Westchester Faces Stiff Competition for Business from Its Neighbors and Global Localities
“Rethinking Westchester: A Blueprint for Smart Growth,” last week’s amazing conference organized by the BLUEPRINT for Westchester, offered so much rich content, that in order to do it justice, our reports will appear in several posts in the coming week. Leading experts on infrastructure, public-private partnerships, economic development and placemaking shared their....
...observations and advice before an audience of 200 municipal officials, developers, business people, and attorneys. The object? Prod Westchester into becoming more competitive on a regional, national and global scale. "It's time to get back in the game," stressed Mark M. Sweeney, the morning keynote speaker and a principal of McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a prominent site selection firm. The WCA’s BLUEPRINT for Westchester will pave the way, but Westchester's private and public sectors need to join forces to move the county into the 21st century.
According to Sweeney, Westchester is not on the radar of site selectors, despite its many assets.
“Westchester is thought of appealing to an older demographic...more as a wonderful place during the second half of the 20th century, but not so wonderful for the first half of the 21st century." Sweeney reminded the assembled that all of us are in an “investment-attraction business,” so the race will go to those who are prepared. “Our clients are deadline-driven. They want to move quickly,” he said.
On his recommended punch list for Westchester:
- Improve Westchester's hi-tech infrastructure (“You need to upgrade your wireless and electrical capacity, and there has to be redundancy in your electrical and telecommunications infrastructure...”)
- Build affordable housing for young professionals (“Your municipalities need to think about rezoning for a diverse workforce.”)
- Embrace diversity (“You need to have a diversity of choice in space, workforce, community amenities, as not every business uses the same criteria in their decision-making.”)
- Upgrade marketing and outreach (“The county needs better communication and marketing. They need an effective website and a real social media strategy, and they need to reach out directly to site selection firms.”)
While incentives always sweeten a deal, Sweeney said they are factored in only in the final stages of the selection process. “Incentives matter toward the end of negotiations; they mitigate the weaknesses of a location.”
Sweeney is optimistic about overall economic growth in the United States in the next few years, and applauded WCA’s BLUEPRINT, which, he said, can put Westchester back on the right track.
“Westchester has opportunities in the biotech and the defense industries, and others looking for a high quality place to work and live...Corporate headquarters should be the sweet spot!” But, he cautions, Westchester has to become more competitive.
“Your competition is strong and getting stronger. New Jersey has become very aggressive as a good place to do business, and Connecticut is offering incentives that help swing deals. You face many challenges, and it will take time. Concentrate on putting a good economic development team in place....People need to have skin in the game.”
To read Newsday’s take on Sweeney’s speech, click here.