Orange County Partnership Celebrates 30th Anniversary

John Jordan | September 2016

From left, former Orange County Executive Lou Heimbach and Orange County Partnership President and CEO Maureen Halahan

GOSHEN—The year 1986 holds a special place for some. Ronald Reagan was serving his second term as President of the United States, Oprah Winfrey began her nationally syndicated television show and long-suffering New York Mets fans saw their team from Queens, NY defeat the Boston Red Sox in seven games.

However, for those in the business community in Orange County, the year 1986 is very significant because it was 30 years ago that then Orange County Executive Lou Heimbach brought in private business leaders to form the economic development agency—the Orange County Partnership. The Partnership, which remains the chief economic development agency in the county, has since its formation attracted thousands of jobs and filled millions of square feet of commercial space and fostered billions of dollars in investment in the county.

Real Estate In-Depth recently sat down with Heimbach, Orange County’s first County Executive, and Maureen Halahan, president and chief executive officer of the Orange County Partnership, to discuss the organization’s first three decades and its goals for the future.

Heimbach related that his initial intent was to unify business attraction activities, which were very fragmented between two competing Chambers of Commerce in Middletown and Newburgh, as well as a portion of the Orange County Planning Department that was responsible for some economic development activities.

After his proposal to consolidate economic development into one entity was rejected by the business organizations, Heimbach approached Orange & Rockland Utilities, phone companies, and major banks in the county about the plan and many agreed to provide seed funding to get the new organization—the Orange County Partnership started. Orange County government also provided funding for the partnership as well, he noted.

Heimbach recalled that part of the Partnership’s bylaws included having the partnership operate as a non-government agency so that it would not be subject to the restrictions imposed on governmental agencies and their employees.

Although the County Executive, the County Legislature and the Industrial Development Agency each had a seat on the Orange County Partnership’s Board of Directors, the majority of the board was and continues to be members of the private sector.

The organizational structure of the Orange County Partnership was specifically structured to keep politics out of economic development, Heimbach stressed “I think we are kind of the poster child for those type of organizations, not only in New York, but probably most of the country,” Heimbach said.

Halahan shared that when the Partnership began operations there were 23 business parks that had space available or had developable space on the market. Today, with the exception of the recently launched (2014) Warwick Valley Office and Technology Corporate Park and a few spaces at several business parks, the spaces at those parks back in 1986 have been filled or built out.

Some of the changes that have taken place since then, both good and bad, include more restrictive regulations, particularly in terms of environmental approvals with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and more available office space.

Halahan added that while the wholesale/distribution and retail industries are still strong in Orange County, the county is now seeing a host of emerging sectors, specifically food and beverage, health care and manufacturing that are making the Orange County economy more diverse and strong.

“I think this organization is much more targeted than it was before,” Heimbach said. “It is now looking for high-paying jobs.”

In addition, urban centers, such as Middletown, Newburgh and Port Jervis, are now in demand and some are considering the development of workforce housing to accommodate their expected growth in years to come. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo selected the City of Middletown as the winner of a $10-million state grant to help revitalize its downtown district.

Middletown won the $10-million award based on the recommendation of the governor’s Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council. The City of Middletown bested six other finalists from the Mid-Hudson region. The other finalists were: Ossining, Kingston, Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, New Rochelle and White Plains

Halahan related that one of the principal changes in how the Orange County Partnership markets the county is in the area of technology.

“Marketing 30 years ago meant you were sending out direct mail and putting out advertisements in trade magazines. There was no Internet, there were no websites. There was nothing like that,” Halahan said. “Most everything now is done online. We have conferences that can target that specific industry we are looking to attract here.” Heimbach and Halahan noted that the industry has changed whereby major companies employ site selectors to help them make their real estate decisions. Relations with key site selectors have been critical of late in Orange County securing major new business attractions and thousands of new jobs to the region, they added.

That is not to say that over the years, the marketing efforts by the partnership were not unique and did not bear fruit.

The former leaders of the Orange County Partnership launched groundbreaking marketing efforts in their day, including an international junket to Hanover, Germany by then President Michael DiTullo to market Orange County commercial properties.

Heimbach said, “The organization went through a learning process because nobody knew how we were going to function or what we were going to do. We had some broad ideas, but over time it has matured… and became more sophisticated as to how it operates.”

Even the popular Broker Tours, which involved transporting brokers by bus to various available commercial parcels, can now be done electronically everyday if one wishes, Halahan related.

Halahan, who has been employed at the Orange County Partnership 15 years and has served as its president and CEO more than 13 years, praised the prior Partnership Presidents for their fine work during their tenures, noting that the Partnership has been committed to working with other agencies, such as the Industrial Development Agency, Orange County government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp., the Accelerator, the Alliance for Balanced Growth and others to promote and foster economic growth in the county.

She stressed that over the years, the Partnership has learned that during the worst of economic times is when it must spend the most in marketing. Halahan attributes a good part of the success Orange County has enjoyed after the recession ended in the second quarter of 2009 to the outreach efforts undertaken by the Partnership during the Great Recession.

The Orange County Partnership recently launched a new highly interactive website with a host of improvements and has embarked on an ambitious online advertising effort, in addition to its print and radio marketing efforts.

The organization has consistently marketed Orange County’s favorable demographics and strategic location to companies in the region and all over the globe. Those efforts have led to a host of new companies investing in Orange County including: Angry Orchard’s $6-million research and development center in Goshen; the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, a $26-million project that has netted 275 permanent jobs; Pratt & Whitney’s $140-million expansion in the Town of Wallkill that created 100 new jobs; and PharmaCannis, which was awarded one of only five medical marijuana licenses by New York State, which built a new $20-million 121,000-square-foot plant in the Hudson Valley Crossing tech park in the Town of Hamptonburgh that created 80 permanent jobs.

In the health care sector, AmerisourceBergen will take occupancy sometime next year of its 312,000-square-foot distribution facility in the Town of Newburgh. Meanwhile, Crystal Run Healthcare has recently completed a new building project in Newburgh and is working on a new facility in the Village of Monroe.

The largest project being constructed at the moment in Orange County is the $900-million CPV Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda and in the pipeline is the possible development of a LEGOLAND New York resort in the Town of Goshen.

While many things have changed over the past 30 years, there is one thing that has been a constant—the marketing of the county’s prime location in the New York metro region.

“We have an international airport, we have three interstate highways and access to rail,” Halahan said. “We also have available properties.” She adds that while New York State’s costs have risen over the past 30 years, Orange County remains a less costlier location than other prime surrounding markets and those who qualify for incentives can also significantly reduce costs as well.

Milestones:

County Executives Since Partnership Formation

Louis Heimbach —1978-1989
Mary McPhillips —1990-1993
Joseph Rampe —    1994-2001
Edward Diana —    2002-2013
Steve Neuhaus —  2014-Present

 

Orange County Partnership Presidents

Michael DiTullo —     1986-1996
Ann Barber        —      1996-2001
David Dirks      —       2001-2002
Maureen Halahan—    2002-Present

 

1980s

Attractions: 25
Total Jobs  2,335
Square Footage: 3.456 million

 

1990s

Attractions: 105
Expansions: 79
Total Jobs: 7,667
Square Footage: 8.846 million

 

2000s

Attractions: 162
Expansions: 181
Total Jobs: 9,570
Square Footage: 13.395 million

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth