Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Immigrant Business, the Middle Class and New York City

Jonathan Bowles, of the Center for an Urban Future has written some challenging stuff on the exodus of the middle class from NYC. As City Room reports: "A new report by the Center for an Urban Future raises profound questions about the future of the middle class in New York City. The problems the report raises are well-known: a sharp increase in the cost of living, along with a reduction in the kinds of jobs that once propelled people from the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder into the realm of economic stability."

Not the kind of report that the Bloomberg Windbag Machine is likely to trumpet if it gets the chance to run for the purchased third term: "Indeed, in 2006, New York City had a higher rate of domestic out-migration than struggling upstate cities like Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester and Syracuse. The report also noted that several key demographics — college graduates, families with school-age children, successful immigrants, municipal workers and members of the large black middle class population in eastern Queens — have seemed especially likely to leave."

Ouch! But the report has a number of potential remedies; and one in particular caught our eye: "...diversifying the economy to produce more equitable jobs..." This suggestion is mindful of some of the observations that Bowles has made on immigrant business-and its crucial importance to the city's economic growth; something that the Bloombergistas have ignored for seven years.

In 2007, testifying before the City Council's Small Business and Immigration Committees, Bowles observed: "In February of this year, the Center published a comprehensive report which concluded that immigrant entrepreneurs have become an increasingly powerful economic engine for New York City. Our report, titled A World of Opportunity, documents that foreign-born entrepreneurs are starting a greater share of new businesses than native-born residents, stimulating growth in sectors from food manufacturing to health care, creating loads of new jobs and transforming once-sleepy neighborhoods into thriving commercial centers. The report, which I authored, also went into great detail about the multitude of challenges
facing immigrant entrepreneurs."

And what exactly has the city done to nurture this phenomenon? Bowles responds as follows: "
It’s apparent from our study that immigrant entrepreneurs are already having a
remarkable impact on New York’s economy. But all of this has occurred with virtually no support from city policymakers and despite the fact that immigrant entrepreneurs often face enormous obstacles in starting and growing businesses here. With just a little support, this could be a much more potent source of future growth."

Exactly as we have pointed out; the city's immigrant entrepreneurs have successfully persevered against an indifferent and often hostile city government; one that is more concerned with the big real estate developers than in the tens of thousands of enterprising small businesses that are vital to New York's future: "Immigrant entrepreneurs clearly aren’t going to replace Wall Street. But given that foreign-born residents now make up 37 percent of the city’s population, have accounted for pretty much all of the city’s population growth over the past 25 years and generally tend to be highly entrepreneurial, we had reason to believe that immigrant entrepreneurs could be an even more important economic generator in the years ahead."

The Bowles report was written two years ago, before the city and country were thrust into this horrendous recession. So, given the importance of the immigrant entrepreneur, and given the seriousness of the economic crisis; what has Mike Bloomberg proposed to do that would nurture these enterprising folks? A small business loan program is, well, represenatative of Bloomberg's smallness of outlook-but what to expect of a wrecking crew that evicted the minority wholesalers from the Bronx Terminal Market to make way for a suburban mall; and has little pity for all of those small businesses in the path of city-sponsored eminent domain projects in West Harlem and Willets Point.

The city needs to get a grasp of this immigrant phenomenon-and has Mike Bloomberg weighed in yet on the crisis of the bodegas? Here's Bowles' suggestion: "Going forward, elected officials and local economic development officials—not only those at city agencies, but also leaders of chambers of commerce, neighborhood-based nonprofits that work with small businesses and financial institutions—will need to take a much closer look at this part of our economy."

The likelihood that Mike Bloomberg will do any of this-or that he should be entrusted to do it-is about as probable as seeing the mayor chowing down at a soup kitchen because he can't afford his next meal. Put simply, he has been the most anti-small business mayor in our memory; and, given the importance of small and immigrant business to the city's future, deserves to be replaced on the basis of this issue alone.