Mom and Pop and Economic Security
The Governor’s Economic Security Cabinet will be in Harlem on July 28 as part of a statewide series of town hall meetings. The Cabinet will look at, among other things, job growth and workforce development.
I think there’s a lot to be learned from the 28th Senate District – which is both a hotbed of new and innovative economic activity, but also a place with a lot of economic insecurity.
Here’s a preview of my testimony. Feel free to share your thoughts.
First, we are losing the businesses that matter most. As part of the Supermarket Task Force that I started earlier this year, I mapped out the closures of several East Harlem supermarkets in recent years. This represents a loss of jobs, and reduced access to nutritious and affordable food.
At the core of the crisis is rent, which is doubling and even tripling in some areas of Upper Manhattan. In the Bronx, artists are getting creative and using their own walk-up apartments as gallery space. For the most part, though, there’s no substitute for a storefront.
Meanwhile, big box stores are sprouting everywhere you look, including East River Plaza in East Harlem and the Gateway Center at (the former) Bronx Terminal Market. But for all the time and money this City has expended on a corporate future, it has barely lifted a finger to protect mom and pop.
Here's a good example: One of the finest woodworking manufacturers, William Somerville, Inc., is located right here in East Harlem. For more than 120 years, it has employed generations of local workers out of a factory on East 124th Street.
The business wants to expand into three adjoining lots on East 123rd Street, which would generate some 25 new jobs, as well as opportunities for apprenticeship. Unfortunately, the Department of Sanitation controls all eight lots and won’t sell off a single one, even though its vehicles do not fill the area to capacity.
The City has ignored support letters from community stakeholders dating back to 2001.
Elsewhere, the Brooklyn Brewery wants to expand and double its workforce, if only there were room in the condominium-laden borough. According to the article in the Times: "Manufacturing now accounts for about one of every 40 jobs in the city, down from almost a quarter of all jobs in the mid-1960s."
The cases of William Somerville, Inc. and Brooklyn Brewery demonstrate an important point: we must redouble efforts to protect small business and light manufacturing in a City that seems to think it can succeed in the 21st Century with everyone sitting behind a computer screen or cash register.
I applaud the Governor for his focus on Economic Security, and I look forward to working with him on the issue.
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