NEW WINDSOR—Former three-term county executive Lou Heimbach took the helm of the Stewart Airport Commission in January and has led the effort to draw more business and air traffic to the state’s fourth international airport.
Stewart International Airport is central to economic growth as Heimbach sees it. “Stewart has the potential for being a real economic driver for Orange County,” he said. “Nothing would be as important as a thriving airport with flights to various destinations for business people.”
Heimbach envisions a balance between business people and vacationers. The county offers many recreational opportunities—even more if Legoland gets built. “I can’t say enough about the importance of the airport and facilitating that,” he said.
Jobs and Housing
To keep young people in the county means providing well-paying jobs. Heimbach would like to see that combined with quality housing infrastructure. What the younger generation want in housing has changed from their parents’ ideas, he said.
“Young people today prefer more of a community setting—a village, city, or town, or to live in an apartment that doesn’t require the cutting of a lawn or the upkeep of a yard.”
Bottomline, it’s all about jobs, said Heimbach. “Without jobs, nothing else happens.”
Young people will stay if they have a job and what Heimbach calls “a viable economic infrastructure” that supports working people.
Heimbach would like to see more manufacturing and high tech companies. Millennials have grown up with high tech skills and “technology jobs that young people are learning are the kind of thing we need to attract,” he said.
The local development council (LDC) in Warwick bought an abandoned state prison and converted it into a high tech park. He said there are a number of shovel-ready lots and the LDC is in the process of selling several.
Because the county lies at the intersection of three interstate highways—86, 87, and 84—major distribution centers, warehouses, and fulfillment centers have created many jobs in the region. Retail centers, such as Woodbury Common, give the county additional sales tax revenue.
Companies that provide well-paying jobs and support the rural character of the county, such as Amy’s Kitchen, are particularly desirable.
A stumbling block to economic growth is the regulation New York businesses must face. “New York has been a very difficult place to do business. It’s very regulated and getting approvals for companies coming in here has taken a long time,” said Heimbach.
He said municipalities need to update their zoning ordinances to keep up with latest trends. Towns and cities can broaden their tax base, he says, with a better review process and speedier decisions on businesses that want to open.
Some parts of the county are thriving. The areas that do well, according to Heimbach, are those with access to major transportation centers and municipalities that have upgraded water, sewer, and fiber optic infrastructures.
“Those are the areas that continue to grow,” he said.
To contact this reporter, email [email protected]