The economy, the economy. The longstanding recession has been the main preoccupation of politicians, business people and, ultimately, everyone, but at this morning's Business Council of Westchester breakfast at , a sense of optimism pervaded the banquet hall.
U.S. Senator for New York Kirsten Gillibrand was the main event at the latest installment of a quarterly speaker series sponsored by . The fairly new Senator (sworn in in 2009 when Hillary Rodham Clinton became Secretary of State) and mother of two young children spoke briskly, yet expertly, on a wide range of regional, state and national topics.
The audience of politicians (New York Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and others) and leaders from all walks of Westchester industry and organizations from Tarrytown's to the Food Bank for Westchester seemed pleased with what they heard – clapping at certain points and giving her a standing ovation at the end.
“As I look across this room, I have no doubt that the future of Westchester is strong,” Gillibrand opened.
Gillibrand criticized the gridlock and “constant bickering” in Washington. “I know that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground.”
Her common-ground vision of areas that demand our focus to boost the economy went as follows:
Made in America: “not a Democratic idea or Republican idea, just a good idea.”
Advanced manufacturing done here, especially now that the “lower cost that China offered is beginning to erode.” She praised Tarrytown's in particular and the “amazing work” they are doing here in what has become something of a biotech/energy tech/nanotech corridor.
Infrastructure. She proposed a national infrastructure bank that would fund large-scale, long-term projects privately – projects like the and high-speed rail which could be “managed outside of the political process.” Meanwhile, as we face our next bridge rebuild , the Senate will be at work on a transportation bill that may win some direct funding for the project, which, Gillibrand said, has been highlighted by the President as one of national significance.
Putting tax credits in place permanently as an easy way to make companies more efficient. “Washington doesn't understand how business actually works,” she said. (Some groups clapped for making tax credits for research and development permanent and making a tax policy that aggressively supports innovation.)
Finally, “If you want to unleash real potential look at America's women.” (More applause, louder.) She cited some statistics: women are equally educated but still earn 78 cents to every man's dollar; women are “innovators” who start businesses with eight times less capital than male-owned businesses. “Women and minorities are the fastest growing sector in small businesses," Gillibrand said.
This was the message that particularly resonated with Miriam-Keller Perkins, a professor at Berkeley College. “I try to empower women myself,” she said. “I mentor a lot of women. They need that. It's part of our responsibility as women. There's the good old boys' network; we need a good ol' girls network.”
An audience Q&A covered everything from Gillibrand's great anxiety about Iran militarizing their nuclear capabilities to a need for New York to slaughter its own meat, harness the hydropower of the Hudson, and vastly improve on education in the fields of math and science.
Shawn Nowicki, of Health Pass New York, a New York City-based company that serves the the downstate counties of the state, said it was a “great event” and that it was “especially great to hear [the Senator's] optimism about her state. She's been a real advocate for New York.”
“She was fabulous today,” said Geri Sharpiro, Regional Director for the Senator's office, who first worked with Rodham Clinton and said she admires both women equally. Today also happened to be Shapiro's birthday, so she was getting her own share of admiration in the lobby after the event.