Week in Review: How to stem confidence crisis; Big week for Hudson Valley tech firms

Driving the day: Another day in the red for S&P500, U.S. stock markets, but Westchester a bright spot – As of 2:30pm, the S&P500 – the broadest measure of corporate America – is down by 1.5 percent on the day and is likely headed for a negative week, barring any major developments. In the 3rd quarter, the index has shed 13 percent overall. While unrest in Europe is very clearly having a major bearing on the stock market and on many – if not all – of the S&P500, uncertainty in the labor market and in the housing market are continuing to deflate any shred of optimism for the economy to make a comeback.

In conversations with dozens of business owners and bankers, Westchester County is very clearly a bright spot. Unemployment is markedly below the U.S. average (6.5 percent vs. 9.1 percent) and there are major real estate, retail, and hotel developments ongoing in Yonkers, White Plains, Port Chester, and many places in between. One need look no further than this week’s $4.4 billion announcement (IBM, Intel, et al – more on that later in this post) that cemented the Hudson Valley as the state’s “intellectual capital” (hat tip: Larry Gottlieb) and state as a whole as the place to be for semiconductor research and manufacturing.

Yet there is still a lingering crisis of confidence – even in Westchester. The county’s businesses have become much more diversified over the years, and as such they are better suited to weather the effects of an economic slowdown. Few Westchester businesses are directly affected by the fluctuations of the stock market or by debt talks in Europe. But because those are the most visible indicators of the economy, that is what people look to. Additionally, people’s confidence is impacted by what they can physically see and relate to. Maybe IBM is creating 1,000 jobs in East Fishkill and Yorktown Heights, but all someone in Dobbs Ferry might see is that “For Sale” sign that has been in front of their neighbor’s yard for months, or a vacant store front that has been so for equally long.

What is needed, surprisingly enough, is more risk-taking. I’m not suggesting ill-advised risk-taking, but instead, for an environment where a strong business plan won’t be blunted by excessive regulations and ultra-cautious lenders. There has been an overcorrection following the recession, and businesses are paying the price. Until that is fixed, job growth will be slow, and confidence will continue to wane.  

They Said It: “Americans don’t like bad news, they prefer good news, but what they really, really can’t tolerate is a lack of certainty,” said Anthony J. Domino Jr., managing principal of Associated Benefit Consultants in Rye Brook, in an Aug. 22 interview with the Business Journal and repeated in a Sept. 23 interview.  

Westchester County Business Journal headlines:

Sprouting Hotels – Mixed developments that feature hotels and retail locations are becoming increasingly common in Westchester. Here, we visit Metro Plaza in White Plains.

Migration Taxes State’s Finances – While migration of taxpayers and their families from the state slowed dramatically after the recession, a recent report says the cumulative effects of the past decade’s departures have taken a toll on the state’s finances.

Tech Firms to Invest $4.4 Billion – In the much-publicized news of the week, a joint venture of five technology firms to refine computer chip technology in New York state has resulted in a combined $4.4 billion investment, including $3.6 billion by IBM Corp., with the projects yielding a projected 4,400 new jobs.

Clinton: Government, Companies Must Invest in the Future – At the “New York Open for Business” statewide conference in Albany on Tuesday, former president Bill Clinton said that in order to invest in the future, sacrifices – including in health care and entitlement spending – would be necessary in the present.

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