Defining choices

By Kevin Casey McAvey

Why did you choose to live in upstate New York, I am asked. My friends in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Boston. My mother on Long Island. My brother in Philadelphia. How did you grow up on Long Island and then choose to live way up there?

I like where I grew up. Long Island, for the hard time I often give it, is quite lovely. Its winters are temperate, its springs sunny and mild, and its summers, while frequently muggy, are complemented with open, beautiful beaches, just minutes away. New York City is at your doorstep, an entire spectrum of stores is located within just a few miles of your home, and stretches of picture-perfect neighborhoods sit waiting for another generation to move in. So why not go back?

This is a question to which there is no short answer. I could describe the friendly people, and the sense of community I found throughout my travels in our region over the past eight years. I could brag about the safe streets, the serenity of having a home in the country, or having some of the most beautiful landscape you will ever be witness to as your backyard. I could try to describe the feeling of history, of character, that comes from our buildings and from so many treasured sites within each of our communities. I could tell them about the opportunity our region has for growth, the chance we have to harness that raw talent and brainpower to create something fantastic – and how I want nothing more than to be a part of it. I could tell them all of this, but at the most basic level, for each of us, the answer boils down to: we do not have to be defined by what we are born into.

I found who I was during long, early-morning summer walks through the Catskills with my uncle when I was growing up. I found myself later at Colgate University, spending summers out in Madison and Chenango counties, working for organizations like United Way and the Department of Social Services to figure out ways to disburse limited resources to fulfill limitless needs. I found myself one Saturday afternoon while helping a couple who was barely scraping by get a tax refund that was not going to go to purchase a new television, but to fix their refrigerator. I found myself through helping others, and once I discovered this, there was no turning back.

I traveled to DC to get my first graduate degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University, specializing in Economic Development. While there, I worked on the Hill for one of our Senators tackling Upstate projects, then for a private government-consulting firm, working with USDA to figure out ways to most effectively deploy broadband in rural America. But though the work was helpful, I missed the place and the people I was working for. When the opportunity arose for me to come back, to come to study and do research at Cornell University, I couldn’t help but smile.

My two years in Ithaca, studying applied economics and management under some terrific agricultural economists, equipped me to successfully launch my own not-for-profit and begin to find on-the-ground solutions to our communities’ needs. It was through that process that I had the luck of meeting Guy Cosentino and Jack Bisgrove of the Stardust Foundation. And it was how I wound up signing on to the exciting venture that is the Stardust Entrepreneurial Institute.

The Institute was founded as one piston of a new engine of economic development for our region. It was developed to connect people to the resources they need to be able to turn their ideas, their dedication, and their passions into a successful reality. Located at 2 State Street in Auburn, we serve entrepreneurs, supporting them as they start their own businesses. Over the coming months, we will be using this column to announce partnerships with other leading community agencies to deliver quality programming and outreach, not just locally, but regionally, to do just that.

I would have never thought I would wind up where I am, but I could not be happier that I have. For future columns, I hope to take the spotlight off of myself, and place it back where it belongs, on you and where you, as a potential entrepreneur, want to go tomorrow; where we, as a community, want to find ourselves. I know that I do not have every answer, but I have had the fortune of learning that we are whomever we strive to be.

Kevin Casey McAvey is Operations Manager at the Stardust Entrepreneurial Institute in Auburn, New York. He has previously done non-profit work in Norwich. He can be reached via e-mail at

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