In March, County Executive Rob Astorino announced that then-Chief of Staff George Oros would replace William Mooney III as director of the Westchester County Office of Economic Development. Like Mooney, Oros has a long track record of public service, including 15 years as a county legislator and seven more as Astorino’s chief of staff and senior advisor on subjects ranging from policy and community affairs to intergovernmental relations and legislation.
We sat down with Oros recently to get a handle on his mindset and agenda as he settles into his new job.
What do you bring to the table that makes you a good fit for this position?
I am very attuned to and supportive of the administration’s philosophy that we’ve had since day one. We live by the Three Ps: Protect the taxpayer; Preserve essential services; Promote economic growth. As Rob Astorino says so often, if we take care of that third one, we can do the other two, because the more the economy grows, the more we have people working and have properties on the tax roll, which help build taxes without raising the tax rate. And the more revenue you’ve got, of course, the better you can preserve services.
I think my experience as a legislator also helps. I’ve worked in a bipartisan fashion when I was a legislator, so I know how to bring things and people together. I also served for years on the Hudson Valley Chamber of Commerce and had my own law practice, so I understand the concerns of the small-business owner.
Finally, as part of the senior policy team here since day one, I already had familiarity [with the administration’s economic development strategies]. I understand how the Industrial Development Agency [IDA] and the Local Development Corporation [LDC] work, so that helps, as well. I’m also very involved with the Business Council of Westchester [BCW] and the Westchester County Association [WCA], which is another reason I think I’m here.
Have you charted specific goals?
Well, the number-one goal is to keep creating new jobs. The IDA has created about 20,000 jobs since 2010, which comes out to about 3,000 a year, and I’d like to keep up that pace. I’m also interested in doing outreach to the Rotary Clubs and chambers of commerce so that small-business owners are aware of the programs and services available to them.
I’m also starting to meet with some of the colleges. What I’m trying to do is align our schools of higher education with some of our key economic clusters, including biotech, hospitality, and what I call the “backroom services” for business, which are financial, insurance, banking, and law. These three clusters are very big in this county, so I want to make sure our colleges and universities have programs that match, so there’s a direct pipeline here from the students to the industries that are thriving here.
Do you see the transit-oriented development (TOD) trend continuing under your watch?
I definitely see that continuing for the foreseeable future. Our planning department works very closely with all 45 municipalities on best practices and things that are conducive to TOD. So, for example, say a company from Maryland is contemplating coming here, and there’s a county road along the route to what would be their facility. If the company says to the mayor of Town X that the road is inadequate for their employees who would be taking it to work, we, the county, will step in if its a county road to redress the issue for the company.
I also think we need to keep reminding Millenials that they can have great careers and lives here in Westchester. I have a 27-year-old and a 24-year-old living in the city. I hope someday they’ll come back to Westchester. I remind them that they can move to one of the Rivertowns and be on a
Metro-North train to Manhattan in 20 minutes, while living a lot cheaper.
As of this conversation, Westchester has 22 Green Certified businesses [the program by which businesses incorporate sustainable practices into their operations]. Where would you like to see that number, say, three to five years from now?
Within five years, I’d like to see a tenfold increase in that number. That’s exactly what’s going to happen with the building we and the IDA just approved [in May] — the old AT&T building at 440 Hamilton in White Plains — which is going to be repurposed as a green building with a much lower carbon footprint and much less expensive to operate and maintain.
Are you excited about the advent of 1-gigabyte high-speed Internet coming to four cites in Westchester?
Well, like chicken soup when you have a cold, it’s certainly not going to hurt. I think the main concern I have is — and I’ve talked to [the WCA] about it, and they say this is the pilot program and that they want to expand it to the entire county — I wish that we could’ve gotten together somehow, to see if we could have partnered together to make it more than just the four cities. It’s just as important to Irvington or Peekskill, if they want to have thriving downtown areas and they want to have some shops and offices there. But [this] is a rather difficult undertaking to get your arms around, so it’s hard to take on the whole thing at once. But I hope it will spread to the entire county as soon as possible.