Orange County Partnership - News

Silver Linings

By Maureen Halahan


We’ve provided significant information over the past few months about the industries that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertain times the county faces as we balance very legitimate and necessary health concerns with the need to get our economy on stronger footing.  However, in an effort to try to look at the bright side of things, let’s take a break from the grim news of the day and look at how some businesses here and elsewhere have pivoted and succeeded in the face of the pandemic.


First off, the residential real estate market in Orange County and the Hudson Valley is red hot, fueled by strong buyer demand and a growing number of New York City residents looking to relocate to the suburbs for health and safety reasons.


Joseph Rand, managing partner of Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, noted that attorneys, title insurance, mortgage companies and Realtors are very busy dealing with the plentiful transaction pipeline in Orange County and the Hudson Valley.


“Right now, scheduling closings is unbelievably hard. Everybody is overworked. There are so many transactions that are trying to close this month. It has been nuts,” Rand related in a story published in Real Estate In-Depth. Looking ahead, Rand said, “September will be the biggest closing month in history.” He also said that third quarter closings will be up sharply from last year and will result in the region reaching third quarter 2019 levels, despite the market pause in March and April due to the pandemic.


On Sept. 24th, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported sales of newly built, single-family homes in August topped the 1 million mark and reached their highest pace since September 2006.


Sales increased 4.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.01 million units, according to newly released data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. The August rate is 43.2% higher than the August 2019 pace.


“Surging sales are consistent with record builder confidence levels stemming from higher buyer traffic, historically low interest rates and a shift in demand for lower density markets,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke. “However, higher lumber costs and limited building material availability in some markets signify we could see higher prices down the road.”


“New home sales are now 15% higher on a year-to-date basis, with gains in all regions,” added NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “But with inventory at just a 3.3 months’ supply, more construction is needed. The challenge will be whether materials and labor are available.”


Outside of the real estate sector, while families have shunned airlines, hotels, cruises and other crowded vacation options this summer, they have opted for more personal transportation choices, such as recreational vehicles, bicycles or boats, to escape the house and thoughts of COVID-19.


Total new boat sales—from personal watercraft to yachts—were the highest in a decade in May, and June according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. When it comes to new power boats alone, the 115,000 sold in May and June combined represented a 30% increase over the same two months last year.


Another clear sign that recreation pays during the pandemic, national retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods recently reported that net sales for the second quarter of 2020 increased 20.1% to approximately $2.71 billion. eCommerce sales increased 194%.


Dicks Sporting Goods Chairman and CEO Edward W. Stack said that the second quarter results were the highest quarterly sales and earnings in its history. “During this pandemic, the importance of health and fitness has accelerated and participation in socially distant, outdoor activities has increased. There has also been a greater shift toward athletic and active lifestyle product with people spending more time working and exercising at home. The majority of our assortment sits squarely at the center of these trends, and while mindful of the uncertainty in the current environment, we are in a great lane right now,” he said.


Other industries in the fast lane at the moment include: medical textiles, online streaming services, logistics, e-commerce, healthcare IT, on-line gaming and home workout equipment.


I hope this column has served as a positive diversion and proves that business is being transacted and some sectors are even thriving in these most difficult times.


In closing, I was inspired by the words of our County Executive Steve Neuhaus at the Alliance for Balanced Growth Zoom webinar session on Sept. 24. Noting that the county is seeing increased interest from New York City companies in investing or relocating to Orange County, he said, “There are a ton of opportunities for every town, village and city in Orange County,” Neuhaus said. “I don’t look at this bad economy and this crisis of COVID as a way to hide under a rock until the whole thing (economy) is open and we get the green light to come out.”


Let us hope that our diligence and hard work will help put the coronavirus in the rear-view mirror sooner rather than later and that 2021 will be a much better year for Orange County and our nation as a whole.