• Westchester’s Economic Outlook Bright for 2016

  • JANUARY 08, 2016

  • Collaboration and Planning Are Key for Growth, Observers Say

  • The future looks bright for Westchester County in 2016, but there’s work to be done to spur further economic growth, said panelists at the Westchester County Association’s Economic Forecast Breakfast on January 7, which attracted over 300 business leaders who gained a deeper understanding of global, national, and local trends driving the economy in the year ahead.

    WCA Economic Forecast Breakfast
    John Flannery, Wilson Elser; Barbara Benson, Crain's New York/Health Pulse; Jack Kopnisky, Sterling National Bank; Amy Allen, WCA; Guy Liebler, Simone Development Companies

    Following a presentation by the County Executive, Jack Kopnisky, President and CEO of Sterling National Bank delivered opening remarks, then led an interactive roundtable discussion with 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. County Executive Rob Astorino outlined his priorities for 2016 and announced a new, $1.2 billion bioscience and technology center for Westchester.

    Here, in a nutshell, is what our speakers had to say: 

    Summary of opening remarks by Jack Kopnisky, President & CEO, Sterling National Bank

    “Westchester is a progressive and growing county, thanks to the leadership of the WCA, leadership of County government, and the leadership of those in this room. Our population is growing, aging, becoming more affluent, and more diverse. The healthcare, biotech, and financial industries continue to expand in Westchester. The past decade has brought modest growth in small to medium sized businesses; since 2000, we’ve seen a three percent increase, from 30,700 in 2010, to 31,552 in 2013. Westchester is a great place to relocate, and enjoy the Work. Live. Play. lifestyle.

    The population in Westchester's urban areas has increased by seven percent since 2000; New Rochelle alone has grown by that much during that period. 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 [NYC]—once they marry and have kids, Westchester is where they want to be.

    We have a growing, highly knowledgeable population base: 47 percent of those over 25 hold bachelors degrees; 24 percent of all residents hold advanced degrees. Our population is also growing more diverse; since 2000, our Hispanic population has increased from 15.6 percent to 21.8 percent; Asian, from 3.7 percent to 5.4 percent; African American, from 14.2 percent to 14.6 percent. At the same time, our demographics are changing. The number of children under the age of five has dropped significantly, from 64,242 to 29,319; seniors (over 65) have increased from 128,964 to 139,122. Westchester’s median household income is higher than the national average, $71,115 as compared to $65,910. Our unemployment rate is currently at 4.7 percent. 

    Trends and observations from our panelists

    Barbara Benson, Assistant Managing Editor of Crain’s New York Business

    The question is: What has been the impact of all the hospital consolidations which came about because the community hospitals felt they had no clout with insurers and they needed capital for infrastructure? The upsides are that there will be more clinical trials, more medical research, more access to advanced medicine, and better methods for addressing population health. The downsides are that community hospitals are switching to more out-patient care and urgent care centers, such as White Plains Hospital—but that means that the hospitals will continue to fill fewer beds and have fewer employees like food service workers and others; there will be a narrowing of networks so hospitals may sell directly to businesses; we will see more hospital closings.

    We’ll see the following term trends in healthcare: there will be more emphasis on population health (preventative healthcare); health tech startups will need places (locations) where they can test their products and expand; healthcare will be come increasingly digitized; providers will make a bigger investment in population health; Medicaid will play a larger role and pick up the tab for more people.

    Guy Liebler, President, Simone Healthcare Development

    The new model is ambulatory healthcare for cost-efficiency and urgent Care centers will grow as the number of hospitals declines. Dental will go the same way as the hospitals did: services such as general dentistry, oral surgery will be under the same roof. Hospitals will become providers of much more specialized care.

    Retirement homes are not the way everyone wants to live, as seniors want to live in more vibrant settings. Instead of eating in a cafeteria with people who look just like them, they will want more vibrant places to live with mixed populations, retail, restaurants and ambulatory care.

    To meet workforce needs, we're going to have to collaborate with higher education to encourage more advanced degrees as graduate students often tend to settle in the places where they go to school. Westchester needs an engineering school and we need to expand education on the graduate level. We’ll continue to see mixed-use development and urban downtown city development to attract younger workers. We need to improve East-West access in this county.

    Economics drives all development—the cost of land and the cost of construction. Stamford is an interesting example of growth. We need to create a better model here, and that will take the bankers, planners, business community, and government working together. Right now, it's easier to get zoning approved for luxury housing than anything else.

    Amy Allen, Vice President & Executive Director, Hudson Valley Workforce Academy, WCA

    How is the workforce changing? With millennials, you have talented people but they are lacking in soft skills and have a sense of entitlement. 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.

    Today’s workers need skills. It used to be that there was on-the-job training, apprenticeships, co-ops, internships. But it's not as common as it once was. So how will the future workforce acquire the skills needed? They need more competency training, something that higher education needs to address. In healthcare, workers now need to interpret data; they need to have analytical skills, and will need further training to get there.

    Looking ahead, we need more collaboration; more training; create a lifestyle to attract more millennials; partnerships between the public sector and the business sector; and, we need to get more young people involved. We cannot be New York City, but we can capitalize on our own assets.

    John Flannery, Partner, Wilson Elser

    We need more transit-oriented development. There is no other place like Westchester that has the robust public transportation system we have, so how do we maintain that and attract younger workers? We need to stem the talent drain of people in their mid 20s to mid 30s. We need mixed-use development near mass transit, particularly the rail lines and bus terminals, where there is restaurants and residential housing, and shopping. Millennials want to walk to work or take public transportation. We also need height and density zoning relief and take a hard look at our cities to be sure they are receptive to this. We also need to focus on doing more to stem the tide of the talent drain. For the long-term, we need to create more communities where young people can Work.Live.Play., and keep housing affordable in order to attract 28 to 35 year olds.

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