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Businesses mingle at annual Queens Chamber of Commerce expo

By Madina Toure

More than 1,200 businesses of varying sizes throughout the borough took part in the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Queens Business Expo and Breakfast at Citi Field last week.

The May 13 expo and breakfast featured a panel titled “Technology, It’s not just for Geeks, It’s for everyone,” which looked at how technology is not exclusive to companies that engage in coding but is used by all industries to enhance their businesses.

Vendors included the TimesLedger Newspapers, the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, EmblemHealth, New York State of Health, Maspeth Federal Savings, the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, New York Life and the New York State Comptroller’s Office.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said her office is working with Coalition for Queens, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the borough’s tech community to increase economic opportunities, and has monthly meetings with stakeholders from Long Island City.

She noted that the borough is going to be receiving 77 Wi-fi kiosks, with the program rolling out in Jamaica first.

“The technology industry is proving to be a reliable and affordable place to do business,” Katz said.

The annual event, which was one of the chamber’s late executive director’s favorite events, featured a tribute to Jack Friedman put together by Chris Donovan, a member of the chamber. Friedman’s family members were present.

Panelists included Alan Levy, chairman and co-founder of Xchange Telecom, a telecommunications company; Rachel Haot, chief digital officer and deputy secretary for technology for New York State as part of Gov. Cuomo’s executive chamber; Erik Grimmelmann, president and CEO of the New York Technology Council; and Cyna Alderman, managing director of the Daily News Innovation Lab, an initiative that seeks to engage with the city’s startup community.

Levy, who attended PS 209 in Whitestone and grew up with Friedman, said his company, Xchange Telecom, is working on a broadband network in Queens and Brooklyn to bring internet to areas that desperately need it.

“Queens is like a digital desert … a lot of businesses are struggling with getting good broadband connectivity and we’re solving these problems,” Levy said.

Haot said she has seen an increased emphasis not only on how to hire individuals but also “career-changers.”

For example, she highlighted the Coalition for Queens’ Access Code, which provides people from low-income and minority backgrounds with free-of-charge code training and job placement.

She also said they are looking to work with Queens College, which she said produces “thousands of engineers.”

“Continuing education, professional development, people who are well into their careers and want to make a change,” Haot said. “There’s a huge need there.”

Grimmelmann said broadband may be easier to build in Queens than in other parts of the city.

“The fact that it’s not as dense here will be an advantage when it comes to that,” he said.

Alderman encouraged small- and medium-sized business owners in Queens not to be intimidated by the technology startup community.

“Once you get started in whatever way you’re most comfortable, if it’s setting up your Twitter account or launching your website, you’ll see results,” Alderman said.

Rosedale resident Andrea Owen-Boyd, who works as a financial consultant for AXA Advisors, said now is an opportune time for markets to focus on technology.

“I have a 23-year-old son and a 10-year-old son and you see that technology, that’s where the world is going,” Owen-Boyd said. “They want to go to a restaurant, they use their phones.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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