March 19, 2021 Op-Ed By Felicia Kalan
In 2019, Astoria was ranked “Top 10 coolest neighborhoods in the world” by Time Out magazine, mostly due to the character of our neighborhood reflected in our small businesses.
Two years later, sadly many of those same businesses have been forced to close as one third of our businesses in the city have shut down due to the pandemic and subsequent government shutdowns. As we work to rebuild Queens, economic recovery must be centered on our small businesses. Moreover, the creativity and innovative spirit of New Yorkers needs to be unleashed.
The unemployment rate is currently 11.4 percent although we are seeing our economy slowly recover from June of 2020, when it was around 20 percent . The rate remains high compared to 2019, when it was 4.3 percent. The biggest job losses in New York City have been in the retail, food, hospitality, construction and art industries.
In previously thriving commercial areas of our borough, there are now empty storefronts, trash piling up and many people without jobs. We need new vision to rebuild.
Part of my professional background as the former V.P. of COhatch is revitalizing local economies by creating community space and start-up incubators featuring local retail and food businesses. I have seen this model revitalize communities across the U.S. and a similar model can work here in Queens to create a massive impact on our local economy.
It is time our city government steps up to leverage the city budget to do something financially sustainable and create jobs. My idea is to empower subsidized community spaces that work in conjunction with city council offices.
The spaces would mainly function similar to a co-working space where local entrepreneurs can work and grow their business and local nonprofits and CBOs can meet. They would also feature several “markets” with local retail and food startup companies at low-cost rent in shared spaces.
The end goal of the incubator spaces is to fill our vacant properties with local businesses. It would be crucial to target low-income areas and commercial streets and provide a pathway to ending cyclical poverty. Moreover, we can create events in our community spaces, invite the local community and create an “angel investor” program to fund local entrepreneurs through “pitch” events where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to the local community.
Not only do we need elected officials committed to attracting businesses and bringing jobs, we need to also ensure new jobs go to local residents. Even with our large pool of local talent, often it’s difficult to connect to prospective employers and our community spaces would be the perfect place to make those connections and receive job training.
We will create a direct pipeline for locals to get workforce training, internships and apprenticeships. Our community spaces would be booked through a borough based app. The app would also serve as a connecting point for area residents to collaborate on existing problems in the neighborhood to create community led solutions working directly with elected officials. Moreover, the app would feature local job listings and job training programs.
With a growing budget deficit, we need to get creative and create short term and long- term impact in our communities. Any investments we make in growing small businesses will allow our tax dollars to work directly for the benefit of our communities while maintaining the character of our neighborhoods and improving quality of life.
If elected to City Council, I will fight to ensure Queens is the future for local entrepreneurship incubation and my top priority is getting people back to work and ultimately live out the best version of themselves for the benefit of our communities. We need elected officials to do their part to ensure Queens continues to be an amazing place to live, work and raise a family.
Felicia Kalan is an Astoria resident running for city council to represent the 22nd District .