BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
On Monday, Sept. 23, the Queens Tribune and the PRESS of Southeast Queens held its first-ever Economic Power Breakfast Forum, where business owners across the Borough got a chance to listen to a number of influential leaders talk about the changing economic climate.
A packed crowd made its way to Queens College to hear keynote speaker Don Graves, executive director of the President’s Council on jobs and competitiveness at the White House and deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Dept. of Treasury, weigh in on the country’s 2008 fiscal crisis and its related challenges for business owners – both big and small.
“We were in the deepest, darkest hole this country has ever seen in two generations,” Graves said. “When the President took office, we were losing jobs at a rate of 800,000 jobs a month – our economy was shrinking at an 8.3 percent annual rate.”
“The President, working with Congress, actually got some things done,” he explained. “We were able to put a stop to the recession and lay the foundation for long-term economic growth. The President and Congress started investing in education, investing in our roads, bridges and highways, [and] investing in the young people.”
With all these investments, Graves said, the economy slowly began to stabilize and the changes made it easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow.
“Why a focus on small business?” he asked. “Because small business is the engine of our economy. Two out of every three jobs are created by a small business. Small business employs half of our sector employees.”
Michael Mattone, chief financial officer of Mattone Group, a development firm based in College Point, echoed similar sentiments.
“We think in the current arena, there is capital flowing again,” Mattone said. “We have a track record that seems to be helpful. It’s critically important that we’re an economy that can’t function without capital markets in a good equilibrium. We are encouraged by what we’re seeing.”
Immediately following their speeches, the breakfast forum entered its second portion – a panel discussion.
Graves, Mattone, former Gov. David Paterson, and Peter Meyer, president of TD Bank’s New York City market, each took center stage to answer questions from members of the audience, while U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) moderated the discussion.
A local architect and businesswoman in the audience asked panelists what is halting the government in improving the sewer system in New York City, especially following the destruction of Superstorm Sandy.
“Part of the problem in this country is that [flooding] is all over the place – it’s not just in the City. The same thing is going on in D.C. and a number of other major cities,” Graves explained. “It’s a matter of infrastructure investment. Right now, we don’t have the funding to invest in our infrastructure.”
A Community Board 12 member in the audience concluded the question portion by asking panelists what could be done to promote economic development in Southeast Queens, where the unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent.
“There are financial institutions across the country that focus on low and very low income communities,” Graves said. “To get by, these financial institutions need to provide the credit and capital that the small businesses in that community need.”
“I can’t stress the importance of being organized,” Meyer said. “We need a broad plan for the area. I know the area pretty well and the fact is that there is, you’re right, there is an alphabet soup of a lot that’s available to them – lower-end business to affordable housing to economic development that plays in the area and I think what we really have to do is get a broad base of those who are concerned with that . . . and really have a plan for the area and then look at way you can access [it].”
“There have been plans for the area of Southeast Queens for the past 50 years and the neighborhoods continue to fester and you see the children continue to be twisted and wasted, and adult population doesn’t get particularly much assistance from government – even when you’re trying to employ self-help,” Paterson said.
“But I think what really will change the situation is a true understanding of what innovation really would be and a sense of investing into the individual business that have reached the threshold where they show they can get opportunity,” the former Governor added.
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or