By Mark Hallum
A symposium at LaGuardia Community College Monday discussed some of the biggest obstacles to small businesses in the city, including steep real estate prices. limited access to capital and a struggling restaurant community.
Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the city Department of Small Business Services, was joined by various business leaders in Queens during the panel discussion and Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) delivered opening remarks.
“There is nothing new Yorkers love more than the connection to small businesses in their local neighborhood, whether you’re a local coffee shop, bodega, hardware store or – like in my part of town – a Caribbean restaurant,” Richards said. “Outside of Manhattan, Queens has the second largest and most diverse economy, creating jobs for over half of all Queens residents,
But he went on to say that “small businesses still seem to have their fair share of their struggles. When I talk to small businesses across the city, they continue to be concerned with new regulations coming down the pipeline, overzealous inspectors and major commercial chains boxing them out of the very neighborhoods they love and invested their lives in.”
Yanki Tshering, executive director of the Business Center for New Americans, explained how many of her clients require loans ranging from about $500 to 20,000 and often need a helping hand bringing their business into the digital age.
“The most common challenge that they face is the high cost of real estate in New York City; the second challenge they face is access to capital,” Tshering said. “The other challenge is technology… many of our clients don’t have the capacity and means to hire someone who can coach them or train them to improve their presence online.”
Gloria Abreu, founder of Family United Home Care, said finding and training an effective staff is a challenge for many small businesses which often have problems with time management through delegating tasks to the right people.
“I think the other thing is you should know your [financial] numbers. A lot of businesses don’t know their numbers, they don’t keep track of them and there’s a time management side of it,” said Sean Peckett, co-founder of Soccer Friends USA. He explained how knowing these figures can tell managers when the right time to expand is and inform them of the risks involved in certain decisions.
Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, advised that learning how to manage partnerships and staff is the key to growth and that without utilizing the human resources available, small business owners will have a tough time succeeding.
Bishop said one barrier the city encounters when reaching out to immigrant small business owners who are distrustful of government agencies because of experiences they had in their home countries. Bishop said about 52 to 53 percent of entrepreneurs in the city are foreign born.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall