What does Westchester County need to change in order to boost the success of our local business? We all likely have different opinions—some stronger than others—about the answer to that question, but a new survey conducted by the Westchester County Association (WCA) and White Plains law firm Cuddy & Feder LLP titled titled “Blueprint for Smart Growth” shows there is some consensus. Respondents all indicated that high-speed broadband, business incentives, affordable housing, and more transportation options place high on the wish list.
The largest single request was for additional government investment in infrastructure. The survey questioned some 230 area business professionals about how to enhance Westchester’s competitiveness, with 53 percent of respondents responding that government investment in infrastructure—including high-speed broadband—will have the greatest impact on Westchester’s ability to compete with other counties and states in the region. In addition, 43 percent of those surveyed indicated that business incentives are crucial to enhancing Westchester’s competitive position; while 42 percent said that investment in affordable housing is a must; and 36 percent felt that better mobility options—like mass transit, and walking and bike paths/lanes—would make Westchester even more attractive.
Why conduct a survey now? “We wanted to learn what businesspeople feel is crucial for driving [smart growth] here, and what, if anything was holding us back from thriving in the innovation economy,” explains Bill Mooney, President and CEO of the WCA, who points out that state and local taxes, municipal planning, and transportation options are three areas that were found deficient. Survey respondents also cited cutting government red tape, providing financial incentives to business, and building millennial and workforce housing as important steps to retaining and attracting businesses in Westchester—things Mooney’s group frequently advocates for.
“What the data points to is the need for closer collaboration with the business community and various levels of government to create the ecosystem that will drive economic growth,” adds Christopher Fisher, Managing Partner, Cuddy & Feder. “The data say that the entire community—residents, business, and government—has a stake in how Westchester positions itself for the new economy, especially Westchester’s cities where most of the economic growth is expected to occur.”
One bright spot among respondents is Westchester’s high marks for quality of life. “The County offers amazing resources that contribute to a high quality of life: our location, our high-quality schools, and our easy access to transportation are just a few of the benefits of living and working here,” notes Bill Cuddy, of CBRE, who is also chairman of the WCA’s Blueprint for Smart Growth. When asked to define Westchester’s three major advantages when compared with other counties in the region—including those in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island—an overwhelming majority (81.8 percent) identified our geographic proximity to New York as the County’s top attribute. Schools/higher education and transportation options tied for second and third, each drawing a top spot by 52.3 percent of respondents.
As part of its continual push for smart economic development growth, WCA plans to build on the information gleaned in the survey, and according to Mooney, will focus on “identifying and supporting opportunities for key sectors to move, expand, or start up operations in Westchester to help establish the County as an important economic hub in the region.”
Here are some of the specific survey responses, provided by the WCA.
Q: Compared to neighboring counties in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island, what do you think are the greatest three deficiencies of Westchester County relative to the other counties?
89.5% State and local taxes
44% Municipal planning
26% Transportation options
Q: Which of the following actions do you think are most important to create jobs and foster economic development in Westchester County?
65.3% Streamline the permitting process and cut government “red tape”
62.7% Provide financial incentives
61.9% Provide support and municipal planning to accommodate millennial housing and needs.
Q. Identify the three sectors you think have the most potential for growth in Westchester County over the next 10 years?
74.1% Health and human services
39.6% Professional services (financial, insurance, legal, marketing)
Q. On a scale of 1 to 5, which of the following do you think are barriers to Westchester’s transformative development/improvement?
4.6 The cost of doing business
4.0 Lack of coordinated planning between towns
3.7 Aging or lack of modern infrastructure and regulatory issues