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How Westchester Plays Focus of State of Westchester’s Economy

From left, Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson, Jeff Davis, Taryn Duffy, Brian Schultz and Waddell Stillman

The BCW hosted the third State of Westchester’s Economy series on Thursday, with a focus on entertainment and hospitality.

Entitled “How Westchester Plays,” the virtual panel’s speakers were Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson, Festival Organizer of Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Festival; Jeff Davis, General Manager, Playland; Taryn Duffy, Vice President of Public Affairs Northeast Group, Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts; Brian Schultz, CEO and Founder of LOOK Dine-In Cinemas; Waddell Stillman, President of Historic Hudson Valley.

“The entertainment business plays a significant role in enhancing our county’s quality of life, which makes us an attractive environment to do business. It also attracts tourists from throughout the region, which is a boost to Westchester’s economy with job creation and money spent at local businesses,” said BCW President and CEO Marsha Gordon, who moderated the event.

The conversation began with an overview of how Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food event has grown over the past 12 years to five-day affair attracting 5,000 to 6,000 people. “The numbers are really staggering,” said Bracken-Thompson. “We’ve had over 1,215 restaurants and food trucks that have participated. We have close to 1,750 different wines that have been poured. We have nearly half a million burgers that have been cooked and served at our Burger and Beer Blast events.”

The discussion turned to how outdoor recreational environments became more essential during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everybody was out and about and doing things together and finding ways to be outdoors,” said Davis, who shared thoughts about Playland’s future. “We are growing this campus to encompass much more activity over the next 10 years that includes activities that will be open to the public…. We’re looking for those opportunities to grow the season because right now we’re about 90 days to 92 operating days.”

The region’s largest entertainment complex is MGM Resorts Empire City Casino in Yonkers. Since taking possession of the facility in 2019, MGM significantly raised salaries for most staff, from a $45 million annual payroll to a $100 million to ensure that its positions are family-sustaining. “We have an incredible team here, most of which comes from our immediate vicinity,” said Duffy. “Developing people at every level is really a critical component and MGM Resorts has received so many recognitions and honors as being a particularly special employer.” A full-gaming license, which the BCW strongly supports, may add another 2,000 employees, plus thousands of indirect and induced positions because of the resulting economic activity.

Transforming media consumption habits are motivating the hospitality and cinema sectors to provide experiences that are more appealing than watching a movie at home. The effort is working at LOOK Dine-In Cinemas, which has drawn 272,000 guests to Dobbs Ferry in less than a year. “As we talk about the movie theater business, it’s been presumed dead over the last 100 years multiple times, and movies are just back,” said Schultz. “We decided to really invest and get behind our team and provide the kind of hospitality and amenities that the guests are looking for because it has to be an experience.”

The preponderance of entertainment destinations in Westchester County creates a synergy that feeds many sectors.

“Although we are a not-for-profit and we’re driving towards a mission-oriented goal rather than a bottom line, we are thrilled to be a contributor to traffic in restaurants and hospitality facilities,” said Stillman. “I’m convinced that every one of the panelists represents an organization that provides visitors to us, and I hope that we in turn provide visitors to them because it’s a web of attractions in the county.”

A recording of the webinar is posted on the BCW’s Facebook page. The next State of Westchester’s Economy is June 8, and its focus is health care and life sciences.

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