About nyinsidetrack

Staff Reporter, Westchester County Business Journal

BCW study: White Plains has appeal for young adults, but more affordable housing needed

A study released last week by the Business Council of Westchester and its Westchester Coalition for Business Development looked into one of the most critical questions facing county businesses: Why are young adults leaving en masse?

The answer is that, while areas such as White Plains, Katonah, Purchase, Scarsdale, Rye, Port Chester and Yonkers all have unique characteristics that make them strong candidates for young professionals, the cost of living is simply too high to justify living in Westchester instead of living in NYC.

(See Bureau Chief John Golden’s article here on Westfair Online.)

Kudos to both the Business Council and the Westchester County Association for making multi-use developments and the re-development of some of the county’s defunct commercial office space as affordable housing units priorities as part of their respective economic development initiatives. Now, the challenge is convincing property owners, developers, and municipal zoning boards of the validity of their conclusions.

It is now up to economic development advocates to work alongside all of the crucial parties to implement a strategy that can yield action, and not just studies and words of encouragement.

As Affordable Care Act heads to Supreme Court, a smattering of views

I am no expert on the Affordable Care Act. SO, at the two-year anniversary of President Obama signing the bill into law, I’ve scouted around for a few articles I think give good merit to both sides of the coin.

From the Washington Post, reporter Sarah Kliff wrote about how the health care overhaul has changed the way hospitals are reimbursed by Medicare for procedures. The changes, she writes, have resulted in 5 percent savings for Medicare, in higher standards for doctors and specialists, and higher financial rewards for those doctors who are the best at what they do.

From the Wall Street Journal, reporters Janet Adamy and Louise Radnofsky wrote about how public opinion has barely budged since the bill was first signed into law two years ago. They write that some of the law’s changes have been shown to be largely positive; others, largely negative; and still more are yet to be fully implemented. The average poll shows 50.5 percent of Americans are opposed to the overhaul.

From Bloomberg, Heidi Przybyla wrote about how groups and individuals seeking the partial or full repeal of the Affordable Care Act have out-spent supporters of the law by a three-to-one margin ($204 million to $57 million).



UPDATED: Lobbying by Westchester County businesses declined in ’11


Check out the second half of our lobbying report, which looks into the firms that Westchester companies most frequently employed to lobby on their behalf, and how those lobbying firms have adjusted to regulatory changes implemented since last June — just posted to Westfair Online!


We hear all the time about how lobbyists are supposedly dominating politics.

Well, in this week’s edition, I wrote about how lobbying among Westchester companies actually¬†declined from 2010 to 2011 – by nearly 7.5 percent, in fact. In 2011, according to state records, 81 companies spent a grant total of just over $5 million on lobbying for state and local issues, compared to 84 companies spending just under $5.5 million in 2010 (note: federal lobbying was not part of the records).

Notably, 12 companies spent more than $100,000 each on lobbying in 2011, and four of the top ten spenders were in the health care field. The biggest spender was Entergy Corp. at $506,800.

Also of note, 30 companies spent at least $10,000 less in 2011 than in 2010, while 25 companies spent at least $10,000 more last year than the previous year.

The first part of the report was in this week’s edition, and can be found here. The second part of the report, which focuses on the lobbyists themselves, will be in our 3/26 edition and will be posted online tomorrow or Saturday – so stay tuned!

Upbeat economic indicators push DJIA over 13,000; NASDAQ over 3,000

Despite the sharp rise in gas prices over the past month, retail sales increased by 1.1 percent in February, the largest percentage increase in five months. Excluding automobile sales (which are counted by the Commerce Department as retail sales), February sales were up by 0.9 percent — exceeding expectations (a Bloomberg News survey of economists found the median prediction was for a 0.7 percent increase, excluding autos).

In more positive news, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) small business optimism index rose to 94.3, its highest level since December 2007 and the sixth straight monthly increase.

Through 11 a.m. Tuesday, the DJIA was up 0.52 percent to 13,027 and the NASDAQ was up 0.74 percent to 3,005.

IHS Global Insight’s U.S. economist Chris Christopher attributed at least some of the good news to the recent string of good weather:

“Retailers had a good month in February as unseasonably warm weather, increased consumer confidence, better job prospects, and a strong stock market helped Americans open their wallets despite feeling the pinch at the pump.”

Christopher also noted that retail spending last month was spread across multiple industry sectors (11 out of the 13 sectors that make up the Commerce Dept. report showed positive gains) and that personal spending adjusted for inflation can be expected to increase by 2.0 percent for the first quarter of 2012.

As national jobs recovery continues, Hudson Valley hiring slows

First the good news: U.S. employers added 227,000 net new jobs in February, making it the third straight month of 200,000+ new jobs. Additionally, the Commerce Dept. reported wages were up ever-so-slightly, another positive sign.

Perhaps the most important signal, though, was news that the unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent despite an influx of workers into the labor force. (Quick primer: The unemployment rate is the percentage of job-seekers who are unemployed; if you are unemployed but not actively seeking work, you are not counted as ‘unemployed’ according to Commerce. With the rebounding economy, more and more unemployed Americans who previously might have been too discouraged to even look for work are re-entering the job market. In a nutshell, today’s news means that the economy is adding enough jobs to match the number of people entering the labor force – a very good sign.)

IHS Global Insight Chief U.S. Economist Nigel Gault says as much: “The unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.3%, after five successive declines, but that wasn’t bad news, because both employment and the labor force jumped higher.”

Now for the not-so-good news. Yesterday, the state released its January employment report, showing that the unemployment rate actually increased from 8.2% in December to 8.3% in January (note that in January, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped from 8.5% to 8.3%). Folks, this is the first time in months that the Empire State’s unemployment rate has been equal to the national rate.

In the Hudson Valley, the private sector added 13,100 jobs from Jan. 2011 to Jan. 2012, increasing at a modest 1.9 percent clip. During that same period (Jan. 2011 to Jan. 2012) the private sector nationally added jobs at a 2.1 percent rate. That slowdown in the Hudson Valley came despite a mild winter, which helped the construction and real estate industries.

Yonkers, Ossining waterfront plans show signs of progress

In this week’s Westchester County Business Journal, Bureau Chief John Golden wrote about new developments at two separate waterfront properties in Yonkers and Ossining.

On the Yonkers City Pier, Hudson Park developer Collins Enterprises L.L.C. has enlisted Berkshire Property Advisors of Manhattan as a new partner for the 560-unit luxury rental complex (which also includes restaurant, retail and office space). Collins Enterprises hopes that with the $147 million recapitalization deal, it will be able to proceed with plans for the third phase of Hudson Park, an approximately 20-story, 180 to 200-unit apartment building on the north end of the Hudson Park site. (See here for the full article).

In Ossining, Harbor Square L.L.C. developers Ginsburg Development Cos. and Cappelli Enterprises Inc. recently presented a new plan before village officials, calling for the development of a six-story, 188-unit apartment building, a two-story, 10,000-square-foot restaurant and retail center and a roughly 3-acre waterfront park. The plan has been stalled since the recession hit in 2008. (See here for the full article).

High-tech research complex in Valhalla’s future?

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino today announced plans to seek a public-private partnership to turn the county’s 60-acre Grasslands Reservation property into a high-tech research complex in support of the county’s growing biotech and medical industries.

The county has issued a request for qualifications to interested developers for the currently undeveloped property adjacent to the Westchester Medical Center. The RFQ can be found at www.westchestergov.com/rfp, and proposals are due April 24.

“When it comes to real estate, the watchwords are: location, location, location,” Astorino said in a statement. “The North 60 is ideally situated in the middle of Westchester’s bio-tech corridor. It can take advantage of the county’s highly trained workforce, and market prices are extremely attractive right now. We think that can be a winning combination for a developer with the right vision for the property.”

Following the April 24 proposal deadline, county officials will then evaluate all proposals and negotiate with the preferred company.



Heard in the news: $6 gas a possibility?

Before we get too carried away, let me give some context:

On Thursday morning, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk about the presidential election, when he brought up the issue of rising gas prices and how it would play as the primary season heats up. Christie’s argument was that if gas hits $6 a gallon, it would have a huge effect on the general election because gas prices affect consumers and businesses at all levels.

Granted, one can never be sure about the validity of a statement that’s political in nature. But, adding credibility to the fear of rising gas prices, a AAA spokesperson recently told the Los Angeles Times isolated parts of the country could be seeing $5-a-gallon gas “by April or May.”

Today, the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for February was just barely higher than the previous month – making it the slowest consumer confidence increase in months. IHS Global Insight economists contributed the minimal gains to rising gas prices:

“Americans are going to feel pain at the pump, since given the current state of affairs it is relatively safe to say that gasoline prices will surpass $4/gallon by Memorial Day. The recent news on the jobs front is cause for some hope that the future will look brighter, but as gasoline prices rise consumer confidence takes a beating,” said IHS economist Chris Christopher in an email.

While several gas stations here in Westchester already feature $4/gallon gas, for the national average to top that bar¬†before Memorial Day weekend would be a significant blow to the economy. Currently, the national average for a gallon of unleaded gas is $3.647 – good for a 13 percent increase compared to exactly a year ago. In New York, the statewide average is even higher, at $3.910/gallon. That’s nearly 6 percent higher than just a month ago and 13.5 percent higher than a year ago.

Preview of President Obama’s proposed corporate tax overhaul

Stay tuned at 11:30 this morning, when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will unveil a new corporate tax proposal that aims to lower the top income-tax rate for corporations to 28% (from 35%) while still generating more tax revenue by closing loopholes and deductions.

Mike Allen of Politico reported in this morning’s Playbook that the administration is pitching this as a win-win for businesses and the government, with officials saying it will simplify what is currently an unnecessarily complicated tax code, eliminate many of the tax benefits for special interests, and significantly reduce the top rate corporations pay.

According to published reports, the overhaul will:

1. Eliminate tax loopholes and corporate subsidies, such as those currently enjoyed by oil and gas companies, while lowering the top rate to 28%;

2. Enact a minimum tax rate for U.S. companies on foreign earnings;

3. Reduce the effective rate for manufacturers to a maximum of 25%; and

4. Simplify tax filings for small businesses.

Those reports also state the overhaul would not add to the deficit and would create more aggregate tax revenue by closing tens of billions of dollars in loopholes.

The timing on this announcement is very interesting: it comes on the morning of a crucially important GOP presidential debate in Arizona, the site of one of next week’s primaries. Again, stay tuned.

Drops in sales tax collections, commercial bank lending activity cause for concern?

Local angle first: today, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported that sales tax collections grew at a slower rate on average in 2011 than in 2010, saying that continued caution with respect to the economy is the flavor of the day. In Westchester County, sales tax collections increased just 2% in 2011, marking a sharp contrast compared to 2010, when local sales tax collections increased 6.4%.

Big picture: according to Beata Caranci, Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist for TD Bank, consumer credit, which largely drives consumer spending (and which in turn largely drives economic output) dropped off in the second half of January, signifying the economy may not be as strong as some are perceiving it to be.

Caranci: “…The largest provider of consumer credit is commercial banks. They account for just over half of all private sector credit disbursement. Unfortunately, the weekly tracking of this credit is showing a reversal of fortunes since the economy-wide monthly data was released two weeks ago. Not only did commercial bank lending activity come to an abrupt halt in January, but it practically fell off a cliff…

“Simply put, for those expecting a strong rebound in consumer spending in the first half of the year based on December’s rebound in credit demand and the recent new job hiring activity, think again.”