By Danielle Douglas
In his second major platform unveiling, democratic mayoral contender Fernando Ferrer outlined his vision for improving the City’s small businesses by providing temporary amnesty on fines, revising regulations, and providing assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs, including women and minority business owners.
Speaking at Baruch College, Ferrer criticized mayor Bloomberg’s seemingly elitist approach to economic development – imposing “burdensome” regulations and punitive laws that stifle the growth potential of small businesses. “Small businesses represent 98% of all businesses in New York and employ over 2 million New Yorkers – over half the City’s private workforce. Small businesses contribute tens of millions of dollars to the City economy. We have no choice: we must create a business environment friendly to small business owners,” says Ferrer.
With an 18.5% property tax increase many business owners are having a difficult time trying to pay their rent; over 25,000 small businesses have faced eviction in New York City, in 2004 alone, 10,000 businesses faced forced eviction. Ferrer believes Bloomberg’s strategies are really geared toward making sure his “wealthy Republican friends are taken care of while making it harder and harder for small business to succeed.” Ferrer continued to say, “Although property taxes increases are merely a drop in the bucket to Mike Bloomberg’s wealthy follow CEO’s, they can be devastating for ordinary small business owners. Increased taxes eat up profit and prevent capital investment and growth.”
Ferrer insists that when this city is presented with a Mayor who “understands the lives of regular New Yorkers” it will be possible to build “a foundation on which hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs can build the businesses of their dreams.”
Ferrer’s Small Business Plans
Form a small business advisory council, reporting to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, and Small Business Commissioner, to make recommendations and propose policy for the small business community;
Offer a three-month amnesty program to give small business the opportunity to pay outstanding fines, and review all existing regulatory burdens to eliminate those regulations that fail to advance the public interest;
Provide greater access to capital – particularly micro-loans and technical assistance – to give individuals and small businesses the resources to grow;
Provide workforce training to every New Yorker who seeks employment opportunities; by linking education and job training, Ferrer will work to solve the pervading unemployment crisis in certain communities.
Help women and minority-owned businesses better compete for prime city contracts Provide real estate assistance to lessen the burden of rising rent costs and lack of space for small businesses.
Ferrer’s platform will cost an estimated $35 million, which will be derived from redirected tax incentive funds.
While all of Ferrer’s six initiatives are of equal value, the last three deserve further exploration as they reflect many of the concerns of central Brooklyn’s small business owners.
Access to Capital
“Financing is needed to help start-up businesses succeed and grow. Capital and interim financing is critical in supporting a variety of business activities, including construction and renovation, expansion of product lines, and investments in IT infrastructure,” says Ferrer.
He will invest $10 million into providing Micro-loans, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, to help entrepreneurs start and sustain small ventures, while building credit for larger loans. Ferrer is also setting aside another $10 million to expand seed financing programs to help small and developing businesses avoid excessive debt. A final $5 million will be designated for enhancing technical assistance programs to aide entrepreneurs in polishing their business presentation, updating their technology and writing their business plans.
Women and Minority-owned
Earlier this year, The New York City Council released a study found that of the contract dollars extended by the City on standard services prime contracts, only 1.37% went to Black Americans, 1.64% went to Hispanics, while white men received 89% of contract dollars.
In response to this disturbing, but not surprising, study Ferrer proposes a business match program, which would match small businesses with opportunities to do business with the City and State, through the financial assistance plans discussed above.
However, Ferrer would not elaborate on how his program will affect contract percentages, nor did he set any firm goals to increase contract dollars over the next few years. When asked if he would institute quotas to accelerate equality within contract bidding, Ferrer ignored the question all together.
Though his match program initiates dialogue it’s still very vague, which takes away from it’s attractiveness; the democratic frontrunner needs to supply detailed long-term goals for this initiative. Yet Ferrer did say, “The City must aid small businesses by simplifying its own procurement practices and making it easier for new companies, particularly those owned by minorities and women, to obtain a fair share of the city contracts.” But the question remains, how?
James Heyliger II, the Chairman of the Minority Leadership Council – the group responsible for the state’s adoption of Article 58, which guarantees 10% of minorities bids on state contracts – says that Ferrer is the only candidate who has put his group’s concerns on his agenda. Yet he is not solely relying on the candidate’s good faith efforts; his organization is fighting for legislation to ideally secure 20% of City contract dollars for minorities; Heyliger wants to see 80% of that 20% of City contract dollars in the hands of Blacks and Hispanics, who are suffering the most from high unemployment rates.
“One reason why we need to create a better climate for small businesses is so we can generate new jobs and opportunities for those New Yorkers who have been left out of New York’s economy,” says Ferrer. 39.3% of Black, and 32.3% of Latino men are unemployed; Ferrer ‘s key to solving this crisis is to connect small businesses to existing opportunities and training programs to develop intern and pre-employment training opportunities that lead to permanent jobs. This plan will also provide incentives to businesses in “emerging and high-growth industries” to utilize the City’s workforce development programs and direct funding to job training programs.
When asked if his workforce training plan would take into account populations of chronically unemployed ex-convicts, Ferrer acknowledged his concern for their readjustment into the community, but neglected to provide a definitive answer as to what he would do to address the situation. “When you discharge somebody from a hospital there is a protocol involved, who is the healthcare provider, what kind of prescriptions you need, how do you get them filled.we have nothing like that for returning prisoners,” says Ferrer.
“Small business can help us, given the right economic conditions and the right cooperation from the government, bring down chronic unemployment and help us close the skills gap,” Ferrer continued. “Its important to use City Universities, especially our community college campuses, to be the engines of job training in the city. I can’t be very specific about the curriculum, but it’s about basic job skills that don’t come from a trade school but a marriage of small business with community colleges so that we can place people quickly,” says Ferrer.
Ferrer presents himself as the candidate for the working class; someone who will invest time and money into their needs and wants.
His latest platform definitely brings a lot of important issues to the table, but some of the initiatives, particularly minority contract dollars, needs further examination.