Five Questions With Marsha Gordon President, CEO Business Council of Westchester
John Jordan | August 18, 2022
RYE BROOK—In 2001, Dr. Marsha Gordon took the reins of The Business Council of Westchester. In those more than 20 years, she has increased the organization’s membership and elevated its reputation as a respected business advocacy organization not only in Westchester, but in the Hudson Valley and throughout the state.
With the specter of a possible recession on some economic forecasters’ radar, Real Estate In-Depth thought Dr. Gordon could provide some perspective on some of the key issues facing the Business Council’s membership in 2022 and beyond and whether they believe a deep downturn or recession is in the cards in 2022 or 2023.
Dr. Gordon’s credentials also include serving as President of the Greater Southern Dutchess Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, she served as President of Build the Bridge Now, which helped fast track the building of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Dr. Gordon has served on several boards including on the executive committee of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Council, the Business Council of New York State and the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Investment Board. She holds a BA from Brooklyn College, an MBA from Marist College, and a Doctorate in Business Administration from Pace University.
Real Estate In-Depth: You have been President and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester since 2001. In that more than two-decade span, what would you say is the most important change that has taken place in Westchester County?
Dr. Gordon: I can really point to several things. First, the incredible growth of the urban centers in the cities and the residential building in all of the cities in Westchester and the opportunity that provides. The residential and commercial (development) and now in Yonkers with the film and video sector and the vibrancy of the cities is so different from when I came when the downtowns were dead. … Even the downtowns in the villages and towns (have improved). You look at Tarrytown and Ossining and Port Chester and some of these other locations that have become vibrant and exciting places for people to live, work and play and that is a huge change that I have seen in Westchester County.
I would also say that we have changed from a county of major corporations. While some are still here and we are thankful for that and they are a very important part of our economy, we have also become a very diversified economy with many small businesses, as well as mid-sized businesses, a thriving not-for-profit sector that is part of the economic structure and life sciences. And we cannot underestimate how these (past) 20 years have also mirrored the growth of Regeneron (Pharmaceuticals).
Also, another change is that as co-chair of the Mid-Hudson Regional Council, I have seen how that process has changed the way money has been allocated (for economic development projects) in a most positive way.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Gordon serves as Mid Hudson Regional Council co-chair along with Dr. Kristine Young, President, SUNY Orange.
Dr. Gordon also identified the growth of life sciences, and the healthcare sectors and the shift, particularly along the I-287 corridor, from large suburban office campuses to other uses. She added:
Two shifts happened. Big buildings were occupied by one corporation. This building—800 Westchester Ave. (in Rye Brook)—used to be occupied by Philip Morris. Now it is multi-tenanted thanks to Robert Weisz (the building owner) who came in and created that change at the property. Also, the shift of many of the properties along I-287, the Platinum Mile—which have become largely healthcare and mixed-use where people are living, working and playing.
Real Estate In-Depth: Do you believe affordable housing is a key issue for Westchester going forward? If so, is there anything that the Business Council is doing or advocating for with other not-for profits or business advocacy organizations that will begin to address the problem?
Dr. Gordon: So, absolutely affordable housing is a major issue. We do work with the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors. We have from a legislative point of view supported legislation to make housing more accessible, strengthen Fair Housing Laws, provide relief to tenants and building owners and expand access to homeownership. From an economic development point of view, we have our Coalition for Smart Development, which is a coalition of 17 leading (real estate) developers, who are all committed to creating more affordable housing throughout the county. This year we honored (affordable housing developer) Bill Balter at our Hall of Fame to really shine the light on affordable housing. Some years ago, we honored (MacQuesten Companies CEO) Rella Fogliano. MacQuesten’s Joe Apicella is also on our Board. So, we have people on our Board representing the housing industry. And, legislatively and from an economic development point of view we work to support affordable housing and work with the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, as well as the Building and Realty Institute.
Affordable housing will continue to be an issue. It is an issue in Westchester, it is an issue in New York City and elsewhere. It is something that the Business Council of Westchester will continue to stay highly focused on.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Gordon pointed to the Business Council’s legislative agenda for 2022 that includes its opposition to Good Cause Eviction legislation, support for the protection of independent contractor status for real estate licensees, support for the strengthening of Fair Housing Laws, support for legislation that expands access to homeownership and the opposition to any legislation that would increase state, local mortgage recording or real estate transfer taxes .
Real Estate In-Depth: What are the key issues facing Westchester businesses in 2022?
Dr. Gordon: Number one is talent recruitment. That is the number one issue—getting labor, getting people to work, figuring out this hybrid workforce and how that is going to work and shake out? Hiring employees is the number one issue and we see it in every industry from hospitality and retail on one end to professional accountants and attorneys to medical.
(In the real estate development arena) some of the hospitality workers have shifted to construction as an alternative. We are working with our Coalition for Smart Development to develop a program that will look at educational opportunities for those employed in that sector.
Real Estate In-Depth: How big is the nearly $2-billion expansion by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for the push by many to make Westchester a biotechnology hub?
Dr. Gordon: This is a game changer like we haven’t experienced. It is certainly research, but it is also advanced manufacturing and so that is going to open the door for so many other opportunities for people in Westchester County. So, we have to look at the training programs and the education programs to make sure that we are feeding Regeneron. I think the growth of Regeneron is like none other the county has ever seen. It has also changed the dynamic of people coming from other areas to work at Regeneron. The reverse commute so to speak.
So, this has made Westchester a destination for work as well as to live. We see this as the number one game changer in Westchester County in the last 20 years.
Editor’s Note: Commenting on Pfizer’s nearly $500 million expansion in Rockland County, Dr. Gordon said, “I think on either end of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, there should be a sign that says, ‘Welcome to the Biotechnology Capital of the World.’ This is where COVID was addressed and cures were found by Regeneron and Pfizer. That should link our valley together…
Real Estate In-Depth: Do you believe the Westchester economy is in recession at the moment? If not, do you believe that an economic downturn is in the cards?
Dr. Gordon: I think there is no area that is immune from what happens on a national and global level and whether we call it a recession or not we are definitely going through some tough times on every level. However, we have seen that Westchester, even during the pandemic, because we are such a diverse business community and frankly such a resilient business community, weathered the storm very well and there is no doubt in my mind that the businesses in Westchester are very well poised to face and continue to thrive with whatever comes our way. The pandemic was devasting to so many industries. For the real estate sector, it (eventually) became an opportunity and for other sectors also. I think we are an extremely resilient community and diverse enough that we can withstand tough times.