Westchester’s 2016 Economy: It’s All About Change

While they may have been overshadowed by County Executive Robert P. Astorino’s announcement of a potential $1.2 billion biotech center coming to Valhalla, the speakers at the January 7 Westchester County Association 2016 Economic Forecast Breakfast had plenty of interesting predictions for what lies ahead in our county’s economy. Their overall consensus? The future looks bright for Westchester in 2016, but there’s work to be done to spur further economic growth. And to borrow a phrase, the times they are a-changin’.

After Astorino shared his big news with the crowd of more than 300, Jack Kopnisky, president and CEO of Sterling National Bank, took the stage to deliver his remarks, which focused on Westchester’s changing demographics—and how they are helping to spur the sectors that will function as our economic powerhouses.

“Our population is growing, aging, becoming more affluent, and more diverse,” Kopnisky said. He also touted the county as an increasingly desirable place to “enjoy a live/work/play lifestyle.”

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Backing that up, Kopnisky noted that Westchester’s urban areas are up by 7 percent since 2000 (New Rochelle alone has grown by 7 percent), and that, interestingly, 47 percent of White Plains travelers are reverse commuters. “While we’re not attracting many Millennials who clearly prefer to be in the city, once they marry and have kids, Westchester is where they want to be,” he said.

According to Kopnisky, the healthcare, biotech, and financial industries are the ones that will continue to expand in Westchester in 2016. Picking apart exactly what that means—and what to expect in those industries going forward—were the panelists on the interactive roundtable discussion: Barbara Benson, Assistant Managing Editor of Crain’s New York Business; Guy Liebler, President, Simone Healthcare Development; John Flannery, Partner, Wilson Elser; and Amy Allen, Vice President and Executive Director, Hudson Valley Workforce Academy, WCA.

John Flannery (Wilson Elser); Barbara Benson (Crain’s New York Business); Jack Kopnisky (Sterling National Bank); Amy Allen (Westchester County Association), and Guy Liebler (Simone Healthcare Development)

Here are three key takeaways from their discussion:

•Hospital consolidation will continue to drive changes in healthcare.  According to Benson, the upsides of consolidation include “more clinical trials, more medical research, more access to advanced medicine, and better methods for addressing population health.” But, she added, “community hospitals are switching to more outpatient care and urgent care centers, which means that the hospitals will continue to fill fewer beds and have fewer employees like food service people and others.” Simone Development’s Liebler agreed that “urgent care centers will grow as hospitals decline,” noting that hospitals will become providers of much more specialized care. “Dental will go the same way as the hospitals did: services such as general dentistry, oral surgery will be under the same roof,” he added.

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•Mixed-use development to spur the live-work-play ethos will be priority number-one. All panelists agreed that boosting mixed-use, walkable, Millennial-friendly downtowns is key for the county’s economic future, and that it can only be done by creating more transit-oriented development projects. “We need mixed-use development near mass transit, particularly the rail lines. Millennials want to walk to work or take public transportation. We also need height and density relief and need to take a hard look at our cities to be sure they are receptive to this,” said Flannery. The trend also holds appeal for seniors, Liebler noted. “Seniors want to live in more vibrant settings… places to live with mixed populations, retail, restaurants, and ambulatory care,” he explained.

•Workforce development needs to take center stage. Amy Allen’s outline of the differences between the various groups currently working in Westchester—and how much the approaches to work have changed—was thought provoking. “With Millennials, you have talented people but they are lacking in soft skills and have a sense of entitlement,” she said. “The Baby Boomers have institutional knowledge and they worked to get where they are, but they will soon start leaving the workforce, and that will be a challenge.” She also pointed to changing approaches to workforce training as leaving a gap for the next group of workers. “It used to be that there was on-the-job training, apprenticeships, internships. But not now. It’s all dried up. So how will the future workforce acquire the skills needed?  The need to be trained,” she explained. Flannery seconded this assessment, noting, “We need to do more to stem the tide of the talent drain.” 

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