What Happens When a Buffett Buys Your Town?

Warren Buffett’s son Peter has dropped $160 million to turn a county in upstate New York into his personal farm-to-table utopia, complete with its own radio station, music festival, and currency

Before my trip this May to Kingston, New York, I’d spoken by phone to numerous locals there who kept telling me about the strange thing that was happening to their city. In the span of a few years, they noticed, dozens of businesses, new offices, community campaigns, and development projects all were being sponsored or in some cases run and operated by just one company in town—the NoVo Foundation.

The NoVo Foundation is the brainchild of Warren Buffett’s youngest son, Peter, who serves as its CEO (he shares the title with Jennifer Buffett, his wife). Over the past 15 years, NoVo has received more than a billion dollars of Warren’s fortune to become one of America’s most influential philanthropies. Though initially preoccupied with causes all over the world, since 2015 the foundation has taken an intense, laser-like focus on Kingston. If NoVo maintains its current spending pace over the next ten years, a conservative estimate would put its investments in Kingston at over half a billion dollars.

But it wasn’t until I was in Kingston, meeting with the residents and seeing the scope of the NoVo Foundation’s investment up close, that I was able to grasp what people kept telling me was a particular sense of being overwhelmed—by the power and money of a single person to shape their city and their lives. 

“I think of it as a tidal wave, the NoVo money just washes over everything here and nothing can withstand it,” one longtime NoVo collaborator and Kingston resident told me.

That tidal wave of money has had various effects on Kingston. Earlier this year, The New York Times declared Kingston the second-most desirable location in the nation according to pandemic migration patterns. Yet, the city also continues to suffer from intense poverty and bouts of gang violence.

To see what the NoVo Foundation is building in Kingston—and if it will work—read the piece here at Tablet.

Cheers,

Sean

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