Business Council Issues Recommendations For County to Spend $188M in COVID Funds

John Jordan | September 9, 2021

WHITE PLAINS—The Business Council of Westchester’s Economic Recovery Task Force has issued a number of far-reaching recommendations to Westchester County on how to spend approximately $188 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan to help foster economic development and continued recovery from the coronavirus.

The report issued on Sept. 8 included hundreds of recommendations covering a host of industry sectors culled from participants at a virtual State of the Economy Town Hall meeting held on Aug. 19 with its membership. The report will be officially presented to Westchester County Executive George Latimer for a public hearing to be held on Sept. 14.

Among some of the numerous recommendations included providing funding for affordable and veterans housing, the repurposing of shuttered hotels and outdated office buildings and improvements to existing life science and advanced manufacturing facilities. The Task Force also recommended the Westchester County Center be converted to a state-of-the art sports and convention center and the county support the development of a satellite Westchester Community College campus in Yonkers.

“Overall, we were very impressed with the variety of creative and exciting recommendations and ideas we received from our members,” Business Council of Westchester President and CEO Marsha Gordon stated in the report. She noted that more than 80 members participated in the Town Hall meeting.

The report included recommendations covering major industries in Westchester, including: Life Sciences & Advanced Manufacturing, Job Training, Broadband, Clean Energy, Child Care, Healthcare, Education, Seniors, Non‑Profits, Youth, Housing, Tourism & Travel, Transportation, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Urban Planning, Parks & Recreation, Retail & Hospitality and the Arts.

Among the key recommendations impacting the real estate and economic development sectors included:

Housing

• Launch a new program called “Tiny Town” that would provide training the next generation of home builders with a fully funded, tiny home construction facility located on the campus of Westchester Community College. Tiny Town will include the tools, materials, instructors, and equipment necessary for educating participants on how to design, build and sell tiny homes. Several homes will be installed on the campus to provide living spaces for the participants while learning their trade. Eventually, the sale of the homes will provide enough revenue to make the program self-sustaining.

• Create “Power to the People,” a grant fund that will pay for 75% of the cost for installing electric car recharging stations at large residential properties throughout Westchester County.

• Launch a $10-million revolving loan fund to support the development of multifamily rental units for individuals and families earning up to 60% of the area’s median income. The idea is based upon a similar successful loan fund started in Denver, to address a similar lack of affordable housing.

• Start a low-to-no interest loan $5 million fund called “Welcome Home” that would assist returning military veterans to purchase a home in Westchester County.

The fund would be managed by the Westchester County Veterans Services Agency and a small group of volunteer local bank professionals. The fund will provide the loans as well as additional services to assist the veterans in making a successful transition to home ownership.

• Westchester County’s IDA to offer every affordable housing developers a subscription to NYC-based ESUSU, which provides a digital platform for capturing and reporting rental data to credit bureaus so residents can build credit while helping the developers increase their cash flow and reduce their costs. The subscription will provide access to the platform for both the developer, as well as to each renter for as long as they are renting within a participating property.

• The bulk of the housing money for the American Rescue Funding is earmarked for rental assistance and mortgage assistance. It’s vital that the money flows more smoothly, the report noted. However, if there was a program that would incentivize landlords, especially small landlords, to make property improvements, that could be very impactful. A good amount of money is earmarked to infrastructure improvements. This would be infrastructure improvements for rental buildings which have been slammed by the fallout from the pandemic.

Life Sciences & Advanced Manufacturing

• Matching recruitment funding grants for STEM-businesses. The county to provide matching grants to fledgling firms to assist in the recruitment and hiring of new employees (higher amounts for recruitment efforts of people of color) which may come in the form of digital ads, participating in recruitment fairs, offsetting travel costs, attending on-campus recruit fairs, etc.

• Westchester County to upgrade and consolidate all of their laboratory facilities (health, environmental, crime) into one brand new facility with 20,000 of additional laboratory and office space for small life sciences companies.

•Westchester County to use its own real estate resources to convert County-owned properties into maker/light industrial subsidized spaces for private industry in the advanced manufacturing sector.

• Repurposing hotels which have recently closed to be used as housing for 100 summer interns who would be hired by STEM-based small to midsize companies.

The report also issued recommendations for other key economic sectors:

Broadband

• Provide a $1-million economic development grant to all 48 municipalities in Westchester County to be used specifically on expanding digital infrastructure for business attraction or retention.

Education

• Westchester County to provide scholarships to local municipalities to send government officials, employees, board members, etc. to economic development certification courses and conferences on a variety of topics such as business attraction and retention, main street revitalization, rezoning, etc.

• Financial support for new WCC Branch Campus at Yonkers—‚$1 million for capital expenses.

Job Training

• Support a BCW initiative that would create a public/private partnership to help train apprentices who would get on-the-job training with local construction firms. The initiative would create local jobs and fill a need for construction industry workers.

Tourism & Travel

• Convert the Westchester County Center into a state-of-the art sports and convention center that would attract tourism and business to boost the County’s economy.

• Fund marketing campaigns to boost tourism and help the struggling hospitality sector that was hit hard by the pandemic.

Transportation

• Support a major BCW initiative to enhance, not expand, Westchester County Airport to serve the traveling public, business and the general community. Steps need to be taken to assure the successful future of this essential transportation, workforce and economic development hub for the county, the report stated.

Urban Planning

• Invest in developing a countywide initiative to assist municipalities in analyzing how to redesign urban neighborhoods as micro-cities, where residents’ needs (living, working, shopping, entertainment) exist within a 15-minute trip by foot or bike.

• Provide low-interest loans to companies interested in developing urban/indoor farms within Westchester County’s largest cities utilizing properties that are currently abandoned or currently designed for another use such as an office building.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth