By Tom Momberg
Thomas Grech, who was appointed in July as the new executive director for the Queens Chamber of Commerce, sat down with the editorial staff of the TimesLedger Newspapers last week to share his vision for economic opportunities in the borough.
Grech spent 25 years in printing and publishing before working for five years with the Long Island-based global energy product merchant, Castleton Commodities International Energy.
He had become a Chamber member for CCI Energy’s Queens market. And under the former executive director, the late Jack Friedman, Grech founded an energy summit sponsored by the Chamber in February and ultimately established an energy committee
“I think many of my predecessors have both a business and political experience in things, but I do not have that kind of experience. But I am all about business in that regard,” Grech said.
Grech is also an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at SUNY-Farmingdale. He said he believes encouraging young people and immigrants to explore enterprise and venture capital is a good way to build a strong economic future in communities.
“I’ve got kind of varied goals in my agenda. When I was doing some of my research for this position, I found that Queens County is the No. 1 most diverse county in the country,” he said. “Also, there are approximately seven or eight colleges in the borough that have about 70,000 students, so I think it’s important to harness” their talent.
To bring in the next generation of business leaders in Queens, Grech said he wants to work with the Chamber’s board of directors to start encouraging employees of nonprofit organizations to join the chamber and to establish a special membership rate for young professionals, which he said go hand in hand.
“Now just because they are called ‘not-for-profit’ doesn’t mean they are not a business. I’m on the board of a number of nonprofits, and the model in philanthropy is a three-legged stool: You try to attract people with time, talent and treasure. And I think my secret weapon in all this is the youth of the borough,” Grech said. “If I can nurture and sew some seeds with the youth of our borough, to that end I have formed a different level of membership.”
There are roughly 975 members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, who Grech said represent some 50,000 employees in the borough. His job is to grow and sustain that number.
Grech said he wants to do so not only by appealing to the borough’s youth, but also by using the chamber’s pool of interns to reach out to immigrants and small business owners, who can be substantial economic drivers.
Unlike Manhattan and Brooklyn that have large downtown areas with access to public transit, Grech said it is harder in Queens to connect and move people into areas where they can spend money.
“My challenge is to knit together 13 different neighborhoods, and everyone is different. For example, people in Bayside and in many other communities don’t drive to other parts of the borough for dinner,” Grech said. “One of the things I want to do when I start this restaurant and hospitality committee, which stemmed from all the converging number of hotels and restaurants, is to harness what’s there and try to find a way to bring people from point A to point B.”
And Grech said he does not have plans to push for more mass transit, but is considering implementing programs a few nights a week to shuttle people to different neighborhoods around the borough — driven by events and activities that people would otherwise drive to.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb