What’s impeding progress on the economic development front in Westchester? According to Kathryn Wylde, CEO of The Partnership for New York City, it’s too many generals. “The biggest challenge Westchester faces, in my opinion, is that...
...you have too many independent units of government, so multiple public authorities are competing with each other.” In comparing the county to New York City, she pointed out that the city created a structure that is “user-friendly for collaboration and has a single decision-maker [the Mayor].” Wylde was afternoon keynote speaker at WCA’s “Rethinking Westchester: A Blueprint for Smart Growth” conference on June 21.
To address “Rethinking Westchester,” which spelled out ways to spur economic development to make the county more competitive, and to attract and retain business, Wylde and Mark Sweeney, a nationally renowned site selector, were invited by the BLUEPRINT for Westchester to share their observations and advice. Both speakers commended the BLUEPRINT for providing an excellent roadmap for Westchester's economic recovery.
Wylde, like Sweeney, stressed that diversity – diversity in geography, employment opportunities, housing, infrastructure, office space, and amenities -- is a necessary ingredient for making a location attractive and competitive – as is environmental sustainability. “Mayor Bloomberg understood the role of government in protecting the environment,” she said. “Out of that, New York City began changing its codes and is becoming the greenest city anywhere. That attracts talent.”
She used New York City as a model of how Westchester might step up its efforts. “While the city had been making progress since the late 1970s, it was Bloomberg who really turned it into Innovation City,” she said. “He brought together private sector, global, and philanthropic perspectives to government. He brought P3 [public-private partnerships] to a new level, and he worked with organized labor. Today, New York City’s economy is growing at a rate of 3% a year, better than the rest of the country.”
But everything wasn’t always roses.
“In the 1970s, New York City lost a million people; its capital budget was zero; it lost half of its Fortune 500 companies; businesses fled to suburban office parks. So, the city went into a “planned shrinkage” mode and focused on trying to stay alive,” she recalled. During succeeding administrations, housing for middle-income people was built and crime was reduced. “Out of a crisis comes progress. That’s how Bloomberg got elected. If it weren’t for 9/11, that wouldn’t have happened.”
Bloomberg, she said, had a big vision, which was to turn the city into the center of an Innovation Economy. “Now it is second only to Silicon Valley, surpassing Boston and other locations. And he worked to get everybody on board to carry out that vision.” The biggest growth area was in venture capital investment and the biggest growth in terms of the city’s GDP, has been in Brooklyn and Queens, which rose from 18 % to 29%. During the past 12 years under Mayor Bloomberg, 36% of the land areas were rezoned, and there’s been a whole new effort to market the city.
But there’s more to do. “Over 100,000 mid-level jobs have left the city,” she said. And the City’s successful drive to nurture and grow high tech jobs and companies has left it with a conundrum: there simply isn’t enough suitable office space within the five boroughs for all the incubators and startups. Nor is there enough housing that’s affordable for all the entrepreneurs, coders, lab technicians and support staff.
Then there's the matter of New York State taxes. "Downstate [NYC, Long Island, Westchester] supplies 87% of the revenue to Albany, $14 billion more than we get back in services. ”We need to push Albany for simplification of the tax code with respect to business and personal tax policies. …. For that we ought to have a voice in how we fix our tax code, so we need a voice in reforming the tax code. There is a short window of opportunity.”
Wylde’s interest is to forge closer relationships with Westchester and other metro areas so that the entire region becomes part of the energetic new economy. WCA’s BLUEPRINT for Westchester is on it! You can count on that.