A Conversation with Laurence P. Gottlieb HVEDC President and CEO
John Jordan | August 15, 2017
The Hudson Valley’s Growing and Evolving Regional Economy
NEW WINDSOR—Real Estate In-Depth recently sat down with Laurence P. Gottlieb, president and CEO of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation based in Goshen, to discuss the key strengths of the Hudson Valley region and how HVEDC is looking to grow the regional economy.
The HVEDC is a regional economic development organization whose market area includes: Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Ulster, Dutchess and Sullivan counties.
Gottlieb is a veteran economic development specialist. Before joining HVEDC in February 2013, Gottlieb had amassed 25 years of experience as a senior advisor to CEOs, government leaders and non-profit executives. In his last position as Director of Economic Development for Westchester County, Gottlieb was responsible for nearly $500 million in new business expansion and attraction projects, working with high-profile firms including: PepsiCo, IBM, Atlas Air, Dannon, Sabra Dipping, Acorda Therapeutics, OrthoNet, Regeneron and Lifetime Fitness.
It was in his post as head of economic development in Westchester County where he and then HVEDC President Mike Oates formed HVEDC’s first industry cluster: NY BioHud Valley to market the region as a mecca for biotechnology and biopharmaceutical firms. Since then, HVEDC has formed a number of other industry clusters: 3-D Printing, the Food & Beverage Alliance, EDs & MEDs (health care and higher education), Hudson Valley Play (amusement, gaming and recreational industries) Hudson Valley Economic Development Network (a cluster geared to encourage continued business education and training to enhance economic development throughout the region) and Talent.
Real Estate In-Depth: Your organization’s main mission is based on the concept of regionalism. Do you believe regionalism is a key to the growth of the Hudson Valley and if so, can you give some examples of how individual counties or municipalities have embraced regionalism for the betterment of the overall Hudson Valley economy?
Gottlieb: For regionalism to work and work well you need two components. One is that you need each individual county to feel and to know that they have their own identity; that they understand clearly their own strengths and weaknesses because each county does have a different personality and has different assets. The second component is that you need all of us to pull together because the similarities are greater than the differences. So, when you are competing with other parts of the country in trying to grow certain industries, people within those industries look towards a healthy eco-system that is going to nourish that industry rather than just one-off, one business feeling isolated.
And so when you point to some of the great success stories throughout the region, Regeneron (Pharmaceuticals) for example, Regeneron feeds off the region. The people that work for Regeneron live within the region. Regeneron, when they talk about quality of life it is not just Westchester where the company is located, they talk about the region. They will talk about the craft beverage (industry), the food, the farms, the hiking, the biking, the trails, the shopping and the restaurants. But, it is not limited to Westchester County, it is really a regional perspective, especially when it comes to quality of life. So, the best part of regionalism is pulling out those components, which nourish both the individual counties and those industries and the businesses within those industries.
Real Estate In-Depth: How do you see the Hudson Valley economy performing right now and what are the major impediments to its growth?
Gottlieb: Specific to this very moment in time we are very well positioned. We did very, very well coming out of the recession and there are a lot of reasons for that. But, we certainly didn’t fall that far during the downturn, so the climb back up wasn’t as high as other parts of the country. The unemployment level in the Hudson Valley is if not the lowest, it is among the lowest in New York State, which means more people are working and more companies are expanding in this area because of the feeling that we are operating on more accelerant than other parts of New York State. So there is something exciting happening in the Hudson Valley.
With that said the challenge is always when you get down to those low unemployment levels is that clearly there are folks that feel disconnected from all the positives that are going on in the economy. The question really becomes how do you get those people that feel disconnected, connected somehow into the economy and has your unemployment level reached such a low number that companies end up being challenged in terms of 1) finding talent and 2) when you have low unemployment rates, wages will increase and so can companies afford to again reset wage levels for their companies to be able to find the talent and pay them what the talent is asking for?
On top of that the technological changes that are going on present another challenge. We are starting to go through this period where competition is heating up. The need to invest heavily in new technologies is hitting a new cycle. And you see this in the broader economy, but now you are starting to see that more in the local and regional economies—even small businesses needing to be part of mobile commerce are redesigning their websites so that they work more efficiently on mobile phones. All of the sum total of that is investment—you have to reinvest back in your business…
So we are doing quite well compared to many other regions in the state, but for us to get to the next level is going to take significantly more investment—greater investment in talent, infrastructure, you name it, this is the investment period right now.
Real Estate In-Depth: At your recent Disruptor event, one overarching theme from the program seemed a genuine need by both conventional businesses as well as the new emerging high-tech companies to attract key talent? Will that be one of your key initiatives going forward at HVEDC?
Gottlieb: The reason we launched the Hudson Valley Talent initiative was to brig up the issue of talent. We saw this happening quite some time ago and before it was being covered in the newspapers and before it was being discussed throughout the region, a lot of the mantra for the past few years has been: “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” and so for the past two years I would say, three years even, we have been going out saying we need to start moving from Jobs, Jobs, Jobs to “Talent, Talent, Talent.” That it is really about skills development and really fine-tuning the individuals that are out there to make sure they have the skill sets to fill those open positions. And there are a fair amount of open positions out there.
Normally in economic development a lot of the discussion is bring in a company to create jobs, well at some point you then get to a situation where you have a lot of unfilled jobs and the question is who are filling those jobs—Hudson Valley residents or people coming from outside the area finding employment?
Real Estate In-Depth: What type of jobs are open right now?
Gottlieb: There are a lot of jobs open in health care. There are a lot of jobs open in the IT (information technology) area. You dig down into engineering firms, into advanced manufacturing where there is a greater skill set required, STEM-based companies are looking for people with STEM-based careers.
Then there are those industries that are growing, the culinary area for example, thousands of jobs are going to be open over the next few years because more places are offering food than they did before. If you think about it, every supermarket now is opening up a full fresh food area. Where are the cooks coming from to fill those positions? The requirements for these positions require culinary training, not just, “Here is how you work the fryer.” You are talking about more advanced culinary skills and where is that talent coming from?
So it is becoming more nuanced that just here is a job opening and somebody with limited skill can be trained in a day or two to fill that position. We are kind of moving beyond that and then you have other things happening like the Lyfts and the Ubers and the on-demand economy and opportunities there and do those become the new low-skilled jobs or do they become more higher-skilled based on the nature of those positions? We just don’t know yet.
Real Estate In-Depth: An emerging sector in the Hudson Valley is a niche tourism cluster that you have identified as ‘Play,” which I understand covers a wide gamut of users, including the Resort World Catskills casino resort currently under construction, the possible development of LEGOLAND New York and a host of others. Can you quickly identify some of these major projects and how this sector will benefit the region as a whole in the future?
Gottlieb: You mentioned some of the great projects currently underway. I don’t think people fully comprehend the level of which this becomes an economic multiplier for the region and why these projects are so critical. You are talking about the transformation of the Route 17 corridor into one of the most exciting corridors in the whole Northeast corridor. That is an amazing transformation. I think people kind of look at it piecemeal. They see Woodbury Common (Premium Outlet), they see the gaming resort (Resorts World Catskills casino) and they see LEGOLAND New York as separate pieces, but really they kind of meld together into a comprehensive piece. So it becomes far more a regional asset and even a Northeast asset than just these individual projects that are doing well by themselves. And so the offshoots of that are very exciting because that is going to feed the craft beverage, the specialty food, hospitality, other shopping venues and the Walkway over the Hudson.
You add to that the more nuanced pieces. Other existing assets start to re-invest in themselves, for example, like the Castle in Chester, just down the road (from the proposed LEGOLAND New York project), is making investments in new buildings and new things that people will enjoy there. I don’t know if they would have made that investment if these other pieces weren’t coming together.
You also start to get new hotels and with hotels come gas stations, Quick-Marts and other facilities. Then health care doubles down because they see an expansion of the worker base, then there’s workforce housing and the new workers that live in those new homes spend money.
Then you look over in Dutchess County at the Sports Kingdome project (currently under construction in East Fishkill). Anyone that has children that are in athletics are always dying, especially in the wintertime, for practice fields. The Kingdome project is one of the largest in the country, not just the Hudson Valley. So, you are going to have thousands of people coming from pretty far stretches to use that facility. And so that becomes a game changer…
Editor’s Note: Gottlieb also mentioned other notable projects in Ulster County, such as actress Mary Stewart Masterson’s proposal to develop television and film studios in Kingston, as well as a health wellness center resort at the former Nevele resort as other major projects in the works.
You start to see all these pieces and again HVEDC’s job is to always look at the bigger picture as to how all these pieces are coming together versus just separate projects. The clusters that we have developed are to look at things holistically rather than just one-off projects.