Home Economic Development Westchester must retain its youth

Westchester must retain its youth

The thundering sound you hear outside your window is a storm of a different kind. There is no lightning, no rain, just the deafening clatter from thousands of feet walking out of New York state.

A recent NY1/YNN-Marist poll found that 26 percent of all New Yorkers (younger than 30) are moving out. However, that number leaps to 33 percent in suburban communities, such as Westchester County.

Shocking? No. Disturbing? Yes. For over the past year, I have been crisscrossing Westchester County on my own “Torpedo of Truth” tour warning politicians and pundits alike of one irrefutable truth – Westchester is graying out.

The silent majority, those young “Mad Men” (and women), are voting with their feet, because they feel the product we are offering – and price we are charging – is shamefully stale and outrageously high.

Instead of draping an American flag across the Tappan Zee Bridge for July 4th, a giant “Closed” sign may be more appropriate.

Here are five steps we can take now to reverse this alarming trend:

  1. Lower taxes – Forget the sand, County Executive Rob Astorino drew a line on higher taxes in quick-drying concrete. America may run on Dunkin, but government’s eating habits are far worse. New York state will never be the lowest-cost state, but how about aiming for somewhere in the middle? Combine a tax cap with real mandate relief, and keep chopping until young families start moving back.
  2. New image – Embrace the volatility of today’s 24/7 Angry Bird economy instead of highlighting the suburbs as sedate aviaries for Snow Birds. Branding Westchester as “New York’s Intellectual Capital” is about portraying a business-friendly, electrifying atmosphere where ideas are bountiful and so is the well-educated workforce.
  3. Ask, don’t tell – Economic development is less talking and more listening. Biotechnology companies are growing faster in this region because we finally began asking their executives what they need to grow, rather than telling them. Tax incentives and grants are far more effective when they evolve out of specific needs – especially for young entrepreneurs.
  4. Unleash developers – There is no such thing as a “shovel-ready” site in Westchester County, and in one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression this is not the time for more roadblocks and red tape. Westchester needs an Extreme Makeover, so “Move that bus!” and give our real estate developers greater latitude in creating more office, retail and residential products that meet (and exceed) the needs of today’s young, mobile workforce.
  5. Think locally – I wish I had a euro for every parent sending his or her college-age children overseas for a semester or two. With so many European nations suffering from worse economic downturns than America, let us forget learning abroad for the next few years and begin the process at home. Is it blasphemous for SUNY to offer free tuition in exchange for an equal amount of time dedicated to community service or launching a business in the hardest hit areas of New York state once you graduate?

The weather is cloudy, but the answers are clear. Let us get the youth march going in the right direction – toward us – by changing the way we do business.

 

Laurence P. Gottlieb is director of economic development for Westchester County’s. Reach him at lgottlieb@thinkingWestchester.com, on the web at www.thinkingwestchester.com or OED’s Facebook page, Thinking Westchester.

 

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