In 1993, IBM closed production plants and a corporate headquarters in New York's Hudson Valley, nestled between the Catskill and Berkshire mountains an hour and a half outside of New York City. The closures directly impacted the lives of thousands of employees and their families, but it also severed the linchpin of an entire local economy.
Twenty-five years later, media strategist and filmmaker Beth Davenport, and actress, filmmaker and entrepreneur Mary Stuart Masterson, are designing a new linchpin — by transforming the economy of the Hudson Valley through sustainable entertainment production.
Together, Stockade Works and Upriver Studios are making the Hudson Valley the next great destination for film, TV, digital media, and technology.
The vision is to create a skilled workforce and sustained economic development by first training local workers, so they are prepared for incoming production jobs. This will create a solid crew base to then continue to attract more and more production.
Stockade Works is a non-profit organization that provides workforce development, community programs and industry-facing job procurement. Stockade works prioritizes access and inclusion and trains diverse, local, and mainly low-to-mid income residents.
Stockade Works operates hand-in-hand with Upriver Studios, also founded by Masterson and Davenport. Upriver Studios will provide state-of-the-art sound stages and post-production facilities that are women-led and committed to bringing diversity, equity and access to the media sector. It is a public benefit LLC company, recently formed to scale production and to retain workers trained through Stockade Works. Upriver Studios aims to make local work by growing the film and tech industry in the Hudson Valley in a sustainable way — creating not just jobs but real careers.
The tandem of Stockade Works and Upriver Studios should be very appealing to the impact-minded with cash to invest. Consider: a non-profit and a for-profit founded and owned by women, with women in key leadership positions. Opportunities for local workers in an underserved and underemployed community. Sustainable, eco-friendly sound production facilities that are to-the-spec for episodic television production needs. And, like other hot spots of film and TV production, an ecosystem in place to, year after year, bring successful media entertainment industry production into the area. Finally, though it wasn't intentional, anchor investors are also women, creating a touch of third-wave feminism.
Add Masterson's industry caché and her own local production and directing ventures, and you have an investable recipe.
In some ways their contribution to the Hudson Valley is a microcosm of investing itself. Some people come to town and fill up their bags and leave. Others come, empty their suitcase and stay. Investing works much the same way. Someone looking at an investment only for a lucrative exit is not a fit here. Their evergreen funding approach with a dividend, however, appeals to people who want a financial return and to help create lasting benefit. Their ideal investors value diversity, equity, and inclusion, and see the importance of both donating to Stockade Works and investing in Upriver Studios, not just doing one or the other.
Some observers refer to the Hudson Valley as Hollywood East. But the team doesn't fear an onslaught of neon or the loss of the region's idyllic charm. Yes, members of the glitterati build second homes there, but regular families are also showing up, looking for a way to sustain themselves locally. And having many A-list industry people living in the area provides the advantage of a pool of actors, directors, and producers to draw from.
Hollywood production often involves going into distant locations, extracting cheap labor, then leaving when employee pay rates go up. Or when people finally get tired of the big trucks clogging their streets. Stockade Works will instead make trainee jobs into paid positions and invite more union productions. They'll encourage trainees to pursue union memberships that offer benefits and steady wages. And having a standing local union crew is appealing for scaled production. Stockade Works mentors graduates so that they can not only get a job but be great at it and ensure future success. People who already live there will be able to buy homes, or keep their apartments, and not get displaced as they likely would in a real "Hollywood East."
They also want to address how typical Hollywood production creates barriers to entry for women or low-income people, with its crazy hours and lack of childcare. And Masterson is developing content to be produced, or at a minimum post-produced, solely in the Hudson Valley.
The idea here was never just to set up a soundstage business that makes the most money possible. It was an impact venture from inception, built by people who care about the Hudson Valley, and about sustainability, workforce development, access, and inclusion. And to grow it in the right way.
Says Masterson, "This is not the easy way for me to make a buck. This has taken years of work, and I'm in this to see an impact. Yes, I want to work where I live, but I also fell in love with where I live. I want to contribute something of lasting value, and I've seen how film production can be an economic engine for a community. I have access, and I'd like to share it."