An Orange County native, Maureen Halahan took a roundabout career path that eventually brought her back to her roots. Today, she heads the Orange County Partnership, a key economic development agency.
Born in Newburgh, Halahan graduated from SUNY Orange, then Marymount College in Tarrytown. She and her husband lived in Connecticut for a spell, then returned to the Valley to raise a family. “I actually began my career as a special education teacher” in Westchester, says Halahan. “During my summers off, I worked in retail sales and marketing, and became drawn to that.”
Business is actually in her blood. “I’m the daughter of a commercial developer; I grew up in planning board meetings,” she laughs.
Her many skills coalesce in her current position. “Sales and marketing is really what we do; we ‘sell’ Orange County,” she says. The nonprofit organization includes a team of economic pros who work with groups — real estate developers and brokers, site-selection firms, economic development agencies — to attract businesses to the county.
Halahan started in the role of director of business attraction. A year or so later, she was appointed head of the partnership, and has held that spot since 2002. Not surprisingly, she’s bullish on the Hudson Valley. “I think things are gradually turning around economically,” she says. “What has helped is our amazing location and ability to serve the metro New York area.” The Valley’s variety of industry is a plus, too. “That diversity has helped keep our region afloat; when certain industry clusters aren’t doing so well, others are,” she notes. “It keeps more people working.”
And naturally, she’s an Orange County booster: “The new Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, which opened this fall in Middletown, is a big feather in our cap,” she says. So are plans by organic food company Amy’s Kitchen to open a manufacturing plant in Goshen. “Amy’s could locate anywhere, but they chose Orange County,” Halahan says. The Coach USA bus company also recently relocated its headquarters from New Jersey to Chester. And the push to allow casinos in the region (a hot-button issue that may be decided by the time this issue goes to press) has been a key focus for the partnership, she says: “All the interest in a possible Orange County casino has really put us on the map.”
Halahan also serves as one of 15 Valley representatives picked for a statewide economic and job-creation council. “The council includes many active voices, and many of them are women — there’s a true balance in gender. Everyone on the council is really dedicated to this cause,” she says.
Halahan heads a staff of six at the 28-year-old partnership, which is governed by a board of directors. Being a woman in the field of economic development hasn’t hindered her career, she says. “I think corporate leaders are laser-focused on talent and capability, and there’s a lot of it out there, including both men and women.” Females, she notes, tend to be highly dedicated to getting a job done. “And we’re often very organized individuals.” While she’s learned plenty from other women over the years, “it’s not an either-or situation,” she adds. “I also feel I’ve been elevated greatly by many male mentors in my life.”
Halahan pays it forward by mentoring young people coming up through the business ranks. “The last professional I hired in my office came to me right out of college,” she says. “The young woman had asked if I would look over her resume and do a candid mock interview to help her develop interviewing skills. The more we spoke, the more I realized she was a perfect match to a job opening that was coming up due to a retirement.”
She adds: “We all have to mentor the next generation. When you look around the region, the same people tend to be serving on all the boards, and we’re all getting silver hair,” she laughs. “It’s important to nurture and elevate our future business leaders.”