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Westchester County Association Convenes 'Smart Growth' Conference

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke discusses the “perils of holding onto your past” at “Westchester: County of Tomorrow” conference organized by the Westchester County Association. With him are Jason Widen, Susan Dawson and Seth Pinsky.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke discusses the “perils of holding onto your past” at “Westchester: County of Tomorrow” conference organized by the Westchester County Association. With him are Jason Widen, Susan Dawson and Seth Pinsky. Photo Credit: Lynda Shankman Curtis

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The future of Smart Growth in Westchester County began in earnest last week as leaders from various business, government, nonprofit, and financial sectors convened at the Westchester County Association’s (WCA) sold-out conference, “Westchester: County of Tomorrow.”

Speakers from New York City, Austin, Chattanooga, and Raleigh explained how their regions created innovation eco-systems to ride a tide of demographic and technological trends — trends that are rewriting the rules of economic development in the United States today. The WCA organized the conference as part of its new “BLUEPRINT for Smart Growth“ for the region.

“Welcome to the future,” said William M. Mooney, Jr., president and CEO of the WCA, at the conference start. “This is easily the most important conference in our region in a decade. Westchester County is on the cusp of greatness as we are about to turn this region into a major national hub of innovation and flourishing business. The outstanding individuals here today came from across the USA to share their experiences and insights to help us at this important juncture.”

Presenters and panelists spoke of the urgent need for collaboration among business leaders, officials, and educational institutions to set a bold vision for the future, and use communication, public-private financing, and political will to achieve it. “You can lead through influence,” said Susan Dawson, executive director of the E3 Alliance, which has reduced truancy and advanced STEM education in Austin. “Use data to tell a story, and make it memorable,” she said.

Keynote speaker Dean Whittaker, an economic development futurist and CEO of Whittaker Associates, Inc., said the County’s future depends on thinking long-term and looking at the emerging trends shaping the future. “In business, we used to say ‘Adapt or Die,’ but that’s not true anymore. It’s ‘Anticipate or Die.’ You have to get out in front of everything.”

“Westchester can do it,” said Andrew C. Peskoe, an attorney, private investor, and principal of Israel Cleantech Ventures, Inc. “Build the physical plant for incubators, offices for venture capitalists, and collaborative work space that young people want.” Peskoe and fellow panelists speaking on the panel “P3 for Smart Growth – Show Me the Money!” emphasized the necessity of building communities to attract millennials. “Millennials comprise the largest segment of today’s workforce, but they have specific ways they want to live, work, and play,” he said.

Conference speakers and participants commented afterwards that the conference marked a turning point. As keynote speaker Whittaker said, “Not many regions are thinking about these things. You are showing great leadership here.”

William V. Cuddy, Jr. chairman of the WCA’s BLUEPRINT for Smart Growth, said the WCA is committed to using the lessons learned at the conference to develop a regional strategy for the future. “We have learned that we need data, we need to collaborate, cooperate, and communicate our vision to the public,” he said. He announced that the WCA will be setting up task forces as part of the BLUEPRINT to get the ball rolling.

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