Photo by Michael Nelson
County Executive Ed Diana
So the challenge to County Executive Ed Diana is to maximize the county’s geography as well as other favorable factors, such as unparalleled transportation options, a host of quality-of-life amenities, good schools, affordable housing, a highly educated work force and a viable airport with plenty of capacity to handle both cargo and passenger traffic.
If all that weren’t enough to put a smile on business and local government’s face, Orange County sits smack in the middle of the Boston-Washington, D.C., corridor, making it the perfect place to reach upwards of 75 million consumers in less than a half-day’s traveling.
In an area covering 816 square miles, and in which burgeoning tracts of commerce seek an accommodation with rolling green hills sporting apple orchards and cornfields, Diana unfailingly strikes the right chord. He balances a quest to
bring new business, jobs and revenue to the county while preserving the vestiges of a more tranquil lifestyle that’s widely viewed as a prized asset.
Orange County has been ranked New York State’s fastest growing county in eight of the last nine years. In 2009-10 alone, several thousand new jobs were created while hundreds of others were saved. In addition, a business incubator was launched and the county’s various economic development agencies – once hamstrung by too many competing agendas – pulled together with uncommon commitment. Such enthusiastic cooperation is, to a degree, a product of the participants’ zeal and talent. But there’s also a passion and “never say never” attitude that filters down from the county executive.
Born and raised in the county, Diana has served as an educator, classroom instructor and proprietor of a popular Middletown restaurant, the eponymous Diana’s. He served in the county legislature before being elected county executive in 2001. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2005 and 2009.
‘Special Quality of Life’
Given his professional background prior to politics, it’s hardly surprising that Diana’s philosophy of governance seems imbued with a sense of genuine concern for home and family. It’s a constant theme in many of his speeches and a linchpin of the annual State of the County address to the legislature. He characterizes his administration as “very proactive toward business” but with an endgame that “allows our sons and daughters to live and work here.”
He continues, “Government must always look to the future. We have to ask, ‘10 or 20 years out what can we do to help, how do we create jobs so that people can live here and work here now and in the future?’ We all want to maintain Orange County’s special quality of life, but the term quality of life, and all that it implies, rings hollow if people don’t have jobs.”
To that end, Diana points with satisfaction to the annual Orange County job fair, which is all about training, employment and “encouraging business to come here.”
A number of commercial projects have come to fruition under Diana’s watch, among them Taylor Biomass, a Montgomery, NY-based company that recently broke ground for a $100 million facility that converts certain kinds of waste into electricity. Diana calls Taylor president Jim Taylor a “true visionary” and waxes euphoric about a business built from the ground up by a lifelong county resident who opted to locate the new facility here.
Another success story under Diana’s watch is President Containers, which recently moved from New Jersey to Orange County, bringing well over 200 jobs with it.
Even while creating an environment in which business thrives, Diana’s been able to protect the county’s natural beauty.
At the same time, Diana has implemented a whole series of costcontrolling measures. Two county agencies – the Director of Operations and Cost Control and the Office of General Funding – are devoted to reviewing all expenditures while at the same time devising ways to get more bang for every one of the county’s bucks. It seems to be working, as Orange is one of only two counties in New York State to hold an AAA bond rating from Moody’s.
Combining a multitude of the county’s obvious advantages in every important economic development category with a decidedly pro-business posture makes Orange County what it is today: an outstanding place to live and work. “Some critics say we’re growing too fast.” Diana says, “but I don’t know many people who don’t like it.”