Spano promises support for high-tech businesses

Spano promises support for high-tech businesses

Westchester County remains committed to helping create a new incubator for smaller technology businesses, but has not yet settled on where one should open, County Executive Andrew J. Spano said.

A new incubator should be built within surplus county office space in a city or urban setting, Spano said. Exactly where that might be has not yet been decided, he added, since the county needs to first complete an assessment of its future office space needs and what current sites could be converted to other uses beneficial to county residents.

One such beneficial use, the county executive said, would be offices for startup and small technology businesses that need lower-than-market rents and proximity to similar businesses, amenities found within incubators. Tech businesses have had only a handful of choices in recent months. One is the Eastview Technology Center in White Plains, which will close Nov. 30. Another is the Ardsley Park Science & Technology Center, the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. campus which has been converted by a group of developers into an office park with a high-tech slant.

“Whatever we can do to encourage this to happen, we’re going to do. We’re going to be proactive, because we think this is going to be the future of Westchester,” Spano said Aug. 18 during a visit to Ardsley Park. “There are a lot of buildings of ours we’d like to look at (for an incubator) as we reconfigure the county government.”

In seeking a county site, Westchester is taking a different approach to tackling the incubator issue from that tried earlier this year. In June, Spano and two entrepreneurs with businesses at Eastview had discussed whether a new incubator could be established within Tenney Hall, a converted dormitory building on the campus of Manhattanville College in Purchase.

At best, only a handful of tech companies could move into Tenney, since it has less than 10,000 square feet of wired space available, Manhattanville president Richard A. Berman said.

But if additional tech companies express interest, Berman said, the college would consider renovating another building for such businesses — the vacant building that was once the college’s power plant.

An urban incubator can benefit small tech businesses if it is welcomed in its community and if it provides the mix of amenities and nurturing that startups need to survive and succeed, said Marge Lovero, president of The Entrepreneurial Center Inc., a Purchase-based instruction center for startup and established small businesses. “It all comes down to how an incubator is operated.”

During his visit, Spano toured offices of several tenant businesses, including WorldSpy Corp., Interactive Corporate Communications Inc., and General Phosphorix L.L.C., which is working to create a flat-panel video screen that is as bright as a television tube, yet as flat as the darker liquid crystal display (LCD) screens used in most laptop computers.

“Stay here in Westchester, grow and do your business. Call if you need help,” Spano told about 100 business people at a reception after his tour.

The visit allowed representatives of Ardsley Park to highlight the campus’ recent successes in landing new tenants, and more quietly, promote their 469,500-square-foot campus as a suitable site for a county-supported incubator. Ardsley Park is owned by Ardsley Partners L.P., which consists of Purchase-based developer Jon L. Halpern, Robert Martin co-founders Robert F. Weinberg and Martin S. Berger, and residential builder Nadel Associates Inc. of Brewster.

“Westchester is a tremendous hotbed for technology business. We’ve got to recognize that and build for it. We see a lot of opportunity in Westchester for this tremendously growing industry,” said Jonathan Rudes, senior managing director with Ardsley Park’s leasing agent Newmark & Company Real Estate Inc.

Newmark has included Ardsley Park in its “Silicon Alley Real Estate” portfolio of nine properties totaling 1 million square feet. Newmark hopes to build a portfolio of 25 properties regionally, and will gauge the success of Ardsley Park before deciding whether to expand the network in Westchester with additional sites, Rudes said.

The issue of incubator space for startup and small-tech companies in Westchester has been closely watched by entrepreneurs and business advocates in the county. Both groups are eager to see Westchester encourage and help nurture such enterprises, given the growth in the number and revenues of technology businesses in recent years.

In 1996, Westchester was home to 593 businesses in information technology, information services and information facilities management. They generated a combined $370 million and employed 5,300 people, with average pay of $1,355 a week.

According to a port issued last year by the state Department of Labor, “The Future: High-Tech Industries in the Mid-Hudson Valley Region,” employment in high-tech service businesses jumped 21 percent between 1994 and 1996 in the Hudson Valley region. that includes Westchester. Total regional job growth during that period was 1.7 percent.

Westchester’s hospitality to tech businesses has been questioned in recent years by some entrepreneurs because of the failure of Eastview to last beyond its initial three-year lease for the Eastview School in White Plains, just east of the downtown.

Eastview operator Athena Telematics Foundation Inc. and its parent, Westchester Information Revolution Partnership L.L.C. (WIRP), are preparing to close the incubator Nov. 30, as part of a court-brokered agreement signed May 21. The accord is a partial settlement of back-rent aims made against Athena and WIRP by the incubator’s landlord, the White Plains Board of Education.

The board sued Athena and WIRP last November, alleging that it was owed $448,621.83 in rent stretching back to 1995. Athena and WIRP said the district actually owed $646,396 for tang back about half the 75,000 square feet of space it had previously agreed to lease to them, thus preventing Eastview from realizing $750,000 in projected annual revenue.

Copyright Westfair Communications Aug 31, 1998

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