Recruiting Local Talent and Building Regional Partnerships has Far-Reaching Appeal for Westchester Businesses

Westchester County enjoys one of America’s most favorable business climates, especially in regarded to the quickly growing fields of biotechnology, healthcare, and food service and hospitality.



Dan Conte, Westchester Marriott Hotel

Photo by Bill Milne

At The Dannon Company, makers of the top-selling yogurt brand in the world, the fact that Westchester County is home to several other successful food and beverage companies leaves a good taste in the mouth of Michael Neuwirth. “We have access to a terrific talent pool for recruiting purposes,” says Dannon’s Senior Director of Public Relations.

Furthermore, it’s a diverse talent pool of high-quality candidates. Neuwirth explains, “Just because someone might not have previously worked with yogurt or dairy products, they might have experience in sales with groceries or other retailers.” He adds that a talent hunt near the company’s White Plains headquarters might also uncover skills ranging from packaging and logistics to finance and information management – the possibilities are numerous.

It’s no secret that Westchester County enjoys one of America’s most favorable business climates. The county’s unbeatable access to the New York City metropolitan area, its vast array of lifestyle amenities and its extraordinary collection of highly skilled workers are just a few of the reasons why Westchester is the ideal place to expand or relocate production facilities, distribution centers and retail outlets.

But all of this is further enhanced by something else: an entrepreneurial culture that encourages commercial interests to seek common ground and work formally or informally – with proactive government support – for the benefit of all.

Westchester County’s Office of Economic Development sees an incredible upside to this so-called “business clustering” concept. “As we emerge from the Great Recession, many business owners realize their continuing survival is dependent, in part, on forming regional partnerships that strengthen the overall economic atmosphere within which they operate,” says Laurence P. Gottlieb, the county’s Economic Development Director. “When many previously disconnected companies come together and speak with one voice, one purpose, the likelihood of success for the group is greater.”

 

Dr. Barry Kappel, ContraFect Corporation. Photo by Bill MilneBiotech​

According to Dr. Barry Kappel, Vice President of Business Development for Yonkers-based ContraFect Corporation, a biotechnology cluster directly benefits from Westchester’s fertile commercial setting. “When you have bodies such as the NY BioHud Valley initiative, member companies benefit from mass support provided by government programs,” he explains. “That’s a clear advantage over having to seek them out on their own.” 

On behalf of dozens of life science companies, NY BioHud Valley has been facilitating partnerships with county, state and federal government since 2010 to help expand these businesses and attract new ones.

The region is driven to be the “East Coast Silicon Valley,” and ContraFect is one of the key components. The four-year-old company develops novel approaches to treat infectious diseases, “particularly those that are resistant to current therapies,” Kappel explains. “We use biological approaches rather than small molecule antibiotics such as penicillin and oxacillan. By doing so, we have been able to use naturally made enzymes that have the ability to kill extremely potent bacteria. These can be increasingly dangerous as their resistance to current treatments rises. What we are doing is a completely different paradigm shift.” 

At Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a leading research and development company dedicated to discovering new pharmaceuticals, a majority of the company’s 1,800 employees work at the corporate headquarters in Tarrytown. Echoing what other biotech businesses have observed, Peter Dworkin, Vice President of Regeneron’s Investor Relations and Communications, says a prime Westchester advantage for high-tech companies is that the concentration of firms doing similar work creates a large pool of potential staff. These are people who know and appreciate that if they choose to change jobs within their fields, they’ll likely find a new position without having to leave the community.

“Another plus is that spouses of staff members, particularly those with bio/medical research or similar backgrounds, are also likely to find satisfactory employment in this area,” Dworkin notes, pointing to similar scenarios in Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Mass. and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Throughout these areas, a vast corps of skilled professionals – such as attorneys specializing in intellectual property rights – is ready to supply services to high-tech industries.

Dworkin also emphasizes Westchester’s valuable proximity to world-class bio-medical research centers and universities in Manhattan such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Rockefeller University, Columbia University, New York University and Mt. Sinai Hospital. “They provide a tremendous pool of talent available to Westchester companies,” he explains. “Indeed, many of the people we hire are local and newly minted Ph.D. and Master’s degree holders. Often they come here for their first job outside of academia.”

Another prominent company seeing significant value in cross-industry cooperation is Acorda Therapeutics, a Hawthorne-based biopharmaceutical company. As Senior Director of Corporate Communications Jeff Macdonald puts it, “We need access to the right scientific minds and academic collaborators. We need scientists who have expertise in clinical studies, and also certain kinds of preclinical tests that are needed before you even begin to conduct human trials.”

In short, Macdonald understands that biopharmaceutical companies need to be in an area “with a critical mass of people with the right skills.”

 

Dr. Simeon Schwartz, WestMed Medical Group and WestMed Practice Partners. Photo by Bill MilneHealthcare

Cooperation within the industry is also high among leading healthcare organizations such as NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division, which opened in 1894 and is one of the world’s most advanced centers for psychiatric care. 

According to Dr. Stephen Ferrando, Associate Medical Director, “We enjoy a collaborative relationship with White Plains Hospital – we provide psychiatric consultation services to the White Plains Hospital emergency room, as well as to their in-patient medical and surgical units. All of our psychiatric patients requiring medical care are transferred to White Plains Hospital for initial evaluation and, if necessary, in-patient or surgical treatment.”

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital has been partnering with Con Edison for the past 16 years on Con Edison’s Work-Home Wellness program. This program provides a broad range of counseling services, workshops and classes to Con Edison’s 14,000 employees at 10 different locations in the New York area. 

According to Alissa Kosowsky, Public and Community Affairs Manager, “We have an extensive Speakers Bureau comprised of our expert practitioners who can talk on a wide variety of behavioral and mental health topics. Our physicians, nurses, social workers and rehabilitation therapists also provide staff development training to professional organizations and schools throughout Westchester County and beyond.”  

Dr. Simeon Schwartz, President of WestMed Medical Group and CEO of WestMed Practice Partners, agrees that working with other healthcare providers is definitely a winning financial strategy. “Health is the largest sector within the Westchester economy,” he says, “and all businesses are under tremendous pressure to shift part of their healthcare costs onto their employees. Helping those firms get better control over their healthcare costs benefits all concerned.”

WestMed, with administrative offices in Purchase, is an accountable pay organization under the Medicare Shared Savings program. Thus, “if we are successful in helping our 13,000 members, everyone comes out ahead,” Schwartz says. To that end, WestMed works with local hospitals to decrease their number of admissions and lengths of stays, while also preventing re-admissions for which Medicare would impose penalties. Therefore, along with helping patients retain or regain good health, “we now have a real financial incentive to work together to improve the quality and efficiency of care,” Schwartz explains.

WestMed also appreciates that Westchester has a large volume of specialized medical organizations. Cooperation among these groups allows for strategic planning. “Via this centralized strategic planning – and negotiations with our hospitals and physician groups – we directly, and positively, impact large numbers of patients,” Schwartz says.

 

Foodservice & H​ospitality

Describing the benefit of clusters to Westchester’s food and beverage industries, Peter Herrero Jr., founder and President of New York Hospitality Group and Caperberry Events in White Plains, uses an old restaurant analogy: “You want to be the only one in the game, or you want to be on restaurant row.” 

Herrero opts for the “restaurant row” approach since it improves opportunities for everyone, attracting customers and supporting businesses alike.

Dan Conte, President of the Westchester Hotel Association and General Manager of the Westchester Marriott Hotel in Tarrytown, agrees. “It’s good when everyone does well,” he says. “Businesses that prosper are businesses that travel. And Westchester’s wide range of quality lodging options makes it even more appealing for those considering expansion or relocation.”

Heineken USA has spent nearly two decades in White Plains, home base for coordinating the distribution of its imported product. Heineken is also a founding member of the Hudson Valley Food and Beverage Alliance, which is associated with the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation.

Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations Stacey Tank says these groups provide a fine platform for discussing ideas ranging from strategies for coping with social media to sharing best business practices. “We also enjoy a lot of great ideas that originate and incubate within smaller companies,” Tank says. “Often, that information has proven to be quite valuable.”

At the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford, Scott Vaccaro, owner and award-winning head brewer, recognizes that being located so close to major food and beverage firms attracts valuable attention. “With Coca-Cola right across the street from us, we draw reps from all kinds of different companies such as salesmen of adhesives, labeling or packaging,” Vaccaro explains. “Having them here expands our scope of new contacts and raises our visibility. It’s definitely helped us on our production side.”

Such positive feedback from the likes of Captain Lawrence, The Dannon Company, Regeneron, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and others is music to the ears of Westchester Economic Development’s Laurence Gottlieb. “By working together in such tough economic times rather than going it alone, business owners draw strength from each other, and their combined resiliency ensures greater success for all,” he explains. “Equally, government entities are always looking to bolster regional economic efforts rather than investing limited resources in one company at a time; therefore, clusters tend to attract more resources, which are then spread out among the individual firms.”

Dr. Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester, adds, “Clustering provides an opportunity for businesses to cross-fertilize in terms of ideas, innovation and cutting-edge technology. You develop a location where people with education and skills want to locate because the resources are there. It encourages entrepreneurs in an area that is ripe for growth and has all the ingredients necessary: business resources and people, intellectual capital, quality of life, business-friendly policies and an educated workforce.”

And the fact that clusters lead to job growth not only within their respective industry but in others as well is just one more bonus.

“A big part of our business has become the biotech industry,” says Renee Brown, President and CEO of C.W. Brown Inc., a general contracting and construction management company in Armonk. “We’ve built labs and biotech space, and we’ve noticed there’s a growing number of companies coming to Westchester. We’ve been able to target that market, and it helps everybody.”

C.W. Brown has also worked with the food and beverage cluster. “Each of these clusters benefits those particular sectors, but they benefit all of us,” Brown says. “They benefit the entire economy of Westchester.”

RESOURCE BOX

Look here for more information about organizations featured in this section.

Acorda Therapeutics | www.acorda.com

Caperberry Events | www.caperberryevents.com

Captain Lawrence Brewing Company | www.captainlawrencebrewing.com

ContraFect Corporation | www.contrafect.com

C.W. Brown Inc. | www.cwbrown.net

The Dannon Company | www.dannon.com

Heineken USA | www.heinekenusa.com

Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation | www.hvedc.com

New York Hospitality Group | http://nyhospitalitygroup.com

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital | http://nyp.org

NY BioHud Valley | www.nybiohudvalley.com

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals | www.regeneron.com

Westchester Marriott Hotel | www.marriott.com/hotels/maps/travel/nycwe-westchester-marriott/

WestMed Medical Group | www.westmedgroup.com