Michael DiTullo is determined to make the smallest county in New York the most attractive to set up shop.
Since officially taking over the position of president/CEO of the Rockland Economic Development Corp. April 2, he has made it a point to meet with at least a dozen business owners a week to learn their needs and what makes the county the place in which they want to do business – and what it will take to keep them there.
DiTullo, with 30 years in economic development as both president of the Orange County Partnership, executive director of the Orange County Business Accelerator and president/CEO of Pattern for Progress on his resume has begun his 100-day action plan.
“We are in the heart of the Bos-Wash (Boston-Washington) corridor, with two major highways directly connecting us,” DiTullo said. That corridor, which represents nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population and $3 trillion in annual economic impact, puts Rockland in its sweet spot. “When you peel away the layers of the onion, real estate is at the core,” he said.
Because one-third of Rockland is designated parkland, “Industry here developed in clusters, which works very much in the county’s favor. I’m pleased to say our phone has been ringing … we have ‘suits on the rack’ –desirable parcels that are ready and available. We are on the short list for three to four companies looking to relocate here, and that’s very encouraging … and we have a highly educated workforce, thanks to the many fine colleges in Rockland and in the immediate region.”
Part of DiTullo’s plan includes taking advantage of Rockland’s strategic location by creating a new Real Estate Council that would be made up of commercial brokers. It has already had one meeting and will continue to meet each month to discuss inventory and options and what needs to be done to broker the deal.
“Attitude and working together is everything,” DiTullo said. “If we let people know we want their business, that we’ll work to make it happen and are up to helping them through the process, it carries weight with site selectors.”
DiTullo said the REDC’s Pearl River office is set up for one-stop shopping, with its industrial development agency, now headed by Steve Porath; the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Rockland’s small business revolving loan fund and SCORE counselors. “It helps the process of bringing new business to the table that much easier,” DiTullo said.
With manufacturing making a small but significant comeback to American shores, the excess space at Pfizer’s Pearl River research and development headquarters is attractive to those in the industry. “We are part of the pharmaceutical cluster,” said DiTullo, “and both Rockland and Westchester can sustain it by providing suitable space. We have a lot going for us.”
DiTullo acknowledged that helping potential tenants can be stressful if the planning and permitting process drags on.
“It’s part of the state’s culture, but some communities have streamlined it – the result is, they are getting more attention. The town of Clarkstown has been extremely efficient in getting projects moved through its system by having every department work together – it is a very good model.”
Rockland’s most pressing problem? Its proximity to the New Jersey border, where “Governor Chris Christie has made it abundantly clear he’s going to give his own EDCs every tool available to capture business. We are very fortunate to have Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is just as proactive and diligent about bringing business to New York, on the team,” he said. “He has actually given us the first budget that is truly lower – and he’s committed to growing business. That’s what’s needed here and that’s what we’re getting, so I’m very optimistic about New York turning the corner on the Great Recession.”
“Rockland’s in a very tough financial situation right now and we need our county government to bring us constructive approaches to retain our cachet to attract new companies and make our existing firms feel more comfortable,” said Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association.
“The RBA has been very vocal in our concern, and Mike’s a strong voice. He thinks big and comes up with grand plans; and we need that. We need someone who is thinking big, who understands the basic real estate component involved. We’ve been working very well together and planning for an economic summit here in Rockland this September. Mike offers a fresh perspective that’s wanted and welcomed.”
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