The Westchester County Association will merge with the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp., the leaders of the two business advocacy groups told the Business Journal in an interview Jan. 28.
The Westchester County Association has represented businesses in the county since 1950, while the Poughkeepsie-based HVEDC, founded 2003, focuses its programs in Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Ulster, Dutchess and Sullivan counties, with some programming in Westchester as well. In merging the two organizations, longtime Westchester County Association leader William Mooney Jr. said it was time for the group to think regionally.
“Not only here, but throughout the country, everything is much more on a regionalized basis,” said Mooney, the president and CEO of the WCA. “This (merger) made so much sense, as opposed to being provincial and working in one little area. Frankly, this is a large geographic area to cover and we will offer a lot to the business community in those areas.”
HVEDC President and CEO Michael Oates said his organization views the Westchester County Association as a name known statewide, capable of strengthening the HVEDC regional efforts.
“Economic development has to be looked as regional,” Oates said. “You have your programming and your initiatives from your own county – and we’ll work within those parameters – but you also have to look bigger picture. If a big company lands in Westchester County, employees can come from Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess, and vice versa.
The new organization will be led by Mooney as CEO and Oates as president until Sept. 1, at which point Oates will also assume the role of CEO. Mooney announced in 2018 his intention to retire from his leadership role at the WCA, which he has held for 12 years. But he said his impending retirement was not a factor in the decision to merge with the HVEDC.
The Westchester County Association’s current chairman, William P. Harrington, a partner at the law firm Bleakley Platt, will be chairman of the new organization. The HVEDC’s board chair – Robert J. Levine, a founding member of the law firm Corrigan, Baker and Levine LLC – will assume the role of first vice chair of the new organization’s board.
The HVEDC and the Westchester County Association announced in October that the two organizations had formed a strategic partnership, one where Mooney joined the board of the HVEDC and Oates joined the WCA board. Conversations about potential programs between the two organizations eventually turned to discussion of a possible merger. That conversation “took about two minutes,” Mooney said. The answer was yes. But the organizations have spent the past several months settling the details of the merger, a process Mooney said is ongoing.
A name change is likely on its way. “I think what people are interested in, more than the name, is what we do and how we perform,” Mooney said, but he allowed that a new name announcement could come in the next few weeks.
The two leaders said the joint organization will have more power to advocate for legislation and to build programs that help the business climate of the region.
Both organizations have focused advocacy efforts in the local health care industry, including on branding the region as a hub for innovation in the biotech and life sciences sectors. In the real estate sector, both organizations have also pushed for policies that encourage so-called smart growth in real estate – focusing development opportunities in dense centers near transit, unlocking potential economic and ecological benefits. Each organization also runs workforce development efforts, which can now draw on a regional team of professionals and educational partners, Mooney and Oates said.
In 2017, the Westchester County Association launched Gigabit Westchester, a private-public partnership to bring high-speed broadband to White Plains, New Rochelle, Yonkers and Mount Vernon. Mooney said that effort will continue under the new organization.
“We have to look at the digital challenges and broadband challenges as an important part of an infrastructure project as water is, as power is, and that roads are,” Oates added. “We have to make sure that the Hudson Valley is prepared for the future and that includes a strong and smart broadband policy.”
The Westchester County Association is also a frequent host for educational and networking events for Westchester’s business community, including an annual winter breakfast and a real estate summit each spring. Mooney said those events will continue, though there will be a challenge to shift their focus to the region. The HVEDC is a major host of events itself, including annual regional summits on real estate and health care.
There is some overlap already between the member organizations of the Westchester County Association and the HVEDC, which Oates described as a positive for the merger.
“We think this model and this new organization will attract additional investors and additional businesses, who might not have been involved in the past,” Oates said. “They might want to have a change to have a seat at the table and help drive the growth of the Hudson Valley for years to come.”
Asked about overseeing the merger of an organization he has led since 2004, Mooney described himself as similar to an expectant father, “or grandfather more likely,” he said with a laugh.
“I feel very comfortable about passing the baton,” Mooney said. “On the other side of the coin, you are always sad when you’re moving on from something. But this is one of the most exciting opportunities in my entire lifetime.”