BY JOE MARVILLI
Small businesses in Queens are experiencing great successes, though challenges lie ahead, experts say.
Both Comptroller Scott Stringer and the Queens Economic Development Corporation said that the small business market is operating strongly in Queens at the moment, having recovered significantly from the recent Great Recession. However, the impact from Superstorm Sandy, the lack of housing and a need for more infrastructure are all problems that have to be solved to keep business booming.
According to Rob MacKay, director of public relations, marketing and tourism at the QEDC, there are about 45,000 small businesses in the Borough, with many of them centered in different economic hubs. These hubs – Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing, Jackson Heights and Jamaica – are doing well and continue to be flourishing neighborhoods. Some new economic centers are popping up too, such as Ridgewood, which is picking up the spillover from Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn.
Areas hit hard by Superstorm Sandy at the end of 2012 are still struggling, but recovery funds have started flowing towards those communities, setting them up for an improved standing this year.
“The Rockaways is still in recovery mode, but this year is going to be much better than last year. The money actually came through that was promised to them by the government,” MacKay said.
According to Stringer, who spoke at the Queens Tribune’s Small Business Achievement Awards breakfast on May 20, the focus of the economy for today and the future lies in high-tech and in the City’s immigrant community.
Just like New York used to conduct most of its business at the port and then in manufacturing, its path forward is in computing, programming and high technology, a field that has been booming in Long Island City for the last decade.
“When you become a programmer or coder, the first job pay scale you have is a $60,000-$70,000 per year job,” Stringer said. “Today, young people want to be around a table in shared office space, with a laptop and an iPad, and they want to invent and they want to be creative.”
Although Silicon Valley still leads the nation in software development, the Comptroller argued that New York has the creativity that is pushing high-tech businesses forward.
“You know why they need us in New York City? Our young people represent the creativity, the media, the marketing, the special sauce that drives a lot of these businesses,” he said.
To make sure that Queens and the City keep up with the rest of the world, Stringer called for additional broadband infrastructure throughout the five boroughs. Improving connectivity will help small businesses work with others and grow into medium-sized businesses. He added that in the digital era, any small business could become an international company, especially in such a diverse city.
“We speak 170 different languages from 200 countries. Suddenly, our diversity has become our true strength,” Stringer said.
MacKay agreed that Queens’ diversity is one of its greatest strengths, giving the market a level of variety not found anywhere else.
“We have so many different tastes, people with different ethnic backgrounds. You can almost always find a market,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges the City faces, Stringer said, is the lack of affordable housing. Due to rent deregulation, the number of apartments that small business owners can afford to live in is dwindling. The Comptroller said this trend has to be reversed if Queens is to remain as a powerful economic home for small business.
“If we’re going to build our small businesses and our communities, we can’t just have a city for the very, very wealthy with enclaves for the very, very poor and nothing in between,” he said. “We’re going to lose so many of our diverse entrepreneurs from around the world. That goes counter to the New York experience. If we keep the kids we already have here, what city is posed to be global? It’s us.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.