BY LAURENCE P. GOTTLIEB
Only a few days into 2013 and deciding whether to view the year optimistically or pessimistically is already a challenge. As Westchester County’s “chief economist,” it is nearly impossible to escape a meeting or media interview without someone asking for my sunny (or dour) economic predictions for the year.
Just like a horse track stable boy, my prognostic power is more about firsthand knowledge, rather than some deep, scientific analysis. Statistics do not win races; it is the horses – and the jockeys atop them – who cross the finish line. Often, in spite of negative data, entrepreneurs forge ahead, win races and we are a better nation for it.
This year, the conditions on the Westchester County track remain muddy, and so here are a few observations fresh out of the gate:
- Given the complexities of deciphering impacts from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), and the potential for more tinkering on federal tax codes, overall hiring will remain sluggish and uneven for the foreseeable future – except among the legal, accounting, insurance and financial firms that individuals and businesses will hire to help move the woefully unprepared through this maze of new regulations.
- Forget the “fiscal cliff” battle, the real concern for companies from this point forward remains going “over 50,” the magic number of employees small business owners dread reaching because of the new federal health insurance requirements. In this region, the service and hospitality industries have kept hiring aloft for the past several years; however, this one issue may stunt their growth and/or cause inflation as businesses look to offset these new costs.
- The regional health care industry will accelerate its position as the leading employer for salaried workers and for entrepreneurial opportunities. We are already seeing a mindboggling explosion in the construction of new health care facilities, expansion of existing locations, the launch of new home health care providers, adaptive reuse of older commercial properties converting to medical offices, the rapid growth of regional private health care providers and potential mergers of other organizations. If your livelihood or business is not somehow connected to health care now, it will be in some capacity over the next decade.
- Westchester County will continue its position as the epicenter of the NY BioHud Valley life sciences cluster with more than 30 biotechnology companies in Westchester alone, including two of the largest in the world, Regeneron and Acorda Therapeutics. These firms are rapidly expanding by adding employees just to keep up with the demand. That’s great for the region, as every new scientist adds five other jobs to the local economy – three professionals and two nonprofessionals.
- Virtual and flexible workspaces are growing throughout the county, allowing more home-based business owners to move out of their spare bedrooms and into collaborative office environments – at least for a day or two a week. In these spaces, you will find hedge fund managers and freelancers sharing ideas over a cup of coffee. Think of these offices as entrepreneurial business incubators without government funding. These work settings are altering the way in which we deliver products and services to these firms. That sounds challenging, but really, it is the sound of opportunity knocking.
Ultimately, Westchester County always succeeds, because no matter what the conditions on the ground, we have the winning talent on the track. That’s what makes horse racing, and what make Westchester County the best place for businesses to grow and prosper.
Laurence P. Gottlieb is the director of economic development for Westchester County. He can be reached at email@example.com.