Saratoga County during the past 40 years — a historic period of growth.

Officials at SEDC promoted available industrial sites and then negotiated the deals that brought companies such as the Quad-Graphics printing plant in Saratoga Springs, the Target distribution center in Wilton and the GlobalFoundries computer chip factory in Malta.

SEDC’s offices are located inside the huge Quad/Graphics printing plant at the Grande Industrial Park, where nearly every company in the park — from beer distributors to specialized chemical supplies — arrived with SEDC assistance.

The business-supported, private nonprofit is the first point of contact for businesses looking to move into the county — and also those already here that may be looking for help to expand. It negotiates tax breaks and other incentives to attract new businesses, subject to approval by county and municipal leaders.

Since its founding in 1978, SEDC officials say, the organization has aided more than 400 businesses, leading to more than $18 billion in private investment in the county and creating more than 18,000 new jobs in the Capital Region.

That’s a run of success that has kept Saratoga among the fastest-growing counties upstate and created an economy that doesn’t rely on any one industry as its backbone.

The goal: job opportunities for all, but especially the young.

“We’re really opening avenues for young people to have a diversity of opportunities,” said Riley, who joined SEDC in 2013.

Being a key player in Saratoga’s economic development has allowed Riley to achieve success while staying close to her regional roots — she grew up in the Washington County village of Fort Edward, then and now a community that relies on the Hudson River and on mill work.

After graduating from Fort Edward High School, Riley briefly worked in a wide variety of jobs, eventually landing in the 1990s as a personnel specialist at Park Personnel, an employment service in Glens Falls. It was there that she got her first exposure to the impact SEDC was having.

Among the clients Park Personnel worked with to hire employees were the Ace Hardware and Target distribution centers off Northway Exit 16 in Wilton, both of which worked with SEDC to find their locations and negotiate incentive deals that created hundreds of new jobs at each company.

“That’s where I met a lot of the businesses we continue to work with today,” Riley said.

In 2005, she moved over to the Glens Falls-based Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, then headed by Todd Shimkus, now president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. Riley was a government liaison, working with local, county and state representatives, developing programs and talking with chamber members.

“It was a wonderful opportunity and I learned a lot,” she said.

In 2008, she became president and CEO of the Washington County Local Development Corp., a nonprofit that contracted with county government to provide economic and community development and to oversee a business loan fund. That’s where she first worked directly with Brobston and SEDC, and quickly came to admire their work.

“They had years of experience and they were the best,” Riley said. “Dennis was always very inclusive. When there were conferences, he would invite in all the counties in the region.”

SEDC hired Riley in 2013, just as the $12 billion GlobalFoundries plant was coming into full production with roughly 3,000 workers. The company, among the largest chipmakers in the world, makes semiconductor chips in Germany and Singapore as well as Malta; in 2021, it moved its corporate headquarters from Silicon Valley to Malta.

“What Global has brought is a really worldwide awareness of things that are going on here,” Riley said.

That’s given the county at least a minor spot on the world stage, and it’s SEDC’s job to put the county’s best foot forward.

Riley said there are three things SEDC does really well: promote the county as a business-friendly location; work to retain existing businesses; and target marketing to new businesses that will complement existing businesses.

In 2023, Riley expects SEDC to continue appealing to businesses in the semiconductor industry supply chain, advanced materials companies, the food and beverage industry, and to life sciences and the equine industry. The last two are not as different as they sound, she said, since understanding and meeting the nutritional needs of horses and other agricultural animals is now a high-tech business.

Micron Technology’s plans to spend an estimated $100 billion building a chip complex near Syracuse can only help the Capital Region, Riley said, by assuring more specialized high-tech supply and service companies that upstate New York is a growing player in nanotechnology. Micron’s plans are years from fruition, but Wolfspeed, a specialized chipmaker, last year opened a plant outside Utica.

“We have a lot of suppliers and service providers who have a micropresence, and this will give them more confidence to establish a larger presence,” Riley said. Riley — like everyone in the business world — has been hearing complaints from industry leaders about the difficulty of finding workers.

Now she said there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m starting to hear that we’re breathing again, that we’re starting to have people come in and apply for jobs,” she said.

Riley is also not particularly concerned that a recession this year, if it comes, will do major damage to the Saratoga regional economy

“Our leadership and our partners have built a very diverse ecosystem, so that when one industry is doing badly, others are still going to be going strong,” she said.

She’s also hearing that developers are interested in building commercial space on speculation again —– which is important, since many relocating companies want to move into an existing empty space quickly rather than wait for a new building to be built for them.

Even though she’s on the go constantly, Riley does have a life outside the office. She’s a mother and grandmother, and she and her husband operate a farm located between Lake George and Fort Ann where they raise beef cattle. (She jokes that she’s not allowed on the tractor.)

She’s the mother of five children and grandmother of eight. Riley also sits on the board of the Adirondack Economic Development Corp., a private nonprofit organization that offers low-interest loans to aid business activity in a 14-county area, including Saratoga, Fulton, Washington and Warren counties.

Overall, she’s optimistic.

“There are little wins, large wins and a lot of things in between,” Riley said.

SEDC is again the only economic development marketer for Saratoga County, after the county Board of Supervisors last year pulled the plug on the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership. The Partnership was established by the Board of Supervisors in 2014 after a falling out between the county and SEDC over the amount of control supervisors wanted.

For seven years the two economic development organizations competed for clients and projects, with the SEDC consistently holding its own or better. A couple of years ago the county started awarding marketing contracts to SEDC again, and the Prosperity Partnership fell out of favor.

SEDC’s economic development partners include the county, industrial development agencies, Hudson Valley and Adirondack community colleges, two BOCES districts, the Center for Economic Growth and Empire State Development.

This July, Riley said, SEDC will have a conference to be attended by about 20 site-selection specialists from around the world, any of whom may recommend a location in Saratoga County to their clients. The organization is also using YouTube videos and other social media to get the word out about the success of local businesses and the availability of sites within the county.

“It’s a great marketing tool,” Riley said.

Tori J.E. Riley
COMPANY: Saratoga Economic Development Corporation
TITLE: Vice president and economic development specialist
EDUCATION: Fort Edward High School
PHILOSOPHY: “If you keep calm and patient and kind, you can get through anything.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Planning is constant, and the moment you stop planning you’re dated.”

More Outlook 2023: Looking Ahead – Our annual report on Capital Region business

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