On June 21, leading experts on infrastructure, public-private partnerships, and economic development shared their advice and wisdom with an audience of 200 municipal officials, developers, attorneys, and business leaders, at WCA’s conference “Rethinking Westchester: A Blueprint for Smart Growth.” Our object was to prod Westchester into becoming more competitive on the regional, national and global scale...
Rethinking Westchester turned out to be a real game changer.
Mark M. Sweeney, principal of McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a prominent international site selection consultant, urged Westchester to zero in on the following:
• Upgrade our wireless infrastructure
• Build affordable housing for young professionals
• Offer diversity of commercial space and community amenities
• Upgrade marketing and outreach to site selectors
“You have to get back in the game; you’re not on the radar,” Sweeney said during his morning keynote address (video
). “Westchester has opportunities in the biotech and the defense industries, and those looking for a high quality place to work and live...” But, he cautions, Westchester has to become more competitive.
A Partnership with the PartnershipWhat’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.” By contrast, she pointed out that New York City “has created a structure that is user-friendly for collaboration and has a single decision-maker – [the Mayor].”
Wylde, a nationally-renowned figure in economic development, was the afternoon keynote speaker at “Rethinking Westchester.” She, like Sweeney, commended the BLUEPRINT for providing an excellent roadmap for Westchester’s economic recovery. She also used New York City as a model of how Westchester might step up its efforts to spur economic vitality.
“Mayor Bloomberg 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.”
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 Innovation Economy. WCA’s BLUEPRINT for Westchester is on it!
Time to Rev Up Our Infrastructure According to Christopher Fisher, president of the New York Wireless Association, Westchester is going to have to rev up its wireless capacity to support the needs of businesses and consumers within five years if it hopes to remain competitive.
“In terms of data, the greater New York area is seeing 100 percent growth per year,” he said in his opening remarks at Rethinking Westchester. “By then, broadband network demand will match the present system’s capacity. If nothing is done to expand that capacity, the screens will go blank.”
Fisher, who moderated the “Infrastructure for the 21st Century” panel, and four panelists emphasized that the more technological advances move forward at warp speed, the faster municipalities will have to keep up.
“Codes governing the county’s wireless infrastructure were written more than 20 years ago,” observed panelist Manuel Vicente, President, Homeland Towers. “At the time, municipalities didn’t understand how important it was. This is a complex industry; it’s not just about a cell tower. Networks need capacity.”
Planners Urged to Embrace Work. Live. Play.
What attracts people to spaces are other people, noted Ethan Kent, Vice President, Project for Public Spaces, and a panelist at Rethinking Westchester. “The way we look at streets and public spaces should be as an economic development opportunity.”
Placemaking, which his organization has trumpeted over the years, is a proven approach, he said, to the planning, design, and management of public spaces that has successfully transformed over 2,500 communities in all 50 U.S. states and 40 countries.
“Now that dozens of entrepreneurial ventures are sprouting and there is significant growth in the small and mid-size business sectors, it is time for Westchester’s planners to give more thought to our future needs, and how and where Gen Y wants to work, live, and play,” said Marissa Brett, executive director of Economic Development at the Westchester County Association. “When businesses choose where to locate or relocate their operations, a critical factor is the local talent pool.” This means reasonably-priced housing and neighborhoods with nightlife and proximity to jobs.
What it also means is repurposing and rezoning, according to panelist Thomas Madden, Commissioner of the Town of Greenburgh’s Department of Community Development. “Zoning laws throughout Westchester will have to be changed to support the sort of public spaces we are talking about here today,” said Madden.
Look to P3 Projects to Fund Infrastructure Improvements Westchester’s aging infrastructure needs to be rebuilt and repaired, but local and county governments don’t have sufficient funds to pay for it. “There may be legal debt limits, too many jurisdictions, or lack of political will,“ commented moderator Lawrence Mandelker, Partner, Kantor Davidoff. Steven Stowitts Elliott, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Economic Analysis, NYS Office of Budget and Policy Analysis, explained how P3s are permitted to be used in New York State, and how, when used in conjunction with LDCs and 63-20 revenue bonds, they can overcome many of the impediments.
Daniel Marsh III, Director, National Development Council, who is both a consultant on how to use P3 funding and director of an organization that uses P3, talked about the many ways in which P3s are used, particularly in the western United States where they are very popular;