5 Ways to Find the Westchester Business Advantage
Janet T. Langsam is firm in her belief that “the most critical thing for any corporation is a happy and satisfied employee pool.”
“I think Westchester offers that base,” she adds, “because it has the rich cultural life that is attractive to people who seriously seek
a well-rounded lifestyle.”
Langsam is CEO of ArtsWestchester, the largest private, not-for-profit arts council in New York State, so she has the opportunity to witness firsthand how programs, services and other resources can enrich the lives of people living and working in Westchester County.
Westchester has become one of America’s most dynamic markets by leveraging a variety of attributes, ranging from an extraordinary workforce talent pool and infrastructure to business-friendly energy programs and government incentives. Add to this a fabulous quality of life, unbeatable access to the New York City metropolitan area and extensive business resources available countywide, and it quickly becomes evident why so many forward-looking companies – start-ups and Fortune 50 businesses alike – come here.
Take a look at these five reasons why Westchester County has a definite advantage:
1. Capitalizing on Intellectual Capital
Director of the Professional Development Center at the county’s largest educational
institution, Westchester Community College.
Harry Horowitz, Director of the Professional Development Center at the county’s largest educational institution, Westchester Community College, says the region’s advantages go beyond convenient New York City access to include a quick commute from virtually every Ivy League university and the majority of northeastern research centers.
“This portion of the U.S. attracts an unusually rich base of intellectual capital,” he says. “And these people tend to stay and work here. Having easy access to them would be a plus for any company involved in innovative work.”
Horowitz says he works with corporations to design effective employee training programs. “We act as a small profit center within the college delivering corporate training to everyone from small entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies.” This, he says, is part of the mission as Westchester educational institutions and county government work together with a variety of firms to enhance customer service, provide vital technical and computer training, and deliver essential leadership development.
Cindy Rubino, Campus Operating Officer, Berkeley College, Westchester, shares these goals. Since the campus is situated right in the heart of the White Plains business district, Rubino says, “We keep in tune with the business community and are determined to prepare the workforce they need.”
To that end, all Berkeley graduates are required to participate in an internship program. “Everyone gains valuable experience,” Rubino observes, “and many of those who do locate positions as students retain them after graduation.”
“We feel we’re an economic development engine on our own,” she adds. “We definitely try to connect current and former students, and those taking specialized training, with positions Westchester County firms need to fill.”
2. The Right Place at the Right Time
At its core, Westchester’s appeal can be neatly summed up by the old adage “location, location, location.”
With New York City just to the south and Fairfield County, Conn., on its northeast border, the 450-square-mile county has been able to maintain much of its rural charm even as the population nears one million residents. And traveling to and from Westchester has never been more convenient — the county’s transportation network has undergone a complete reconstruction over the last decade, at a cost of more than $1 billion.
“Vehicular access is superb in terms of the number of major arteries that serve us,” says Christopher O’Callaghan, Senior Director of the commercial real estate brokerage and consulting firm Cushman and Wakefield. “As one example of the advantages Westchester has over Fairfield County, we have three separate and distinctive train lines compared with the single one that links New York City and Connecticut.”
The county’s network of transit choices includes more than 60 bus routes tying together key destinations throughout Westchester and providing direct service into Manhattan. There is also a SMART COMMUTE Program available free of charge that is designed to support companies whose employees are looking for alternatives to driving alone. Options range from vanpooling and alternative work schedules (flex time) to parking management strategies.
These efforts are part of a bigger picture that further emphasizes Westchester’s great location and allure. O’Callaghan, who is also Immediate Past Chairman of The Business Council of Westchester, points to “an incredibly attractive and diverse housing stock, from starter to high-end homes, and school systems that are as good as any in the country.” When all is said and done, he says, “You have a very strong case for choosing Westchester as the platform from which to conduct business.”
3. Cultural Riches for Corporations
As CEO of ArtsWestchester, Janet Langsam heads a group based in White Plains that is a promoter, fund provider and public information source for a diverse roster of 140 cultural organizations. But Langsam recalls, “When I first came here some 20 years ago, everyone thought Westchester was just a bedroom community for New York City. Now that has seriously changed.”
For proof of the county’s cultural leap forward, Langsam points to several examples: the Westchester Philharmonic, led by world-renowned artistic director Itzhak Perlman; three highly regarded museums; and art options in every town in the county. “People get involved here as audience members, volunteers and often both,” she says. “They no longer feel they have to travel to Manhattan in order to fulfill all of their cultural needs.”
Without mincing words, Langsam stresses, “Corporations and the people who work for them don’t want to live in ‘Mudville.’ ” Instead, businesses seek out cultural amenities that are important to a comprehensive lifestyle and education.
According to Langsam, “County government has been a major supporter and enabler of this kind of rich environment — PepsiCo, IBM and their ilk understand how critical having a solid cultural base is when they look for talent to fill critical positions. The same thing certainly should be pertinent to other firms, regardless of their size.”
Any discussion of cultural outlets in the area must include Manhattanville College, a private, liberal arts facility located in Purchase that placed among the 2010 Princeton Review’s Top 20 for both “Best College Theater” and “Best College Radio Station.” Molly Easo Smith, Manhattanville’s President, says corporate recruiters in Westchester County have a leg up on other areas because of the quality of life. “Families locating here have ready access to the arts, and a major contributor is the colleges’ theatre, dance and music programs,” she says.
Elizabeth Bracken Thompson is Vice President and Partner at Thompson and Bender, an advertising and public relations firm in Briarcliff Manor. She agrees that quality of life is “very near the top of the list” for companies deciding whether to relocate. Fortunately, according to Thompson, “Westchester has plenty to offer, including great public schools, recreational possibilities and fine cultural activities.”
“Furthermore, there are some 100,000 acres of open parkland in Westchester,” she adds. “And there are more golf courses per square mile here than anywhere else in the United States!”
Top of Page: As CEO of ArtsWestchester, Janet Langsam heads a group based in White Plains that is a promoter, fund provider and public information source.
4. Putting Energy Into Infrastructure
With all of the fundamental facilities – such as transportation, energy, education and communication – in place, maintaining a solid economic infrastructure is paramount. Headquartered in White Plains, The Business Council of Westchester is visible throughout the county creating an environment conducive to doing business, particularly for entrepreneurs. As President and CEO Dr. Marsha Gordon explains, “We are the resource center that lets businesses market, learn and advocate for growth within Westchester County. We are the hub that can find the services and connect them to the correct people they need to meet.”
The Business Council’s 1,100 members represent a diverse cross-section of businesses, from major corporations to the smallest operations, as well as dozens of non-profit organizations. These entities see the link between their own success and actively supporting the Business Council’s mission.
As an example, Divney Tung Schwalbe (DTS), a 38-year-old planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm, is closely following a development trend: the conversion of empty buildings into viable new enterprises, thus returning them to the tax base. “We see a more flexible attitude on the part of the county, particularly toward incoming business,” says DTS Partner Andrew Tung. “Via adaptive re-use, we strive to create a situation where the company gets the structure it needs and the county again derives revenue from a once-again rateable building.”
Tasked with delivering efficient, cost-effective electric-service options to businesses that are either starting, expanding or relocating to the area, Deborah Patterson, Manager of Con Edison Economic Development for the Bronx and Westchester, says, “We work together with local municipalities to put together a comprehensive package of incentives targeting businesses they want to bring here.”
She continues, “Our incentive rates have two parts: Whether a new structure is being built ground-up, or whether a company has purchased a structure that has been vacant for 12 of the previous 24 months.” In the latter case, firms may be eligible for a 15-year rate reduction known as the Business Incentive Rate. Eligible structures must obtain a real estate tax abatement from the local municipality, as well as undergoing an energy audit.
“Someone thinking about Westchester should contact me to explore possible available savings,” Patterson says. “We must know the use of the space, and we will charge accordingly. After all, the key to good economic development is maximizing a package of incentives.”
Entergy, which owns and operates two Indian Point nuclear power plants, can also play a role for any business considering a move to Westchester. According to spokesperson Jim Steets, “Our million-watt plants can produce enough electricity for two million homes and businesses. And because we are nuclear, we are not affected by the energy crisis that creates problems for sources relying on oil-based fossil fuels to produce electricity. Our power costs are firm, reliable and don’t fluctuate the way prices for natural gas do.”
While Entergy is a wholesaler selling power via sources such as Con Edison, its presence, Steets says, is vital to the goal all businesses share: keeping energy supply constant while maintaining rates as low as possible.
5. An Enhanced Environment
Westchester is particularly fertile for firms selling green initiatives, not to mention businesses looking to help the environment and conserve their own energy expenditures.
At Synergis Zero Waste Group, President Neil Cutler offers guidance on energy and water conservation, waste reduction, land use and the best cleaning supplies to employ.
He explains, “We work with organizations to help them reduce the amount of waste they generate and to lower their costs.” Finding better ways to deal with their garbage while also training employees to better handle construction debris are tasks Synergis performs at manufacturing and retail sites, schools, airports and offices.
Cutler also instructs businesses on strategies for re-using toner cartridges and the best ways to recycle paper products. Pointing to waste reduction, Cutler emphasizes that firms need to bring less packaging material into their facilities, especially if it just exits the building as garbage or rubbish a short while later. “It just doesn’t make sense for firms to pay for this material both entering and being removed,” he emphasizes.
For Jason Black, Director of Architecture and Sustainability at Reckson, a division of S L Green, Inc., it’s all about sustainability. His firm, which he says is the largest commercial property landlord operator in Westchester and Fairfield counties, is a strong believer in the dollars and cents value of environmental efforts.
Among projects Reckson has initiated is the recycling of scrap metal, ceiling tile and carpet. “To date, we have taken 800,000 square feet of used carpeting, which otherwise would have become 225,000 tons of debris headed to landfills, and had it broken down into reusable plastic,” Black says. “This, in turn, was recycled into new nylon products, and plastic components for new cars.”
He also describes lighting retrofits that cost $1.2 million but generated $500,000 in annual energy savings for one of his tenants. “We create better buildings and work environments where both the tenants and the landlords benefit,” Black says. “The more energy efficient the building is, the lower its operating costs, and therefore the more competitive a firm can be in its marketplace.”
Support From the Ground Up
The Westchester County Office of Economic Development and The Business Council of Westchester work along with many other programs that are available to help Westchester businesses grow. One such resource is the New York State Small Business Development Center, where Business Advisor Louis Scamardella says, “We have expertise on Small Business Administration programs and work very closely with local governments to determine what is available to assist small businesses, primarily start-up efforts.”
The Small Business Development Center works to create jobs, help firms get SBA loans and assist businesses with market research so that they can better grasp what they need in order to start or expand their businesses. The center is located within The Business Council of Westchester offices in White Plains, but Scamardella emphasizes, “You don’t have to be a member in order to see me!”
Additional valuable resources are Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) set up by the state in areas where incentives can be put in place to encourage businesses to stay or begin operations. The Westchester County IDA has provided more than 100 organizations and companies with benefits totaling more than $200 million in the past quarter-century. Ellen Lynch, head of the Yonkers IDA (other communities with IDAs include New Rochelle, Peekskill and Mount Vernon) says that benefits for companies that relocate in her area can include tax exemptions such as a mortgage recording tax, and reduced or eliminated sales taxes and taxes on building materials. “For certain types of projects, we can issue tax exempt bonds,” Lynch says. “Clearly all of these can make a real difference to any incoming company’s bottom line.”
She stresses, “We regularly work with people who, without our assistance, would not be coming here. That keeps us in play as we compete to boost our business roster with southern states, and even New Jersey or Connecticut.”
The IDA has supported projects such as an expansion of Macy’s, the Cross County Shopping Center, and a Marriott and Hampton Inn in the Southwestern Executive Park. In addition, a wide range of bonds have been made available for developers of quality, affordable housing in Yonkers.
Potential employers can also get assistance from other programs. “Westchester County has many resources to help companies looking to hire,” says Westchester Community College Professional Development Center Director Harry Horowitz. “One of these is the One-Stop Employment Center, which can easily match employee staffing needs with a corps of people they might want to consider hiring.”
For more information on the Westchester County One-Stop Employment Center, go to www.westchesterputnamonestop.com.
[ RESOURCE BOX ]
Look here for more information about organizations mentioned in the “Business Assets” section: