From 18 cows in 1981 to over 700 today in 2017. That’s the story of Gary and Betty Burley, the quaint and modest couple with five adult children in Wyoming County, four of whom are actively involved in the farm and one of which serves in our armed forces. That’s the story of the East Hill Creamery in Wyoming County.
Oh, and a $4 million, 14,500 square foot expansion into the cheese production industry. That’s the story, too.
“It was a big commitment,” said Gary. “I’m old and I don’t have time to develop a market with mediocre cheese.”
Gary and Betty make two kinds of cheese using their own milk as a value-added product. There is Silver Lake, a gruyere cheese named after the lake not far from their farm, and Underpass, the raclette cheese that gets its namesake from the recently constructed underpass the Burley’s use to allow their cows to go from one pasture to the next without having to cross the street, rather going underneath not to disrupt traffic.
Gary and Betty believe cheese ages best when the wheel is laid on a cool, climate controlled slab of wood. Plastic might be cheaper, but there’s something authentic that the wood does to the cheese over the multiple year long process. They admire the way the French age their cheese, replicating the process in Perry, NY with their very own cheese caves. The cheese production compliments the free-range grazing system they use for their cows, pulling flavors out of the grass and flowers they are fed.
“We wanted everything to be as authentic as we can so we could make the first piece of cheese as good as the last,” said Gary.
The project was made partially possible by the Wyoming County IDA and Jim Pierce, the executive director. It consisted of construction of the plant and caves, as well as installation of cheese manufacturing equipment. The site will feature a retail store, and is in the process of adding on educational and event space. East Hill Creamery will benefit from a projected $665,108 in incentives over a ten-year period.
What we learned in Wyoming County
Over the past few weeks, we at InBN have pounded the pavement in preparation and celebration of Economic Development Week, May 8-13. We’ve reached out to each of our 8 counties, visiting our IDA partners, and touring economic development projects of impact in the area. This is what we learned in Wyoming County:
Entrepreneurship is important
Jim Pierce also runs the Wyoming County Business Center, leading the charge on the FastTrac New Venture program. The program allows entrepreneurs a space to learn about the process and incorporation, and put their ideas through a rigorous class. The program has 120 graduates and has helped to launch 53 businesses. “That’s where a lot of the jobs are—with small businesses,” Pierce said.
Workforce is unparalleled
While workforce woes don’t elude Wyoming County, those that are working are dedicated individuals. “Work ethic here is probably matched by none,” said Pierce. In our visit, we witnessed just that. At Creative Foods Ingredients, a cookie and baked goods producer, we spoke with Mike Humberstone, who has been with the company for 37 years. He started unloading cardboard from trucks, and is now the executive director of operations. The 170 employees that he now manages aren’t any different. Turnover is low and dedication is high. In Wyoming County, the work ethic is a way of life.
Photos by Sarah Larson