GUEST VIEWPOINT: Orange County: At the Confluence of Opportunity and Responsibility
Maureen Halahan | September 20, 2023
The “summer slowdown” never occurred in 2023 at the Orange County Partnership as site selector activity and tenant requirements demanded our full attention. The leads have been in diverse industry clusters, and we have been working with companies that specialize in:
• Battery Manufacturing
• Food/Beverage Production
• Data Center
• Plastic Manufacturing
• Clean Energy Technology
These opportunities are fleeting—we must validate sites, infrastructure, labor, and supply chain connectivity quickly, quicker than our competition. As Economic Developers, it’s our responsibility to fight to land these projects, in order to facilitate job creation.
Given the activity this summer, a few items became very clear to me:
1. Prioritizing Workforce Development is Paramount
Many of the leads that we’ve seen are driven by access to moderately skilled labor. We are in a position to service most industrial uses at scale because we have sites that are either approved or going through the entitlement process that can accommodate requirements ranging from 50,000 square feet to 1.2 million square feet. Our site inventory is powerful, but for us to emerge out of a competitive Northeast, we must drive a dynamic workforce development and training agenda that stands out to consultants and end-users.
2. New Jersey Companies are Taking Notice of Orange County
Recently, we’ve seen frequent project opportunities come out of New Jersey in part, driven by land constraint, high rents, and difficulty getting sites approved in a heightened NIMBY environment. We’ve prioritized building out-of-state relationships and tailoring our marketing to position Orange County as the cost-effective alternative to New Jersey, offering similar market access at a lower price per-square-foot basis. Our site advancement efforts, coupled with announcements, such as Tesla occupying the Matrix Route 300 building, have provided us with momentum and market recognition that extends beyond the Hudson Valley.
3. Clean Energy and Organic Food Manufacturing Projects are Prevalent
Given New York State’s position and policy direction focusing on decarbonization and energy transformation, we’ve seen an uptick in battery, solar, EV product, and climate control product manufacturing leads. At the same time, consumer demand that is focused on clean, organic food and beverage products has made Orange County a hotbed for project activity. Many of these leads are driven by access to high-end food markets in Northern New Jersey, Connecticut and New York City. Given land constraints in those markets, we’ve emerged as a strategic location to produce and distribute food products.
4. Plastic Production is on the Rise
Following our announcement of Poly Craft Industries’ intention to construct a 100,000-square-foot plastic printing and manufacturing facility, we’ve worked on four additional plastic production leads. We are in deep discussions with two companies seeking to relocate their plastic manufacturing operations in Orange County with an opportunity to create 300 jobs between both projects. As we continue to announce “big names” in the plastic sector, the tri-state plastic market is taking notice.
While incentives aren’t a panacea, they remain the great equalizer as we compete with other states and countries to attract projects. Clearly, the Governor of the State of New York continues to focus on enhancing New York’s competitive edge through establishing an array of funding and incentive programs that support economic development, site development, housing, workforce development and clean energy. These programs are key tools in our toolbelt as economic developers.
We’re enthusiastic about the project opportunities that are looking at Orange County. As spec projects become increasingly difficult to finance, we expect a slight slow-down in vertical speculative construction and a shift to more build-to-suit-driven construction activity. The good news is that the market is in expansion mode as sites continue to be advanced in the approval process. We’re confident that we’ll have tenants continuing to explore the market.