Reaching out to local small business owners, in particular those of District 26, was the purpose of Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer’s March 24 Town Hall meeting at LaGuardia Community College. Van Bramer was joined by the city Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Robert Walsh, Small Business Services Chair and Councilmember Diana Reyna, Committee of Economic Development Chair and Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, city Department of Consumer Affairs Deputy Director of Community Relations Ricky Wong, Department of Buildings Representative Byron Munoz, Department of Small Business Services Director Bernadette Nation, Department of Health Representative Tammy Lee Christenson and city Department of Sanitation Representative Iggy Terranova.
At the top of the meeting, Walsh described the many free services to small business owners offered by his agency. He recognized Nation and her team, whose efforts he called phenomenal, in their service provided to owners in dire situations such as blackouts, permit issues and frustrations with government offices. Aside from these emergencies, there are free courses offered by his office in business planning and computer literacy. There is also free legal assistance from over 20 legal firms in such areas as leasing, contracts and more, which could save the cash-strapped small business owner thousands of dollars. These services are offered through the Small Business Service’s (SBS) NYC Business Solutions Centers.
“We didn’t always have this apparatus in place, it’s hard to believe SBS didn’t always exist. We have over 200,000 businesses in New York, the majority of which are small,” Walsh said.
He also mentioned financial assistance available from nonprofit organizations such as Accion for urgent matters such as making payroll, equipment, renovations, expansion and incentives for opening new businesses, further stimulating the economy. He also stressed the increased availability of micro loans, notably from Citibank. Another sore point for small business owners he addressed is dealing with government bureaucracy. Small Business Services has a Web site to help the owners interface with various agencies and their requirements, such as the Departments of Health, Fire, Environmental Protection, Consumer Affairs, Buildings and the Landmarks Commission to name a few. Walsh enthusiastically urged everyone to visit nyc.gov/businessexpress.com, because “half the battle is making it easier for businesses to do business with the city”, he said. He invited any suggestions for improving of the site.
Some of the organizations who set up tables at the event were Woodside On The Move, Mi Kitchen Es Su Kitchen, Make The Road New York, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, Sunnyside Shines, Queens Economic Development Corporation, Long Island City Business Development Corporation, Central Astoria Local Development Corporation, Broadway - Astoria Merchants and Professionals Association, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. There were flyers on cultural events and other lifeenhancing programs available, in addition to various business topics.
One owner of a print shop was frustrated by the difficulty getting government contracts and felt Minority and Womenowned Business Enterprise (MWBE) was inadequate. He experienced too much of a runaround in trying to get contracts for his services. Walsh said as it stands, smaller contracts allow greater flexibility of buying by government offices and he would increase the designation of small contracts so the process of getting government contracts can be streamlined. They would accomplish this by raising the maximum designation from $5,000 to around $30,000 in approximately two months.
Some other topics brought up by owners and officials included a government hiring service that simplifies the process for owners called Workforce, inadequate penalties for litter, intrusive vendors, insufficient notification of new regulations and the resulting fines.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities - they help provide jobs, spur economic development and enrich the fabric of our neighborhoods,” Van Bramer said.
"Today, with 12,600 dues-paying members, MRNY is a unique amalgam of worker center, legal clinic, citizenship school, mutual aid society, policy shop, protest factory and church. Its four offices in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island are an egalitarian oasis for members, who gather there for conversation and classes..."