What Does the Future of Business Look Like in Westchester?

We asked a trio of prominent local business leaders for their take on anticipated business trends of 2024, and how to get ahead of them.

With the rapid rise of AI, remote work, sustainability, and cybersecurity, remaining up-to-the-second with business trends is not only smart, it can make or break a company. To find out just what might be coming down the pipeline, we queried three business leaders from disparate fields, who offer compelling pictures of what potentially lies ahead for local and national business.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, Michael N. Romita, the president and CEO of the Westchester County Association, says there is no need to run and hide. “So much of what I hear about AI is people fretting about a future where we are all essentially bowing down to our robot overlords,” says Romita. “But if you start to think a little more constructively about the opportunities of AI as a force for good, they are tremendous. I just think about the healthcare sector in particular, and how AI can improve patient experience and diagnostic tools.”

Eon S. Nichols ESQ.
Photo courtesy of Cuddy & Feder

“As much as AI might make certain things obsolete, it may also spawn a whole new area or industry.”
— EON S. NICHOLS ESQ.
Cuddy & Feder LLP

Robert Cioffi, the co-founder and CTO of Yonkers-based IT-consulting firm Progressive Computing, echoes Romita’s sentiment. “AI is not gaining any consciousness or super intelligence anytime soon,” says Cioffi. “AI is a very broad term to cover many different disciplines. Most of the AI that we see falls into narrow intelligence capabilities, such as a camera on the back of a tractor that can distinguish between a corn stalk and weed. While people may feel it has taken on human characteristics, that’s the trick and rub of AI: to mimic. But just because a thing mimics something, doesn’t mean that it is really that thing.”

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According to Eon S. Nichols Esq., a partner at White Plains law firm Cuddy & Feder LLP, AI should be cause for optimism rather than worry. “People thought the computer might take away jobs, but what you see is that people pivot to other things. Now you have a whole field called IT that stemmed from that technology. A whole other industry has been born,” says Nichols. “So, as much as AI might make certain things obsolete, it may also spawn a whole new area or industry.”

So, how do you implement this new technology? Cioffi recommends starting small. “My advice to people right now is just play around, see what works. Try to solve some small problems. See how you can address those things,” he says. “But also be careful about what kind of data you are feeding it.”

Along with AI, the dawn of remote work has also been shifting the landscape of modern business. “I don’t think anyone is going back to five days a week in the office,” says Nichols. “I think that ship has sailed. Even for a conservative firm like ours, we have four days in and one day out. Whatever your formula is, it’s crystal clear that all companies across the board have at least one day a week working from home and if they don’t, they are in the Stone Age.”

Business
Adobe Stock / Lustre

However, this doesn’t mean the future is only Zoom calls and FaceTime. “In the business relationships that I have developed, the best moments are those impromptu hallway conversations, grabbing lunch with somebody, or just seeing the expression on someone’s face in their cubicle and saying, ‘Are you okay?’” says Cioffi. “As much as I love and promote technology, that technology has a dark side to it — it prevents some of that socialization from existing. So, on average, I think society needs to learn that we can’t be 100 percent virtual all the time.”

Romita also sees an enormous value in meeting in-person, while agreeing that remote work is now a reality for most businesses. “I think remote work is here to stay in some capacity; the pandemic probably accelerated a preexisting trend for workplace flexibility,” says Romita. “But you still need workers in the office because you need those workplace interactions, you need those mentoring opportunities, you need peer-to-peer interactions, face-to-face, and I don’t think that can be replicated by a stay-at-home workforce.”

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Cioffi has also seen a clear trend toward cybersecurity, especially with ransomware and phishing attacks on the rise. “There is a continuing emphasis across the industry on cybersecurity…People should not be fearful — people should start to embrace cybersecurity as just part of their business,” says Cioffi. “Cybersecurity, for me, is a lot about the depth of defense and deterrence. Since it’s now a war of escalation with AI, we just have to make sure we are keeping up.”

Michael N. Romita
Photo courtesy Westchester County Association

“I just think about the healthcare sector in particular, and how AI can improve patient experience and diagnostic tools.”
— MICHAEL N. ROMITA
Westchester County Association

Robert Cioffi
Photo courtesy of Progressive Computing

“I’m seeing businesses making their own roots right here in Westchester that aren’t so dependent on being in the city.”
— ROBERT CIOFFI
Progressive Computing

It is also worth mentioning sustainability, and a business’ eye toward its own carbon footprint, has become a hallmark of modern business. “The issue [of sustainability] is everywhere now, from real estate to corporate governance to accounting and finance to education. All of the major accounting firms, for instance, have now developed practice areas specifically focused on sustainability and compliance reporting,” says Romita.

Business
Adobe Stock / Lustre

And when it comes to maintaining the employees who populate all those sectors, worker retention has additionally emerged as a noteworthy trend. “Companies need to start getting creative,” says Cioffi. “Look at your own company culture and figure out what makes you attractive versus a competitive position vying for the same talent pool. People don’t just want money.”

Nichols has a very similar philosophy. “I might not be able to offer New York City salaries to compete with New York City law firms, but what I can do is offer something different,” he says. “I can offer culture, I can offer more autonomy, I can offer better benefits, such as paying off healthcare; and that is a way smaller companies can combat not having the ability to pay larger salaries.”

As for the overall economy, Nichols says that while we may be entering a bear market, it doesn’t mean one should expect an apocalyptic fiscal landscape. “I see a bit of a slowdown, at least in the real-estate world, and that’s coming from the fact that banks aren’t really lending, so you are going to see fewer development deals going on in the next few years. What that essentially means is that, yes, there is going to be less development and a slowdown, but not a stop or halt.”

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And, for Cioffi, this change may actually end up helping our particular region. “A lot of what happens to us is so dependent upon what happens in New York City, and I am starting to see maybe a decoupling of that and a little bit less of a reliance on what’s happening in the city,” says Cioffi. “I’m seeing businesses making their own roots right here in Westchester that aren’t so dependent on being in the city, and I think part of the catalyst there is what happened with COVID. A lot of people said, ‘I am going to shut down that Park Avenue office and just set up shop in Westchester.’”

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