E-Commerce, Biotech, Healthcare, Cannabis Will ‘Reimagine Westchester’
John Jordan | October 21, 2021
A panel of experts charged with identifying the industries that will reimagine Westchesteridentified a host of emerging sectors, including e-commerce, cannabis legalization, adaptive reuse, as well as the biosciences and health care as the catalysts for economic growth in the coming years in Westchester County.
One industry expert predicts that Tarrytown-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals will lead the growth of the bioscience and healthcare sectors in the county in the years to come, similar to the way IBM dominated the technology sector in Westchester beginning about 50 years ago.
The virtual program hosted by The Fordham Real Estate Institute and The Business Council of Westchester on Sept. 17, was moderated by Dr. Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester.
The panel featured Matthew Claster, Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development, Clarapath, Hawthorne; Bridget Gibbons, Director of Economic Development, Westchester County; Guy Leibler, President, Simone Healthcare Development, Simone Development Companies, Bronx; Connie Levene, President, CONRI Services, Hawthorne; Serge Reda, Chair, Real Estate Development Curriculum Committee and Adjunct Professor, Fordham Real Estate Institute, New York City; Justin Singer, Partner, Feuerstein Kulick LLP, New York City and Andrew S. Weisz, Executive Vice President, RPW Group Inc., Rye Brook.
Simone Healthcare’s Leibler, discussed how the health care sector will continue to evolve over the next decade. “Dealing with COVID-19 has made everyone smarter,” Leibler said. “Health care and life sciences will merge, and research from the bench needs to get to the bedside. Health care will remain a very important component of our economy in Westchester. We need to support that, bring in labor—we’ve seen a tremendous amount of nursing and physician burnout. That needs to be recognized and rebuilt.”
When asked by moderator Gordon what impact fast growing Regeneron Pharmaceuticals will have on the county and whether the Tarrytown-based firm will have a similar impact as IBM had on the county decades earlier, Leibler responded, “There is every reason to believe that Regeneron will act as the beacon, the 800-pound gorilla, that IBM served in Westchester in the 1960s and 1970s. I think we will see talent and leadership being brought into Regeneron and then we will see that talent spun-out of Regeneron.”
He added that growth in the biosciences and health care sectors will come in two different pieces—the first being spinoffs from Regeneron that will grow their operations in Westchester. The second piece will be Regeneron serving as “the instigator” for other similar biotech and pharmaceutical firms to locate in the county in order to collaborate with Regeneron and other firms in that cluster.
Gibbons noted the resiliency of Westchester’s business community and cited some of the innovative programs the county launched during the pandemic, including a $14-million grant to help companies recover. The county has thus far awarded nearly 300 companies grants of up to $42,000 each. A recent county study of the program found that the grants resulted in a total of $18 million in economic impact, including $7 million in earnings preserved and $11 million of in-county spending.
“Our Westchester businesses are so smart. It’s amazing how they have pivoted, adapted, used grant money and found other ways to keep their businesses going,” Gibbons said and pointed to a Department of Labor report showing the metro area, which includes Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties, had the third-highest growth rate in the state, at 6.1%, comparing August 2021 with August 2020. The hospitality sector, which was battered by COVID-19, is seeing a resurgence and posted a 28.3% growth rate in August 2021 as compared to 12 months earlier.
Gibbons also pointed to the county’s “Launch 1000” initiative, which provides Westchester residents the tools to start their own business. To date more than 600 residents have participated in the program and recently approximately 50 people graduated from the program and the firms they have launched are already generating revenue, she noted.
Clarapath, a medical robotics company in Hawthorne, recently expanded into Westchester. Claster cited aspects needed to support and encourage more innovation. “It comes down to incentives,” Claster said. “The county has done a fabulous job with incentives—opportunities for grants, recruitment support. A lot of people want these types of tenants—the sector is hot—but landlords need to be prepared because we’re not traditional tenants. We require specialized space, power, ‘clean’ rooms – it’s a big endeavor. If landlords want to attract the companies, they’ve got to put in the investment.”
Fordham Professor Reda, who also works in the development division of Cedar Realty Trust, a publicly traded REIT, discussed retail and industrial real estate. “The rise of e-commerce, combined with COVID, has altered the retail and industrial real estate dynamic dramatically,” Reda said, explaining how retailers have been moving to an omni-channeling strategy that pairs an online purchase with an in-store experience. “Industrial real estate has been functioning a little more like retail real estate, and COVID is accelerating the retail and industrial sectors blurring together. This trend will require an adjustment to many current zoning regulations.”
Levene said Westchester County is well-positioned for companies like CONRI Services, which shifted its initial business model from printing to warehousing and distribution. “One of the great strengths of Westchester is its labor pool,” Levene said. “Westchester has a highly qualified skilled and hourly labor pool, which I attribute to the quality of the educational systems. That competency has allowed us to grow significantly and add to the complexity our systems and the way we manage our business.”
Another emerging sector in Westchester is cannabis and Feuerstein Kulick’s Singer noted opportunities for growth. “All eyes are on New York right now,” said Singer, referring to the recent passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act that legalized recreational cannabis in New York. “This is poised to be a huge, multibillion-dollar market and there’s a ton of opportunity within Westchester and a ton of interest from clients across the country who want to bring their brand and their operations to this area.”
In terms of Westchester’s office market, RPW Group’s Weisz noted county government and local municipalities are “embracing more diversified uses.”
“We’ve seen Wegman’s open, Life Time (athletic resort) open, we see the growth of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and, lately, residential development,” said Weisz. “As importantly, we’ve seen a great influx of new families, young families, and a lot of these folks are looking to work closer to home. That’s who companies are looking to hire—to retain and hire good talent, and also get employees back in the office. We’re bullish about Westchester and where we’re headed.”
The Presenting Sponsor for “Reimagining Westchester: E-commerce, Distribution, Cannabis, Health, Biotech, Real Estate and Infrastructure to Support Future Growth” was Wells Fargo. Contributing sponsors included the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, Westchester County, Rand Commercial, RM Friedland and Simone Development Companies.