Red Hook Career Fair draws an eclectic crowd

The panel of experts at the second annual Red Hook High School Career Fair on April 27 seemed momentarily stumped.

A young entrepreneur, still in middle school but clearly getting an early start in the world of business, was seeking advice for his enterprise, selling homemade “duct tape ties and other duct tape related accessories.”

“What I really want to know is, what it takes to get a business off the ground. I mean, how do you actually go about it?” he asked.

The members of the “starting your own small business” panel looked at each other. Johnny LeHane, co-founder and director of franchising for the World Adult Kickball Association, quickly brought his own less-than-traditional business experience to bear. “You need to be hungry, and you need to be able to do everything at once,” he told the young entrepreneur and the rest of the audience of two dozen students.

Ed Pruitt, manager of Rhinebeck Savings Bank in Red Hook and president of the Red Hook Area Chamber of Commerce, added “that it couldn’t hurt to know a good accountant.”

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and former County Legislator Tom Mansfield were also volunteers on the panel, which doled out business advice and discussed the prospects in Dutchess County for young entrepreneurs. The increased fluidity of employment and a shift to smaller, faster-moving startup companies featured prominently in the panelists’ advice, as did an emphasis on pursuing higher education to better compete in a global marketplace. Molinaro also suggested some more immediate steps, such as obtaining an internship or job at a local small business to get a feel for how they run day to day.

Despite the wealth of information and detail, the small-business panel occupied only a fraction of the cafeteria and gymnasium, both of which overflowed with career and college tables as the second Career Fair doubled in scope over last year.

With representatives from 60 careers and 20 colleges crammed into the building, artists were tabled next to attorneys, doctors next to bankers, plumbers next to judges and the County Executive shared his table with the kickball mogul.

The event included tables from trade schools, apprenticeship opportunities, armed forces representatives and a host of careers that did not require the standard college-track experience. In addition, the Fire Department, construction firms, EMS first responders and custom automotive designers were parked on the high school’s lawn.

So students interested in photography chatted with railroad technicians from the MTA, others listened to iron workers talk about welding beams high above the city skyline, and volunteer firefighters provided an strong reminder of the importance of a community profession not measured by a paycheck.

Tara Sullivan, Red Hook Education Foundation’s coordinator for the event, explained that the main goal of the event was much broader than the average college fair or career day. “The high school does a very good job getting students into colleges,” she said. “But we want to expose students to all of their options and expand the way they think about their future.”

The second goal was to bring the entire community together in one place, so that students would be able to see the variety of people that make up a functioning town. “Look around,” Sullivan said, gesturing to the maze of displays, demonstrators and tables set up around the gym. “We have the plumbers and the electricians, the police and the judges, all of the people who are otherwise never in the same room, all coming together to support our students’ futures.”

What made the event even more significant, Sullivan added, was that the entire day was put together and run entirely by volunteers. The event also had sponsorship from several local businesses, including TD Bank, Professional Computer Associates, The Palombo Group, Williams Lumber, Ruge’s Subaru, Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, Red Hook Chamber of Commerce, Bard College, Northern Dutchess Hospital and Ulster Savings Bank. The event was presented jointly by the Red Hook Education Foundation, the Red Hook Central School District and Bard College.

The event was catered with farm-fresh food from Red Hook’s Farm-to-Table, and also offered students who visited various presenter tables tickets to redeem for free food in the cafeteria.

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