BY KATHY KAHN
No one wants to see a balance of great companies with good jobs coming into Rockland County more than Rick Struck, who was chosen as interim president/CEO of the Rockland Economic Development Corporation and has now been formally assigned to the task of bringing great business and rateables to the county.
Struck is a native of New Jersey, but a the job with Orange & Rockland Utilities brought him to Rockland more than 30 years ago, “and this is home,” said Struck, who has worked with the REDC and Rockland’s Industrial Development Agency when he was O&R’s business development manager. “We have such great potential to bring ‘clean’ jobs here—our proximity to Westchester and New York City—as well as Bergen County, which is just behind the tree line if you look out my window,” said Struck, at his desk at REDC’s offices in Pearl River early Monday morning.
“New York is definitely ahead of some other states when it comes to economic development,” said Struck. “Each county has its own economic development entity to attract business and to help retain and grown existing businesses. We have a great team here: Steve Porath is the head of our Industrial Development Agency and knows the lay of the land; Phyllis Tucker has joined us as Director of Operations; and Lin Simeti is head of our PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Program), which helps our local businesses get contracts with the government. All in all, I think we’ve got a great talent pool under our roof.”
“It’s vital our residents understand the need to attract businesses here, even though I also understand the desire to keep the status quo,” said Struck. “We are in a great location, we’re seeing a new bridge go up to connect us to Westchester and NYC, but we also need businesses to settle here and create jobs for our residents. We need to keep our existing businesses here and when they decide to grow, to grow here, not in another state. We have the highest number of college graduates in Rockland, and many want to stay here and not have to relocate to find work.
“It is just the reality of today….Rockland is definitely not the same county I moved to three decades ago, but I do believe attracting ‘clean’ business and helping our existing businesses grow right here at home is going to help alleviate the tax burden our homeowners face and keep our talent pool here at home.”
Struck is currently focused on the recent purchase of the two million square feet of property Industrial Realty Group purchased on the former Pfizer campus. “Pfizer’s R&D remained on the campus, which is a great attraction for other like-minded companies considering a move to New York,” said REDC’s new chief. “The company is working on plans to re-energize and reconfigure the property, eventually hoping to create a mix of both retail and ‘clean’ tech businesses and office space. It’s a great boost for Rockland that IRG purchased the property—it has a great track record in redeveloping properties and making them attractive to prospective clients.”
Struck also hopes IRG and Rockland can work together to help rehabilitate the area surrounding the Nanuet train station, making it a work/live environment that will attract Millenials and beyond to the concept of being able to walk to work or to a restaurant. “There is a buffer zone between the former Pfizer campus and the tracks,” said Struck. “If we can work to successfully rebuild the Pfizer campus with IRG into a full complement of tech, retail and office space, there’s always the possibility of getting train service to the property. It’s just a concept now, but one I hope we can bring to fruition….it would be a tremendous plus for the county.”
As for former psychiatric sites, Letchworth Village and the Rockland Psychiatric Center, Struck says some kind of compromise must be thought out to make these properties attractive to potential developers. “Giving them some infrastructure—sewer, water or access roads—would be a tremendous help in marketing these properties.” A name change for the Psych Center property is also a good idea. “A new name would be a helpful game changer,” said Struck.
The REDC has a new website, one Struck hopes residents will visit to learn more about what’s being done to make Rockland attractive to business but also keeping its suburban/rural character in mind.
“People moved here because they loved not being on top of each other,” said Struck. “We’re working to create a balance, one which will benefit homeowners and our local businesses—many of our kids are graduating college and others have lost their jobs locally and are moving out of the county….we need to keep our ‘brain power’ here in Rockland, to keep it vibrant and alive as a great place to live and work. We can only make that happen if we all work together.”
Struck replaces former CEO MIchael DiTullo, who announced he is taking a new job. To see what the REDC is doing to promote business to bring taxes down and rateables up, visit its website, http://www.redc.org. “We are truly the ‘Gateway to the Hudson Valley,’” said Struck, “and we do hope residents will get on board to see we are working with everyone’s best interest in mind.”