A consultant who specializes in helping businesses from around the world find a place to call home had a simple, yet blunt, message for Westchester County: It's not even on the radar.
Speaking at the Westchester County Association business group's "Blueprint for Smart Growth" conference in Tarrytown on Friday, Mark M. Sweeney told business leaders that the county rests on its suburban laurels from another era and said that business leaders and public officials need "to get back in the game."
A new approach to luring businesses here is needed -- one that aims at companies of the 21st century.
That means a high-tech infrastructure, housing affordability and mixed-use development that encourages shorter commutes. It also requires lowering the cost of doing business.
Westchester County isn't competing just with New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas -- states that are aggressively poaching some of our own employers, as we've seen with Starwood Hotels in recent years and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's advertising blitz -- but also with cities like London and Tokyo.
It truly is a competitive global climate.
Take Tronox Inc.. When the Oklahoma City-based minerals company was looking for a place for its new headquarters, London, Manhattan and Stamford, Conn., were among the finalists. Stamford landed the company -- and its planned $10-million infusion of capital -- in 2012, with the help of a state-backed, low-interest loan of $3 million.
Why wasn't Westchester in the mix? It's hard to know exactly, but just a few miles south of Stamford, the county is grappling with high property taxes, expensive housing and an aging infrastructure, which are only a few of its challenges. Another is a comparatively passive approach to attracting new companies. Connecticut isn't all that much different from New York, but it is more aggressive.
Westchester County does, however, have great assets: international airports nearby, an educated workforce, 6 million square feet of office space and access to New York City. We have great parks, schools and services -- so there's hope.
Here's where government, businesses and groups like the Westchester County Association and its "Blueprint" come into play. Identifying problems and potential solutions are important first steps. Then it's up to organizations and governments to sell our strengths to the next company looking to relocate its global headquarters. Only then can we truly get back in the game.