Economic Development Officials Confident Regional Economy Will Improve in 2021
John Jordan | March 16, 2021
WHITE PLAINS— A panel of economic development officials from throughout the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors’ market area are generally upbeat about their respective markets, all reporting that they expect targeted industries to bring new investment to their markets to reduce inflated unemployment rates post pandemic.
With COVID-19 vaccine inoculations continuing, they also believe that their respective economies will improve in 2021.
The virtual Zoom program, hosted by the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, featured, Orange County Partnership President and CEO Maureen Halahan; Marlene Cintron, president, Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation; Kathleen Ables president, Putnam County Economic Development Corp.; Jeremy Schulman, Director, Economic Development, Rockland County and Bridget Gibbons, Director, Economic Development, Westchester County. The program was moderated by John Barrett, president of HGAR’s Commercial Investment Division.
Halahan said at the Feb. 18 program that during the past year, while Orange County and the region have had to cope with restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Orange County has seen a tremendous amount of interest and investment in e-commerce related projects, including warehouse and distribution developments.
She added that because of e-commerce and consumers’ demand for rapidly delivery of products, “We have some of the biggest national developers here in Orange County trying to figure out where they are going to buy as much real estate as they can, and get it prepared so it is ready to go when their portfolio of clients want to move.”
She noted that developers such as PNK Group, Scannell Properties, GFI Partners, Matrix Development Group, Frasetto Companies and Green Thumb Industries are planning or currently constructing new commercial projects in Orange County.
Halahan also said that the Orange County residential market is benefitting from the migration of New York City residents to the northern suburbs, and particularly Orange County for its quality of life.
Other topics covered by Halahan included the significant investment centered around the Route 17 corridor, including the impending opening of the LEGOLAND New York amusement park in Goshen, the need for the expansion of Route 17 to accommodate that growth, the Danskamer energy project, the major construction projects underway by Amazon and Medline in Montgomery, the Route 17 Corridor Study in the Town of Montgomery and the Resorts World Catskills Video Gaming Machine project at the Newburgh Mall.
Despite the urgent need for new development to deal with the economic fallout from COVID-19, Halahan and others stressed that they must promote new projects to the public to offset growing anti-development forces that exist in many municipalities.
“We have to have our voices heard on what the value of these projects are,” she said. “The landscape has changed in my 20 years (in economic development). The voices are getting louder that they don’t want any growth. But, if they (the general public) understand the value of the projects and the need to have the private sector in so we can partner together, then I think people would understand it (the merits of development) better.”
She concluded noting that in many cases, the job of economic development officials comes down to trying to reduce the significant tax burden facing New Yorkers.
“If we are going to save New York, we have to make it easier for companies to want to be in New York,” Halahan said.
Schulman said that 2020 was marked by the coronavirus that created unpredictability that eventually caused the business community to pivot and transition to deal with both the challenges and opportunities that now exist in 2021.
Rockland’s economic development focus has been on the “Three Ps—Position, Promote and Package,” he said. One prevailing trend in Rockland has been the repositioning of properties, including not-for-profits as well as underperforming or vacant retail sites and converting them for use in emerging industry clusters.
Schulman cited successful efforts repositioning properties for the film industry including at the former Macy’s in Nanuet, which was qualified as a Qualified Production Facility. The county also has other QPF facilities in Orangeburg, Blauvelt and Pearl River.
Looking forward, Schulman noted, “Public-private partnerships are going to become more important. Partnerships (should be created) with governments, non-profits and with private business that already have an affiliation with the agencies that they already work with.” He cited a number of partnerships with non-profits and colleges that will provide the workforce training necessary for emerging industry clusters in Rockland County.
Cintron, the leader of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, cited a host of major projects in the pipeline, including a possible Amazon distribution facility under construction at the former Whitestone Multiplex. She reported that Amazon is also in negotiations to build an end-of-mile distribution facility at a site adjacent to the Third Avenue Bridge. However, she noted that the Bronx was hit very hard by the pandemic and has a long way to go to revive its fortunes. At the end of 2020, the Bronx’s unemployment rate stood at 15.1%. Cintron said that during the height of the pandemic, the rate was at 25% or more because many Bronx residents work in the hotel, hospitality and retail sectors. However, she added that one in four borough residents work in the hospital system.
Other major projects in the Bronx include a $100-million mixed-use project at Orchard Beach and the massive $3-billion Fordham Landing development.
“The business climate in the Bronx is a little bit different (than neighboring Hudson Valley counties),” she said. Fueled by its manufacturing base and the Hunts Point Market, an $11-billion business, the Bronx saw its commercial property land values rise dramatically from 2010 to the onset of the pandemic. In the 10-year period from 2010 to 2020, Cintron said there has been approximately $90 billion in private investment in the Bronx.
While job losses have been significant, Cintron said, “We have not seen any kind of adverse impact through the pandemic on the value of commercial property. On the contrary, I wish we had more because it would mean we would have the ability to employ even more people.”
Westchester County’s Gibbons touted the host of programs the county has initiated to assist businesses impacted by the pandemic. Thanks to $268 million in federal CARES Act funding in 2020, Westchester County carved out $15 million to launch a small businesses loan program. The program has assisted approximately 400 county businesses pay their rent and pay their employees.
Gibbons said that the county hopes to continue providing small business assistance funding this year as well.
Another key initiative launched by the county is its incubator program—Element 46. Earlier this month the county announced it was recruiting new scalable startups for the program. For the first time since its launching, the program will focus on supporting businesses in key sectors, including digital health, fintech (financial technology), advanced manufacturing and clean energy in its next cohort.
Through the Element 46 program, startups are matched with hand-picked mentors who are leaders in technology, finance, business strategy, venture capital, marketing or other key areas. Participants also gain access to a group of dedicated professional service providers, including accountants and IP attorneys, who provide pro bono services to cohort members. This spring, the program will also include its first ever “Pitch Day,” enabling participants to present their businesses to investors from across the tri-state region.
Startups can apply to the third cohort of Element 46 by visiting Element46.org/Apply before March 30, 2021.
At the CID program, Gibbons noted that in the midst of the pandemic the county conducted an economic strategy study. The study concluded that the county should focus its marketing and attraction efforts on four growing industry clusters: Bioscience, Advanced Manufacturing, FINTECH and Clean Energy.
“The reason we selected (those four growth sectors) is because they are resilient, they have fared quite well during the pandemic, they offer well-paying jobs, which aligns well with the workforce here in Westchester County,” Gibbons said.
The largest deal of 2020 closed near the end of the year when the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency granted final approvals in November for incentives ranging from $6.5 million to $13 million to Morgan Stanley for the financial services firm’s planned more than $200-million renovation of its corporate office complex at 2000 Westchester Ave. in Harrison. The number of jobs to be created over the course of the project is estimated in the range of 700 to 1,100 new positions. The project is also estimated to retain between 1,200 and 1,350 employees and create approximately 923 construction jobs.
Ables said there are three major initiatives taking place in Putnam County at the moment—the Gleneida Distillery Project in Carmel; the Logistics Center in Southeast and the Envision Brewster project.
She explained that the Gleneida Distillery project is being developed by the Aleandrion Group as a distillery and tourism destination. The developers of The Logistic Center recently received final approvals for their multi-industrial distribution building project.
“The fact that this distribution center got approved is very important to us because you can get from Brewster, NY to the Canadian border in a day without violating any CDL laws.”
She also said that the Envision Brewster project is significant for the county’s economy. Ables related that the original plan in 2016 to foster a transit-oriented development in Downtown Brewster stalled. However, Joseph Cotter of National Resources, is proposing to develop iPark Brewster. Cotter, known in the region for his iPark properties in Yonkers and in East Fishkill, is now seeking to acquire properties for the iPark Brewster development.
She said the first focal point of the project will likely be the former Garden Street School and a town-owned building at 67 Main St. The project had previously secured a $2-million CFA grant and Ables believes that based on National Resources’ investment, the firm should be able to qualify for that state funding.
Ables said iPark Brewster “will reshape Putnam County.”
Webster Bank was the sponsor of the CID program.