New York has had eight years of what mayoral candidate Bill Thompson calls a “barbell economy” that “created low-paying jobs with no benefits on one end, high-paying jobs predominately in finance and business services on the other, and very few jobs in between.” According to Thompson, the “middle class, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and working families have been shut out.” Thompson has introduced a comprehensive plan “that focuses on real solutions to create a diverse post-boom era economy that produces long-term, living-wage jobs.”
Thompson’s A New Direction for a New Economy has a three-pronged approach: make New York City a true center of entrepreneurial, small business growth; restructure our workforce development system to give New Yorkers the skills required to hold jobs that pay good wages; and include the entire city and all economic groups in the creation of long-term, living-wage jobs and career ladders to the middle class as a top priority.
In a recent presentation to the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, Bill Thompson spoke of the plight of New York’s historic Garment District as an example of how private sector jobs and businesses have been negatively impacted by current policies.
New York’s world-class Garment District has traditionally thrived because of the close proximity of talent across the field – clothing designers, pattern makers, fabric manufacturers, producers of buttons, zippers and trim makers, garment manufacturers, showrooms and merchandisers, and fashion show operations. These entities require space to sustain and grow the industry. Thompson points to Bloomberg’s development and rezoning policies as a threat to the industry – an assertion supported by the Garment Industry Development Corporation.
According to Thompson, since 2002, nearly 2,000 acres of manufacturing zones have been rezoned for other uses. “To make matters worse,” said Thompson, “the city now wants to rezone another 1,800 acres – a combined 20 percent of our manufacturing acreage and 40 percent of already-built industrial space – despite the fact that many of our 7,000 manufacturers are looking to expand.” Thompson said he will “enforce existing zoning regulations that were established to protect manufacturers from real estate speculators who offer only short-term leases – a practice that has discouraged many manufacturers from locating in New York City.” Thompson would place a “moratorium” on the proposed rezoning of an additional 1,800 acres in manufacturing zones. He said he will also “work with manufacturers, the fashion industry and labor unions to arrange for up to one million square feet of dedicated garment manufacturing space in nonprofit buildings, the amount of space the industry says it requires to thrive and to expand.”
With help from low-cost financing and grants, Thompson said he will also “replicate programs like the highly successful Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center which helps nonprofits acquire, rehabilitate and renovate run-down industrial properties. These new centers will be designed for occupancy at affordable rents by small manufacturers and creative firms in fields such as architecture, design and high tech.” In addition, as mayor, Thompson said he would develop a centralized, online, searchable database of all available commercial space under 5,000 square feet for small business tenants looking for open, small commercial space. He would also establish “Retail Retention Zones” which would offer incentives to property owners so that “independent retailers can compete for retail space with deep-pocketed retail chains and banks.”
To better support NYC’s small business and long-term economic health, “We must also help New Yorkers acquire the skills they need to compete for jobs created by these newly empowered businesses,” said Thompson. “Under Mayor Bloomberg, the current $925 million dollar city-administered [workforce development] system is uncoordinated and often at odds with itself.” Thompson’s office found “the system lacks a unifying mission, and that its 33 different programs report to three different deputy mayors with no reference to a citywide economic development strategy.” Specifically, Thompson said, “It’s incredible that the Department of Education’s Career and Technical programs – which trains thousands of high school students in everything from aircraft mechanics to computer technology – are entirely separate from the rest of the workforce development system, and that no one is in charge of coordinating the whole effort.”
Thompson said as mayor, he would establish a Mayor’s Office of Skills Development to ensure that “our city’s workforce development efforts are comprehensive, coordinated and focused on sectors where our city seeks a competitive advantage.”
Thompson’s support for small businesses as NY’s economic engine is concrete. According to Thompson, “Roughly 98 percent of New York City firms have fewer than 100 employees. These businesses account for almost half the city’s private-sector payroll.”
The Office of the Comptroller under Bill Thompson has paid particular attention to Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises. A recent audit found the Department of Small Business Services (DSBS) did not completely comply with Local Law 129, which was enacted in response to a disparity study commissioned by the NYC Council in 2005. The study found that there was a significant disparity in contracting opportunities afforded to certain M/WBE groups in the procurement of construction, professional services, standard services and goods. Local Law 129 was intended to address the disparities revealed by the study. As stated in the law, DSBS “shall administer, coordinate and enforce a citywide program established by local law for the identification, recruitment, certification and participation in city procurement of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises.”
Thompson said, “The fundamental goal of the program is to increase M/WBE participation in the city’s procurement process, not merely to give these companies an opportunity to compete.” The Comptroller’s Review of FY 2008 agency purchases from M/WBEs found that of the 23 agencies that were required to submit an agency utilization plan, 12 agencies met a total of 21 prime contract utilization goals out of 241 applicable categories. The total value of the prime contracts entered into by these agencies was $369,417,386, with a targeted goal to spend $107,816,905 in contracts with M/WBEs. “However,” said Thompson, “the actual value of contracts with M/WBEs was a paltry 14 percent of that goal, or $14,882,561.”
Comptroller Thompson found several noncompliance issues of contractors that were discovered by DSBS, including: a prime contractor adjusted the subcontracting requirements of a contract without notifying the agency; no proof of payment to a subcontractor was provided by the prime contractor for two contracts; and a prime contractor did not meet its subcontracting goals. The Comptroller’s Office surprisingly found that although noncompliance was discovered, DSBS never notified the audited agencies and contractors of the findings. “If an agency is not made aware of the audit’s outcome, especially when there are findings of noncompliance, there is no way to ensure they know what is taking place and certainly have no means to ensure the problem gets rectified,” Thompson said. “Common sense was missing here.”
Thompson has made several recommendations, including that DSBS should: immediately meet with all agencies not meeting their goals to discuss ways that they could improve, and document the results of those meetings; at least annually review and document its review of the utilization of M/WBEs by the agencies subject to the local law requirements to determine if they are meeting the goals stated in their M/WBE utilization plans; meet and document its meetings with the agencies that are not achieving their M/WBE utilization goals to determine the reason(s) the goals are not being met and whether the agencies are making all reasonable efforts to do so. In addition, based on the results of these meetings, DSBS should determine whether any common factors exist among the agencies that may need to be addressed, and establish a system whereby audit findings are followed up with contractors (both prime and subs as appropriate) and contracting agencies in a timely manner.
Bill Thompson has established on the Comptroller’s website a list of procurement resources for Minority and Women-owned businesses.