Our Future Employment Line

Peering through the economic clouds to see the future of business in Westchester

Our Future Employment Line

Peering through the economic clouds to see the future of business in Westchester

The Landmark at Eastview in Tarrytown is one of the state’s largest technology parks.

Few vistas into the future are as cloudy as the view of business and commerce, where the global economic malaise has made it all but impossible to see much beyond today’s motionless construction cranes and an ever-growing blight of vacant stores in our malls and village shopping districts. Look just over the horizon, though, and you’ll find a brighter scene.

“In ten years, unless we see another economic downturn, we will be a very booming, vibrant economic community,” says Donnovan Beckford, director of the Westchester/Putnam Workforce Investment Board. Beckford points out that one of our biggest advantages is what we’re not. “There may be communities in the Midwest where things like the auto industry are dying,” he says, “but that’s not the kind of thing that’s going to happen here at all.” Why? Because we’re not a one-industry community.

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Nor are we even remotely close to a one-company county. “An ongoing shift from large corporations to small and mid-sized businesses is continuing to occur in Westchester, which is a positive thing,” says Westchester Business Council President and CEO Marsha Gordon. “Entrepreneurial activity by mid-size businesses is very exciting.” Even more exciting are the diverse types of businesses springing up, many of which will be in full bloom 10 years from now.

Westchester is poised to become one of the nation’s centers of medical research, so get your kids to bear down on their biology, chemistry, and physics homework. Jobs should be plentiful in the biotechnology industry, in which Westchester is building a reputation as one of the nation’s centers for innovative firms launching the next generation of medical wonders. Some of these wonders are companies that create and market everything from diagnostic instruments to treatments for debilitating diseases.

Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Multiple Sclerosis have become the focus subjects for our area, much like those of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where firms are working on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and central nervous-system diseases. But, reports Nathan Tinker, executive director of the New York Biotechnology Association, we don’t have all our biotech eggs in one basket. “Westchester has a diverse list,” he says. “It’s not simply therapeutics or diagnostics. The companies are also at various levels of maturity and in a wide variety of product sectors.” Some of the biggest names in medical science who have made Westchester their home, many of them near a corridor along Route 9A, include the global headquarters for Bayer Diabetes Care, with about 400 employees, in Tarrytown, and Regeneron, a major biopharmaceutical company started in 1989 at The Landmark at Eastview, one of the largest privately owned, multi-tenant technology parks in the state with 116 acres and 750,000 square feet of rentable space with another 360,000 square feet currently under construction.

Today, dozens of other firms in the field are located in the eight-building campus on the border between Mount Pleasant and Greenburgh. Among them are EpiCept Corporation, which has 15 employees and maintains corporate headquarters and conducts clinical trials on cancer-fighting drugs in its Westchester facility, and Aerolase, which markets compact lasers for medical and aesthetic practices. Aerolase founder and CEO Pavel Efremkin says his company, which currently has 10 employees, plans to manufacture its lasers here when funding is available. “We will create hundreds of high-tech jobs in Westchester,” he declares.

And companies that want to do business here don’t have to break the bank to afford rent. “Having access to high-end but relatively low-cost space is important,” Tinker notes. Westchester rents run around $35 per square foot as opposed to Manhattan’s $80, reports Sal Carrera, director of the County Office of Economic Development.

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Fourteen-year-old Acorda Therapeutics is located in Hawthorne. The company, whose product designed to help MS patients walk better was just submitted to the FDA for approval, started with six employees and now has about 200, reports corporate spokesperson Tierney Saccavino. “We expect to expand our sales and marketing organization when the new product is approved. Over time, the company will continue to grow.”

Perhaps no company better exemplifies the tectonic shift in Westchester’s economy from smokestack industry to white-lab-coat technology than Aureon Laboratories, Inc., an early tenant in the i.park in Yonkers. Today, where bandsaws once screeched and welders flashed in the Otis Elevator factory, lab-coated scientists peer into the molecular structures of biopsy samples to search for the clues to prostate cancer.

“We actually look inside the patient’s cells and look at their molecular circuitry,” says Dr. Charles DiComo, director of laboratories for Aureon. “It’s a new age.” Aureon has products in the pipeline for breast and colon cancer as well. The seven-year-old company currently has 50 employees in Yonkers and expects to add another 20 soon.

Why in Westchester, besides affordable rents? “A lot of this technology is being developed in the universities around New York City—at Columbia, NYU, even SUNY Stony Brook and Purchase,” Tinker says. “That translates into proximity to other scientists.” Between lower-cost facilities and a wealth of talent, Westchester’s biotech future seems assured.

Another sector that shows great promise, according to Gordon and others, is the nascent “green industry.” It’s hard to tell how many jobs it will generate, but The Business Council has started a Green Business Advisory Council to look into how this industry is an economic stimulator. Existing firms in the sector aren’t particularly sexy—specialties include wastewater treatment and water pollution control, waste management, and air quality control. But Gordon says it promises to be a real growth area, creating new jobs in weatherization, engineering, solar energy—even law firms. “The whole ‘green’ talent pool will be much further developed in 2020,” she says.

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Several other factors—some as immutable as death and taxes—promise to shape Westchester’s business future. “We’re all getting older,” Gordon points out, “so industries that serve an aging population are growing. Home health care and everything that goes with it will be major growth areas. It’s definitely part of our future.” Beckford expands that category to include health care for young and old alike. Having two county hospitals closed in recent years (St. Agnes in White Plains and United in Port Chester) and massive changes in funding from both state and federal sources underway doesn’t change the fact that somebody will have to administer our flu shots and minister to our aching backs.

Business in Westchester has gone through boom and bust cycles since 1693, when Frederick Philipse built a farming, milling, and trading conglomerate where the Pocantico River flows into the Hudson. We may be entering a dip in the chart today, but prospects are positive for the long term.

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