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Author: The BCW

City Labs Program Offers Ideas for Revitalizing White Plains  

Iona University students at presentation with White Plains Mayor Tom Roach and BCW Executive VP and COO John Ravitz

Iona University students recently presented recommendations to White Plains officials for helping the White Plains Education and Training Center better engage with local business owners thanks to a study organized by the Westchester Innovation Network’s (WIN) City Labs initiative.

The Iona students presented their research findings to White Plains Mayor Tom Roach and other city officials on May 2 at Iona’s Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, which led the four-week study of downtown White Plains employers’ needs and challenges. The students interviewed small business owners, representatives of the White Plains Business Improvement District and officials at White Plains Hospital to gather diverse viewpoints.

The Iona-White Plains City Labs collaboration is part of the Business Council of Westchester’s WIN-related efforts to propel innovation as the underpinning for the future economic growth of Westchester. The BCW WIN’s City Labs spotlights a host community and teams that municipality with individuals focused on identifying projects to assist in delivering immediate economic benefit to that community and its residents through innovation. The White Plains collaboration was the fifth City Labs project.

The students’ task was to develop ideas for revitalizing the education and training center located in White Plains’ Brookfield Commons (formerly the site of Winbrook houses), a housing community with affordable housing units in downtown White Plains.

Among the recommendations, the students suggested that the center address local businesses’ most pressing needs by:

  • Establishing a web Design Collaboration, which aims to foster partnerships between local web designers and small businesses. The White Plains Education and Training Center will play a pivotal role in this initiative, serving as a hub for both group and individual consultations.
  • Offering offsite skills training to local businesses’ employees.
  • Identifying job roles with high turnover rates and creating training modules that enable existing businesses’ employees to upskill and transition into high-turnover roles.

Professor Akash Sapru led the students, who used principals of design thinking to guide their research. Design thinking is a human-centered and user-specific approach to problem solving and it requires engaging end-users to develop more impactful solutions.

“We’re not only trying to provide these students with the skill sets to become problem solvers—more importantly—to become problem identifiers in the communities out there,” said Sapru.

Mayor Roach praised the students’ research. He added that he was unsure what to expect from their study, but he endorsed an empathetic approach to asking local business owners what they need most.

“Small business owners don’t have the time to work on their social media presence. They know how to cook, how to deal with people, they open the doors, and they don’t even realize what they’re missing,” said Mayor Roach. “I thought this hit the nail on the head.”

John Ravitz, the BCW’s Executive Vice President and COO, told the students that projects like City Labs would not be possible without support from open-minded public officials.

“It’s sometimes difficult to get administrations to open their doors—not only to other people, but to students. We’re lucky in Westchester County because we have political leaders like Mayor Roach who will tell his administration, ‘Yes, let’s get engaged in this. Let’s bring in these students. Let’s listen to them,’ said Ravitz. “Having students, who are the future employees of the county involved in the City Lab program is important, as we want their creativity, passion, and insights as they look to assist the county’s municipalities.”

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