BY JAMES FARRELL
Members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce trekked to Albany on Monday with a mantra for the borough: Queens has arrived and it’s time that state legislators took notice.
More than 150 chamber members and a total of 400 participants took part in the group’s inaugural Queens Day—a lobbying day in Albany during which Queens’ commercial leaders met with state lawmakers to outline the borough’s business needs and highlight Queens’ growth. The event was initiated by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and sponsored by the Queens Tribune and numerous other organizations, including the Mets, Mattone Group, Plaxall, Yelp, Con Edison, Airbnb and more.
“For those of you who don’t know what Queens is about, take a look around,” said Katz to a reception of state leaders and local Queens vendors serving food and drinks. Katz was praised by many as being one of the key players in making Queens Day a reality. “We are 130 languages; we are 120 countries. People come from all over the world just to raise their family in the borough of Queens. And to not bring that passion up to Albany, when we know you’ve got Brooklyn and the Bronx getting their days here, we wanted to represent.”
Chamber members, consisting of Queens-based business owners and leaders—both big and small—took buses, provided by Resorts World Casino, to the state capital with the intention of voicing their hopes, agendas and ideas as well as common goal to make connections and open lines of dialogue with Albany.
Michelle Stoddart, a spokeswoman for Resorts World, attended the trip and said that Resorts World was excited to provide transportation for Queens Day participants. Stoddart said that she hadn’t planned on pushing to advocate for Resorts World’s issues as the casino has worked with Albany in the past. Instead, she hoped to help facilitate a platform for Queens constituents who may have never had any experience with the state legislature.
“I really tried to let it be about the other community members who were on the trip with us,” she said. “It’s important for Queens because we know what we have here, but we want to be able to broadcast that and we want to be able to celebrate with the folks who go to Albany and fight for our causes.”
Michael Shaw, vice president of Jamaica Blue Print Co.—which provides printing and documenting for construction projects—took part in the day to advocate for his company’s new “tech heavy” system to track construction-workforce demographics in real time. He was concerned that legislators can pass policies, such as hiring mandates that encourage a more diverse workforce, but he wanted to see more accountability for those policies.
“I want to make sure that we ensure that the multitude of construction projects that are going on within the Queens borough are utilizing the local workforce, the local talent, because it would be a shame if that infusion of project capital did not benefit the local community and trickle down,” he said. “Right now, there really isn’t a great way for the tracking of how the workforce is being utilized from an ethnicity standpoint, from a diversity standpoint.”
Others saw the day as a networking opportunity. Jermaine Perry is a Queens native whose bakery, Sydney’s Sweets, is located on Long Island. He intends to open a new location in the borough, and boarded the bus that day to make connections in Albany, especially with Queens restaurateurs, who came out in bulk to showcase foods at a reception in the Egg convention center.
“I heard about the event actually just late last week, but thought it’d be a great opportunity to network with other local Queens business owners— and just hear about what new things are happening for opportunities for food businesses to grow in Queens,” he said.
Fran Biderman-Gross, CEO of the marketing firm Advantages and a member of the chamber’s executive board, told the Queens Tribune that she wasn’t going to Albany with a specific question or interest in mind. Instead, she was hoping the trip would educate Queens’ entrepreneurs on how they can support their businesses and each other.
“I don’t think we’re really in touch with a lot of the political landscape, and I’m really excited that [Katz] recognizes that we need to educate people; we need to build relationships with people,” she said. “I want other women and other businesses to thrive, and I want to create environments in communities of entrepreneurs that can support each other, because when we compete against ourselves, we win, as opposed to competing against each other.”
When one of three buses pulled up to the Empire State Plaza, there were excited shouts of “Let’s do this!”
The Queens Chamber of Commerce provided a packet it had compiled detailing facts about Queens and, in the chamber’s view, its most pressing needs. The overview highlighted the importance of transportation in Queens’ economy, with LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports employing a total of 50,000 people and contributing $55.6 billion in economic activity to the New York-New Jersey metro region in 2014. Transportation accounts for 12 percent of Queens’ total employment, while jobs in education, health services and real estate also make up a large concentration, per the chamber’s packet.
According to the Queens Chamber of Commerce, “The ‘outer boroughs’ have historically been thought of as ‘bedroom communities’ for Manhattan—that is, many residents commute out for work. But far fewer commute in. Yet, while there is certainly a substantial flow of commuters into Manhattan, the other boroughs have a strong and expanding job base, along with some important industry clusters.”
The packet’s factsheet lists a number of transportation needs such as increased funding for the MTA and funding for businesses along the 7 train lines. It also calls for support for the Department of Transportation to support the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar project, Councilwoman Liz Crowley’s (D-Glendale) proposed light rail from Jamaica to Long Island City, and a working relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio to enhance rollout of the new ferry system that would include more economic activity at ports. Under the category “Small-Business Needs,” there was a request that LLCs be able to file information electronically with the secretary of state instead of following the current requirement to pay for public announcement in a print publication. There were also calls for new tourism and marketing initiatives.
The members were divided into teams who were scattered throughout the legislative office buildings, flooding Queens leaders’ offices for short introductions and brief discussions about the borough. They met with nearly every member of the Queens delegation, including Assembly members Nily Rozic (D-Flushing), Michael DenDekker (D-East Elmhurst), Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica), and Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) and Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica).
“We particularly appreciate you coming up and spreading the gospel, so to speak, because many of our legislators do not understand—they think Queens is an outer borough and it’s a place where you either come watch a baseball game or leave the city through the airports,” said Stavisky to a group of more than a dozen Queens Day participants in her office. She spoke about the need to protect small businesses, especially in a diverse population with a multitude of needs.
“I think a lot of what we do in Albany, we have to be mindful of how it’s going to affect the small-business people, whether it be taxes, whether it be unfair regulation,” she said.
Surrounded by a Queens Day team in Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry’s (D-Corona) office, chamber of commerce Executive Director Tom Grech spoke of the need for better transportation infrastructure.
“We talk a lot at the Queens Chamber about [how] we were a place that people traveled through and now we’re a place that people travel to, and it’s harder than ever to get around,” he said.
Aubry empathized with those transportation concerns.
“Yesterday, every bridge in and out of Queens was five miles backed up,” he said.
And Assemblyman DenDekker, in his meeting with a Queens Day team, joined other Queens lawmakers in emphasizing the importance of the event.
“I think this is important for us as a borough to be able to try to at least show the rest of the downstate members—as well as some of the upstate members—what Queens is all about,” DenDekker said. “There’s been a ‘Bronx Night’ and a ‘Brooklyn Night’ for quite some time.”
Queens Day was recognized with resolutions on both the Assembly and the Senate floors during their respective legislative sessions. The delegation was invited into both chambers to be recognized and Queens legislators rose to sing the borough’s praises.
“Thank you all for taking buses in and bringing up all these wonderful opportunities for people to experience, I think, the best borough in the country,” state Sen. Comrie said on the Senate floor.
In the evening, Queens vendors set up shop in the Egg convention center, supplying food to legislators and other guests to provide a taste of Queens’ small businesses.
Kyle Hurst is an entrepreneur who brought his business to Albany. He is the co-founder of the Long Island City-based Big Alice Brewing Company, one of only two New York City breweries that operate exclusively as a farm brewery, which uses locally grown resources. Hurst first began brewing beer in the late 1990s in Wisconsin “before it was cool.” He and his business partner, Scott Berger, started their brewing company in 2011, but switched to farm brewery licenses in 2013 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2012 Farm Brewery Law, which created the license. Big Alice Brewing Company focuses almost exclusively on using local resources.
Hurst hoped that Queens Day would help bring visibility to all of Queens’ breweries—a couple of others were in attendance as well.
“It really worked out well that Queens Day in Albany fell during Queens Beer Week,” he said, adding that events had started around the borough on May 6.
State leaders—including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Hochul—attended the reception and praised all that the borough had to offer.
“I’m really proud to join so many of my friends here in the business community, the elected officials. I’ve been to Queens 62 times since I was lieutenant governor,” Hochul told the Queens Tribune. “It’s just a real statement that Queens is really coming back. When you think about how Gov. Cuomo is investing in Queens—$10 million for the Jamaica initiative, downtown vitalization initiative—we just had a spectacular opening for the Kosciuszko Bridge…work being done on LaGuardia, JFK—this area’s on fire.”
Katz was also excited about the event’s turnout.
“I thought today went really great,” she told the Queens Tribune. “And the great thing I think is a lot of folks from the legislature learned things about the borough that they’d never known about our cultural diversity and other things we have to offer.”
Waiting in line for rolled ice cream from 10Below Ice Cream, which has one of its 12 locations in Flushing, Stavisky declared Queens Day a success.
“I think they set a high bar for next year,” she said. “Just look at the faces; you’ll see how happy everyone is.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.