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Sarah Lee of Think Dutchess: “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”

While I have been fortunate not to have to “rebuild” my organization, I hope the work of my organization will help to build a more inclusive and diverse community and economy for Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley to be able to survive future disasters. One of the ways we are doing this is reaching […]

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While I have been fortunate not to have to “rebuild” my organization, I hope the work of my organization will help to build a more inclusive and diverse community and economy for Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley to be able to survive future disasters. One of the ways we are doing this is reaching out to our existing businesses and partners and listening to learn about their concerns and challenges. We recently started a small loan fund in response to what we heard from our small businesses and have strengthened our partnership with organizations that work with minority and underserved communities to connect businesses and entrepreneurs with services and programs to assist their business growth.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Lee, Chief Executive Officer of Think Dutchess, where she oversees the economic development programs for Dutchess County, New York. She has led the organization on impactful work, including recognition from the International Economic Development Council for their entrepreneurship program and marketing efforts. As CEO of Think Dutchess she has facilitated over 2.5 billion dollars in private investment in Dutchess County.

Ms. Lee currently serves on the New York State Economic Development Council (NYSEDC) Board and is the Chairwoman of the organization’s Annual Conference. Ms. Lee also serves on the Dutchess County Tourism Board, the Small Business Advisory Council for NY Congressman Antonio Delgado, the Women’s Leadership Alliance Executive Committee of the Dutchess Regional Chamber of Commerce and is a Futures Fellow for the Hudson Valley Futures Summit at SUNY New Paltz.

Ms. Lee holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and is a graduate of SUNY Albany.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I often like to say my life and career is a series of serendipitous accidents, but I think in reality is that I have always been curious and open to new experiences. I started off in advocacy work for women and children, but moved to NYC and fell into healthcare planning and policy. I eventually went into consulting and then economic development. I have enjoyed every career choice and don’t think I would be the person I am without them.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

Early in my career, Peter Drucker’s books had a large influence on my career and how I view life and leadership. Looking back, his book on Innovation and Entrepreneurship has influenced how I view and approach problem solving and opportunity.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses or organizations” are more successful in many areas. At your organization, what is your vision, your purpose?

My organization’s vision and purpose is to create new wealth for Dutchess County through the retention, expansion and attraction of businesses, ultimately supporting the local economy, small businesses and Dutchess residents.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running an organization?

I would say my “number one principle” would be to put meaning and purpose in our work. To do that I have to be a good listener, make sure my team is engaged and be able to work inclusively and collectively to achieve my organization’s mission and purpose.

Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

In mid-March when COVID-19 started to impact how businesses, organization and schools worked, like everyone else we were in chaos both emotionally and physically. We were in the middle of home improvement projects, my son had to come home from college, we had to cancel many of our planned activities in addition to getting adjusted to four people working and learning from one location. Through all this I have tried to remain flexible and understanding. However, personally my biggest challenge was finding the patience to support my husband through all his new COVID-19 hobbies like making sourdough bread and kombucha , his COVID moustache and beard growing experiment, and too many others to list.

Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I like to work collaboratively and working remotely even with technology has impacted the creative aspect of working together and in a way has also impacted how efficiently work is getting done. For the most part we have been able to work through it with regular contact and team meetings, but I definitely miss the spontaneous nature of working physically together in one space.

Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

I think the COVID pandemic disrupted and exposed weaknesses in many of our systems both known and unknown, across all aspects of society, government, healthcare, education, industry, technology and the human experience. I think this disruption will create opportunity for businesses to explore new ways to use technology to operate and to create solutions to issues and weaknesses exposed during this pandemic, especially in areas such as medical/bio technology, supply chain, education and childcare, travel and tourism.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?

I think the wearing of masks and the plexiglass shields are some of the physical elements that will remain as a result of the COVID pandemic. Also, with remote working and learning, I think the way we work will change not only where we work but how we work (for example, will the work week still be defined as 9–5 Monday through Friday?)

Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your organization and the Dutchess County business community in the Post-Covid Economy?

While I have been fortunate not to have to “rebuild” my organization, I hope the work of my organization will help to build a more inclusive and diverse community and economy for Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley to be able to survive future disasters. One of the ways we are doing this is reaching out to our existing businesses and partners and listening to learn about their concerns and challenges. We recently started a small loan fund in response to what we heard from our small businesses and have strengthened our partnership with organizations that work with minority and underserved communities to connect businesses and entrepreneurs with services and programs to assist their business growth.

Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

I would encourage others to listen and learn. It will help you find the opportunities and to do the right thing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One quote would be Peter Drucker’s, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” To me it means, we all have the power to make our lives go the way we want them to; it may not be easy but if we can be flexible, listen to the people we are collaborating with, and do the right thing we can create positive change.

How can our readers further follow your work?

www.thinkdutchess.com

https://www.linkedin.com/company/thinkdutchess
https://www.instagram.com/thinkdutchess/
https://www.facebook.com/thinkdutchess

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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