The Business Council of Westchester last night hosted a special reception with members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, establishing an open dialogue on challenging questions about taxes, proposed legislation, incentives and the challenges of overregulation on businesses big and small.
“Attracting, retaining and growing businesses is the key to creating jobs and expanding our tax base to benefit the entire community,” said BCW Chairman Anthony Justic at the C.V. Rich Mansion in White Plains. “We come to the table with an open mind and the goal of finding new ways for the business community and the board to work together.”
This is an important period of change for the board, which this year ushered in four newly elected legislators. Chairman Ben Boykin and Vice Chair Alfreda A. Williams are also new to their leadership positions. Boykin and Williams were joined at the reception last night by legislators Kitley Covill (District 2); Nancy Barr (District 6) Mary Jane Shimsky (District 12); David Tubiolo (District 14); Christopher Johnson (District 16) and Virginia Perez (District 17).
The Earned Paid Sick Leave bill, which would allow employees to accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, was among the top legislative priorities discussed. Other legislation being explored by the board, according to Boykin, includes a prohibition on employers asking about salary history during the employment process; and “ban the box” or “fair chance” legislation that prohibits employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal conviction history.
Boykin added that any new legislation passed would additionally have a focus on being pedestrian friendly, environmentally friendly, and geared towards public transportation.
“I want to have an open dialogue. This board wants to have an open dialogue,” Boykin said. “We must listen to and we must work with you as our business partners to drive our economic development.”
Members of the audience made the most of the opportunity to express the challenges they face when it comes to doing business in Westchester, oftentimes with moving stories and personal anecdotes. High taxes, over regulation, and uncompetitive policies were naturally high on their list of concerns – and cautions.
In response, legislators invited the business community to “come to the table” and be part of the discussion over the specifics of proposed legislation.
“We promise we’ll take you up on that,” said John Ravitz, BCW Vice President and COO.
In talking about public private partnerships that were established under the prior administration of County Executive Rob Astorino – specifically at Playland and the Westchester County Airport – legislators said they were preparing to take a “deep dive” into “re-examining” the deals given the change of leadership.
Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of the BCW, said while she completely respects the processes and hard work behind such a comprehensive review, she respectfully cautions that the longer it takes, the more it costs. As such, she requested establishing a fair timeline for the board’s decisions.
She pointed to the county’s largest economic development deal is notably at the “North 60” property in Valhalla, where Fareri Associates has been selected to build an innovative biotech campus adjacent to the Westchester Medical Center.
Boykin touted the project at the top of his opening remarks, saying: “The North 60 is a major piece of economic development that will create many high paying jobs… It will move Westchester into the 21st Century.”
Gordon also applauded the project, calling it comprehensive and critical for attracting biotech businesses to Westchester. “The project really ties together a key cluster of very well-paying jobs, and we think it is very, very positive.”
As the county’s largest and most influential business membership organization, the BCW each year hosts a reception with legislators to advocate for the business community and its interests.
“Now more than ever, it is so important that policymakers and business owners understand one another, so that they can come together and find common solutions,” Gordon said. “I’d like to thank all the legislators and business leaders who took the time to make this evening such a valuable experience.”