By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
New executive director of Fulton Community Development Agency excited with her role to help bring economic development to Fulton
From entrepreneur to community development leader, Sarah Farley took an unexpected route to her most recent role as executive director of Fulton Community Development Agency (CDA), which she assumed in November 2021.
Travel for her husband’s military service and having children interrupted her plans to earn an accounting degree at Columbia College and, later, SUNY Oswego; however, her 120 college credits equipped her to open a bookkeeping business in 2014, SCS Business Solutions, LLC. She primarily focused on aiding small businesses.
Word-of-mouth advertising helped her become familiar with many small business owners in the area. In late 2020, the CDA tapped her to perform accounting services for the organization as a contractor. That proved a tumultuous year for the CDA with the retirement of numerous staff members, including their part-time staff accountant, supervisor of the rental assistance program and executive director. At mid-year, Mayor
Deana Michaels took
meaning new administration at the city
level—and more changes for the CDA to adjust to.
“In March 2021, it became obvious that the agency was in need of so much,” Farley said.
Brad Broadwell, the CDA’s new executive director, asked her to come on board fulltime to help manage the agency.
“I was really excited about the potential of what I knew the city of Fulton needed and what the agency could be capable of driving,” she said. “I’m a resident of Fulton and felt obligation to right the ship and get the agency on solid footing.”
In November 2021, Broadwell left the agency and the CDA appointed Farley as interim executive director. In January 2022, the word “interim” was dropped and she became the full-fledged executive director.
“I feel like I’ve barely started to get a feel for it,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of staff turnover, even since I’ve been there. For the first time since I started, I’ve had a chance to build my team.”
She believes in surrounding herself with a capable staff with experience in areas where she’s lacking. So far, she has been able to do this. Not a believer in micromanaging, she looks for self-motivated staff that focuses on outcomes and getting their job done, not nitpicking over when a clock is punched.
She has focused the CDA on important initiatives such as housing. CDA runs the rental assistance program through HUD for the city.
“We currently have a first-time home buyers’ program that we were awarded late last fall,” Farley said. “We just got our round of funding so we’re taking applicants.”
As a certified HUD counseling agency, CDA offers foreclosure assistance and mortgage modification assistance. CDA is also shifting into economic development. “Fulton has never had that,” Farley said. “I’m not a city employee, but our board is the Common Council, and our director of the board is the mayor.”
Farley finds it rewarding to fight economic depression in Fulton. Unfortunately, obtaining grants and getting approvals for improvements take time — years even — but Farley feels excited to “see the light on the horizon,” she said. “We’re part of the behind-the-scenes development. We’re behind where Oswego is. Oswego had their Downtown Revitalization Initiative a few years ago.”
Fulton received a $10 million DRI award in 2019; however, the pandemic slowed the progress of some of the plans for the funding earmarked for building renovation for small businesses. Many DRI projects are city municipal projects. CDA helps administer them and aids in compliance with regulations.
Another focus is infrastructure improvements, such as a $900,000 grant for improving police and fire station facilities. Through CDA, the city is providing for a Westside Revitalization Fund for Westside businesses on West Broadway as the area was awarded a national historic registry designation.
Through the signs and awnings campaign in DRI, the city has approved business outside of the DRI zone.
“We’re currently working on acquiring funds for homeowner rehab and microenterprises of fewer than five employees,” Farley said.
The state ideally would like to see 30% of DRI work awarded to minority and women-owned businesses (MWB). If a MWB bid is higher, the CDA does not have to award the contract, but “we must do due diligence to solicit those bids,” Farley said.
The CDA has met with MWB business leaders to create greater awareness of these opportunities.
“I’ve had the good fortune to work with Sarah at my business,” said Stephen Chirello, owner of Steve Chirello Advertising, which provides media relations services to CDA. “She brings an incredible skill set to the position of executive director at the Fulton CDA.
“She is extremely talented at accounting and financial management, while she also has keen rapport, organization and time management skills. On top of that, she’s a great listener, and she genuinely cares about the people with whom she works and interacts. The city of Fulton is fortunate to have her in this position when so many positive developments and growth are occurring in the city.”
Although the changes are slow in coming, Farley feels excitement about what’s ahead. She counts herself as a liaison between the community and businesses interested in opening in Fulton.
Previously when businesses called about doing business in Fulton, they were directed to the code office — typically an office focused on meeting requirements, not necessarily extending a welcome and helping businesses find resources they need.
“Their role isn’t to hear their story and help them find funding,” Farley said. “I’ve sat down with the sole proprietor who wants to open a small shop and they don’t have a business plan. They don’t know where to turn or what steps to take next before they open a business.”
She likes that she can hand out information and direct them toward grants and programs that will assist them in opening their doors.
But CDA is not only for small business owners. Bigger companies that are ready to do business may need a point of contact. And she is happy to fill that role as well.
Name: Sarah Farley
Birth Place: Syracuse. She grew up in Oswego, where she and her husband were high school sweethearts. Residence: Black River, New York
Current Residence: Fulton.
Affiliations: Active members of Word of Life Assembly of God.
Personal: Married 22 years to Tim Farley. The couple has four children, aged 9-21 with the older two in the National Guard and Air Force. They also have an American bulldog.
Volunteering: Farley serves on the board as Fulton Community Revitalization Corporation as treasurer.
Hobbies: Piano, camping and hiking in the Adirondacks.