Orange County Eco. Summit Focuses on Growing Tourism, Hospitality & Film Production Sectors
John Jordan | September 20, 2023
MIDDLETOWN—More than 300 people attended the second annual Orange County Economic Summit on Friday, Sept. 15 which focused on the county’s high-growth tourism, hospitality and film production industries.
The program, held at Orange Hall at the SUNY Orange campus in Middletown, featured presentations and panel discussions by a host of political and economic development leaders, as well as local and national experts in the respective tourism, hospitality and film production industries.
Orange County Director of Economic Development Steve Gross began the summit program by stating that an “influx of tourists has brought about a myriad of economic benefits that ripple through our community, creating jobs, stimulating local business and boosting our overall economy.”
His comments were right on the mark and well-timed. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced just two days earlier that New York State welcomed a record 291.5 million visitors in 2022, the largest number of visitors in New York State’s history, generating more than $78.6 billion in direct spending and $123 billion in total economic impact. These figures represent staggering increases over 2021 and surpassed the previous records set in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism is very big business in Orange County, according to the latest data. Orange County Director of Tourism & Film Amanda Dana at the Orange County Summit reported that according to state data, tourism had a $1.1-billion economic impact in Orange County in 2022, generating $394 million in labor employment income; $95 million in local taxes and another $59 million in state taxes.
Traveler spending in 2022 in Orange County posted a 22.3% increase over 2021, according to data compiled by Tourism Economics. The tourism sector employed more than 8,000 direct workers in 2022. In the Hudson Valley last year, tourism generated a total of 51,241 jobs, 6.1% of all jobs within the region.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus told the gathering that thanks to continued strong business attraction efforts, and a marked increase in tourism, he plans to unveil a 2023 budget that includes the lowest county taxes since the 1960s.
At the Orange County Summit, Dana unveiled new marketing videos and also introduced the Tourism and Hospitality Panel that featured: Dave Mistretta, general manager of Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley; Stephanie Johnson, divisional director, LEGOLAND New York in Goshen; Sonny Patel, owner of Beer World and the recently opened Aspire Brewing of Middletown and Eric Ridley, chairman of the Board of the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association. Mistretta and Johnson detailed expansion plans in the works at Woodbury Common and LEGOLAND New York, respectively.
Gross also introduced a promotional video entitled “Why Orange County is the Place to Turbo Charge Your Business.”
A second panel discussion covered the Film & Production sector that was moderated by Gross. Among the panelists was Summer Crockett Moore of Umbra Stages & Choice Films, which is also engaged in a major expansion of its sound and film stage facilities at the former Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor.
The program also included keynote speakers Josiah Brown, president and CEO of Famous Destination Marketing and Yoni Bokser, executive director of the New York State Office of Motion Picture & Television Development.
Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of The Orange County Partnership, stressed that Orange County’s economic development team, which includes Gross, Dana, as well as the Orange County Industrial Development Agency and others, work well together to foster new business to Orange County.
“Our team of economic development specialists, we truly do work hand-in-hand,” Halahan said. She noted that many counties in New York State do not operate in a cooperative manner like Orange County does. “I am very proud and privileged to work with a team that really rows in the same direction and the only way that we can sustain our economy is through economic development, which includes increasing tax ratables from companies coming in and fostering job creation,” she said.
Halahan introduced keynote speaker Brown who discussed the changing demographics and growth forces impacting the tourism-destination sector. In fact, he theorized that economic development policies and tourism are intertwined with one another.
“If your community is not a place that young people want to visit, it’s not a place young people want to live,” Brown said. “Let’s flip that around. If your destination is a place young people love to visit, it will be a place young people will want to live.”
He said that part of an ongoing generational shift is that people are choosing where they want to live before they choose where they want to work.
Another economic development-related news item coming out of the summit was when SUNY Orange President Dr. Kristine Young announced the hiring of Dr. Jean Leandre to fill the newly created leadership position of Vice President for Workforce, Strategy, and Innovation effective that morning.
Dr. Young said in a press release announcing Dr. Leandre’s hire, “Under his leadership, we will create and enhance local partnerships, develop academic and training programs to better serve the varied employment and educational needs of those within our community, and support economic development within the greater Hudson Valley.
Most recently, Dr. Leandre was the founding dean of career and professional development at Rockland Community College. He has 15 years of experience in higher education, with stops at Mohawk Valley Community College, Bronx Community College and the SUNY North Bronx Career Counseling & Outreach Center. He is a product of the SUNY system, having earned an associate’s degree at Mohawk Valley and a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Institute of Technology. Additionally, he acquired his master’s degree in human services, as well as both an Ed.S. and an Ed.D. in educational leadership, from Liberty University.