County Looks to Create New Vision for Economic Development

John Jordan | August 15, 2018

Director of Operations, Joan McDonald

WHITE PLAINS—Officials with the Latimer Administration say they plan to be engaged with the business community and other stakeholders to pivot the county’s economic development efforts to the needs of both small and large businesses in Westchester.

Since taking office in January, the county’s Office of Economic Development and its Industrial Development Agency and Local Development Corp. have seen a host of new development projects seeking county assistance, including a plan for $300-million senior housing development at SUNY Purchase and major mixed-use projects in Downtown White Plains by Lennar Multifamily on a site on Mamaroneck Ave. and a transformative mixed-use development on Westchester Avenue called “The Collection.” The $136-million project, to be built across the street from the Westchester mall by Sabre Chauncy, WP, LLC will feature 276 units of rental housing and nearly 25,000 square feet of retail space.

At press time, the county’s economic development efforts are being led by Director of Operations Joan McDonald and Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons. Westchester County Executive George Latimer told Real Estate In-Depth that he expects to name a new Executive Director of the Office of Economic Development in the near future.

The Office of Economic Development is currently developing a new marketing campaign that it hopes to launch in the spring of 2019.

McDonald and Gibbons said that since taking office the administration has undertaken a number of initiatives, including meeting with real estate developers and brokers and other business leaders to help determine priorities.

They both stressed that in addition to the work of the IDA and LDC, which seeks to provide assistance to business and non-profit organizations respectively, the county is focused on assisting small businesses. Gibbons related that 80% of the businesses in Westchester employ 10 workers or less.

As part of that effort, the county staged its first “Westchester Incubator Summit” earlier this month, which was highly successful and generated a host of opinions on how Westchester could foster additional incubator operations in the county.

In addition, as part of an outreach effort to make non-profits aware of the LDC’ benefits, Gibbons said the county met with representatives of approximately 40 non-profits and based on those sessions, she expects five or six projects to come before the LDC based on those meetings.

Deputy Director, Bridget Gibbons

Gibbons related that the county’s economy is in good shape as it enters the third quarter of 2018. The unemployment rate in Westchester as of May 2018 was 3.8%, down from 4.3% a year earlier. Private sector job growth in the Hudson Valley increased by 12,700 positions to 822,100, the highest total for any month since January 1990.

Gibbons said the administration is “thrilled” with the low unemployment rate and while pleased with the private sector job growth, is hoping to increase job creation going forward. She noted the top industries for job growth in the county have been education, health services, leisure and hospitality.

She noted that the low unemployment rate, while good news, also presents a challenge to county government and the business community to develop programs in economic development to attract and retain young talent, as well as talent that is returning to the workforce.

“Among the things we are doing include developing a new website, and a new branding and marketing campaign to really reach out to our young talent that is going to resonate with them that paints a picture of what a great place Westchester is to live work and play,” Gibbons said.

She said that research has shown that the sought-after millennial demographic desires to live and work in small cities and Westchester offers a host of these environments for young talent.

“They can have a better lifestyle, a bigger apartment, for less rent and still be less than 30 minutes from the city,” Gibbons related.

McDonald added that in her experience the key drivers to corporate location decisions for both large and small businesses are access to talent, affordability, cultural institutions and open space.

She added that statistically 34% of the workforce works remotely either full-time or part time, “The fact that many of our cities are a half an hour from Grand Central is a huge advantage,” McDonald stressed.

The Office of Economic Development’s biggest challenge Gibbons adds, “Is to get the word out on what a great lifestyle you can have here as a young person. I think Westchester is sometimes seen as the place your parents live and where you go to raise kids.”

On the commercial real estate side, feedback from commercial brokers has been that there is a short supply of quality commercial office space in downtown districts near transportation, while there continues to be an oversupply of Class B or outdated office space in mostly suburban locales.

One possible means for the county to help remedy this situation is to offer commercial landlords IDA assistance to foster capital investment to upgrade Class B properties, Gibbons noted.

Editor’s Note: Westchester County Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons will be the guest speaker at the Sept. 17 meeting of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors’ Commercial Investment Division meeting to be held at the HGAR offices in White Plains at 1 Maple Ave. The session will begin at 9 a.m.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth