The Hudson Valley Program directly addresses the WPAOG strategic goals to serve the West Point Strategy and the Long Gray Line. The Hudson Valley Program (HVP) is a group of WPAOG initiatives designed to assist in the economic, educational, and social development of West Point neighbor communities, in particular the Town of Highlands. Thriving local communities support USMA admissions by making West Point more appealing to Cadet candidates and their parents, support the Dean by attracting accomplished relocating staff and faculty, and support graduates by improving their experiences when returning to their alma mater.
The HVP comprises an educational development initiative called CONNECT and an economic development initiative. Helping improve the Highland Falls Intermediate School through CONNECT makes the village a more attractive place in which to relocate, send children to school, buy a home, raise a family, or start a business. The HVP also serves as a catalyst for economic development in West Point local communities by striving to improve infrastructure, parks, tourism, and civil society organizations and working to strategically improve the commercial climate of the village and attract investment, entrepreneurs, and philanthropy.
A component of the Hudson Valley Program is CONNECT — an after-school program with the purpose of providing impactful learning opportunities to Town of Highlands students. CONNECT pilot events are ongoing with the intent to launch the program full-time, five days per week, in the Fall of 2022. WPAOG views the improvement of HFIS as a lynchpin to increasing the prosperity of the Town of Highlands. West Point dependent students and DoD funds help the local high school achieve high ratings and a strong reputation. However, the HFIS does not benefit from DoD support, and its reputation and ratings suffer accordingly. A strong school is important to recruit and retain civilian employees to West Point, whose workforce of 5100 civilian employees represents salaries of over $300M. Encouraging more West Point civilian employees to live in the Town of Highlands would have a considerable positive economic impact on the town.
CONNECT is a partnership between WPAOG and the Highland Falls/Fort Montgomery Central School District with the mission to provide HFIS students with high-quality learning experiences that support their academics, expand their interests, and create opportunities to apply their learning in real-world contexts that are exciting and fun. The community has expressly welcomed CONNECT because it provides students with much-needed activity-based learning. Among the many benefits of CONNECT to the community are that it can better link local youth to the vast number of activities, events, and opportunities at West Point; improve HFIS realtor ratings making the Town of Highlands a more inviting place to relocate, and provide USMA dependents and other students at James I. O’Neil High School community service opportunities by mentoring in the CONNECT program.
CONNECT also addresses a common request from town residents to increase Cadet involvement in the community and a recent call for increased Cadet community service opportunities by the First Captain of the Corps of Cadets. Academy leadership is supportive of CONNECT, recognizing it as providing community engagement opportunities for Cadets—a fundamental skill in their development as future Army officers. In the CONNECT pilot events, Cadets have been serving as valuable mentors to students and uniquely improving the goodwill between the town and West Point.
The HVP includes an Economic Development component as well. WPAOG is gathering the support of alumni and friends to leverage their considerable networking power to pursue both commercial investment and philanthropic development ventures in the Town of Highlands. WPAOG offers alumni the capability to network and grow initiatives for economic development through its Alumni Support programs: platforms such as LinkedIn, Sallyport, Grad Link, and the WPAOG website (westpointaog.org), as well as events such as the annual West Point Entrepreneurs Summit. Given that West Point is the biggest employer in the region, it has a major impact on regional economies.
Beyond the important aspects related to cadet and faculty recruiting, increasing the economic strength of the Town of Highlands has many other tangible benefits for West Point as well. An example is improving the quality and number of non-faculty administrative and support staff as well as local vendors available to USMA. Increasing the real estate supply in the area would lessen USMA’s on-post housing challenges, increase the Town of Highlands tax base, and inject more money into the village economy.
Efforts to help improve the economic vibrancy of neighboring communities are becoming increasingly common for major institutions of higher education around the country. The HVP and its CONNECT program have the same intent: to improve the prosperity of Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery through an approach that supports the USMA Strategy and ultimately benefits both the Academy and its local community.