Orange County ‘doing a great job’

The “dats and stats” were flying fast and furiously at April’s Membership Breakfast at West Hills Country Club in Middletown:

  • Orange County is the third fastest growing county in the Hudson Valley, behind just Westchester and Rockland, and the 12th fastest growing in New York State.
  • The population is aging: the median age in 2000 was 34.7; in 2014 it was 36.8. It’s expected that by 2030, 145,000 individuals will be 65 and older.
  • 77% of the businesses in Orange County have fewer than 10 employees.
  • 59% have fewer than four employees.
  • Only 4% have 50 or more employees.
  • The largest employers are healthcare, retail and construction.

Jonathan Drapkin, President and CEO of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress for the past 10 years, and Joe Czakja, Pattern’s Vice President for Research, Development and Community Planning, shared these statistics and many more as guest speakers at the Chamber’s April 14 breakfast meeting All in all, from an economic development perspective, Orange County is “doing a great job,” said Drapkin. But he did emphasize that no matter how successful something is, there’s always room for improvement.

“The key to success in economic development is leadership,” he said, adding that Orange County is often seen as “a model of how to do things right.” Close on the heels of leadership is creativity. “We’re always trying to hit home runs when we should be going for singles and doubles,” he said, pointing out that more attention needs to be paid to small business and finding new ways to help this huge segment of our economy.

SEQRA – the state’s environmental review process – needs “certainty and real timelines,” Drapkin said, explaining that it can take far too long for local projects to be approved.

Reducing poverty may seem like a no-brainer but, he said, it behooves us all to work for this because “we’re paying for it one way or another.”

Let’s seriously consider creating “innovation districts” in our cities, said Drapkin, suggesting that healthcare would be an ideal focus for Middletown.

While Stewart International Airport judges its success by numbers of passengers and increase in cargo, “they need to add one more growth tool,” said Drapkin, “creation of jobs.” The jobs don’t necessarily have to be part of the aviation industry, but with the available acreage surrounding the airport, opportunities abound for development and job creation.

In conclusion, Drapkin pointed out that struggles and tension are not always bad things, noting that “Some amount of conflict is good. It forces you to get to a better place.”