Orange County Partnership awards gala unites government officials, business leaders

By James Walsh
Times Herald-Record
Posted Dec. 3, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
Updated at 1:02 AM

NEW WINDSOR – The Orange County Partnership drew about 600 people to its annual awards gala, a premier networking event to celebrate achievements and reflect on challenges facing the business community.

Tuesday evening’s program at Anthony’s Pier 9 began with drinks poured from a top-shelf bar, and casual hors d’oeuvres.

Attendees reflected that the partnership held true to the vision of former County Executive Lou Heimbach. He founded the organization 25 years ago to unite government and business on a mission of bringing economic vitality to the region. Current County Executive Steve Neuhaus, as well as county legislators, town supervisors, and village mayors were among officials chatting it up with bankers, real estate brokers, manufacturers, CPA’s, and entrepreneurs.

This was not only a big crowd, it was a tall crowd. At least it seemed that way to those of average height as they squirmed to food stations between towering blue suits.

“I’ve been noticing that tonight,” said Carlos Vega, creative director for A.J. Ross Advertising, Marketing & Design.

“I need to get platform shoes,” said the 5-foot, 9-inch Vega. “It must be something in the water around here.”

Orange Regional Medical Center spokesman Rob Lee detected genetics at work.

“I’m thinking that in business, a lot of leaders are tall,” Lee opined.

John Steinberg, member of the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, saw it as a perception issue.

“Maybe the tall people just stand out,” said Steinberg, who stands out at 6-feet, 3-inches.

Networking gave way to the awards ceremony in a room equipped with three large video screens. That gave those in the banquet-hall hinterlands a close-up of the speakers.

The assembly was warmed up with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem by Master Sgt. MaryKay Messenger, vocalist for the U.S. Military Academy Band, who grew up in Newburgh and has played Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and Yankee Stadium.

Partnership President Maureen Halahan took the stage as coffee was poured and forks put to dessert.

Halahan thanked the IDA for tax incentives to draw businesses here, and for launching a “shovel ready” program to stock the county with sites ready for building.

The video screens highlighted Pratt & Whitney’s $140 million investment in the Town of Wallkill, which earned the company the partnership’s Golden Shovel Award.

Halahan also touched on the hottest topic of the moment: Orange County’s chances for a casino.

Depending on which "expert" was consulted, Halahan said, Orange County was either a shoe-in or had no chance.

The state unveils its choices on Dec. 17.

Mothers in attendance were applauded. Shout outs went to Norma Halahan, mother of Maureen, and to Elfriede Littman, matriarch of the family whose USAI Lighting took home the Spirit of Innovation Award.

Alan Seidman, executive director of the Construction Contractors Association, and James Smith, founder of Advance Testing Co. Inc., introduced John D’Ambrosio, retired 30-year president of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, and William Richards, the retiring president of SUNY Orange. They received the Quality of Life Award for educating present and future business leaders.

Seidman drew good-natured groans after noting D’Ambrosio’s penchant for corny jokes, and that both he and Richards had doctoral degrees.

“Since we have two docs being honored tonight,” Seidman said, “I guess you’d call that paradox.”

A light-hearted evening turned serious as keynote speaker KT McFarland unleashed her vision of the world.

A nuclear-arms race was in the Middle East’s not-too-distant future, said McFarland, a former aide to Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council, and an analyst for Fox News.

She predicted a deepening of European economic woes, and a Russian economy spiraling downward along with the value of its oil. As Russia muscles into Ukraine, McFarland said, China will push its way into Southeast Asia.

The room grew as subdued as a wake. Only a few hands rose when McFarland asked if America had seen its best days.

Life returned as McFarland said the United States had the oil and the technological know-how to rise above the fray.

“The U.S. is the only country in the world with all of the ingredients to be an economic power,” McFarland said. “The future is so much better than the current dark days.”