Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Five Borough Fakery

The City's Economic Development Corporation keeps doing these silly deals-or, at times, wasteful ones-and then proceeds to trumpet them as part of the so-called five borough economic development plan. All of this horn tooting, it should be pointed out, is occurring simultaneously with horrific job loss and store closings; which makes you wonder what kind of good all of this planning is really doing.

The latest mega deal is as follows-according to the EDC's press release:"The Board of the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) today approved a sales, real estate, and mortgage recording tax incentive package to assist Best Mounting Corporation, a new company and an affiliate of AFC Industries, to locate their headquarters in Jamaica, Queens. Best Mounting will make a $3.65 million private investment to acquire and renovate a 55,000-square-foot facility in Jamaica to manufacture workstation fixtures primarily for the media, healthcare and security industries, creating 15 new jobs over the next three years. The project is expected to return about $3 million in new net tax revenues to the City over 25 years."

What tickles us even further is the sub-head on the release: "Helping industrial companies grow is a vital part of the City’s Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan." Well now, let's see how the city really treats manufacturing. In 2005, the Bloombergistas drove a stake into the heart of the old Bronx Terminal Market where 23 companies were employing over 500 people without the aid of as single penny in city money.

And, if it were truly interested in really aiding manufacturing on that site, let's remember that there used to be over 100 wholesalers purveying their goods-mostly the kind of fresh produce that the mayor argues is needed to get New Yorkers healthier. As Tom Robbins wrote: "Although it's seen better days since its founding in 1935, the market remains the largest provider of ethnic and tropical produce on the East Coast. It supplies most of the city's bodegas and caters to the tastes of growing numbers of immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America who can't find the jasmine-scented Thai rice, cactus leaves, or Ghanaian yams they are seeking anywhere else."

When it comes to aggrandizing the Related Companies, however, no amount of manufacturing can be allowed to stand in the way: "Last year Michael Bloomberg announced a solution to what he called a "blight" and an "eyesore." His plan calls for wiping out the produce market and replacing it with 1 million square feet of retail shopping, most likely department stores like Target or Marshalls. The new $300 million mall would create 4,500 jobs, the mayor said. It would be built by the Related Companies, the developer of the new Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle and headed by Stephen Ross, a close friend and former business partner of Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff. As for the produce merchants, Bloomberg aides said they would work with them to develop a relocation plan."

How did that work out? The plan-does this sound eerily similar to Willets Point?-never was effected; and the merchants were essentially handed a bus ticket out of town-but not before being disparaged by the same EDC that postures today as the best friend a manufacturer could hope to have. As we said four years ago:

"In mind boggling fashion, ignoring all of the public attention focused on the need to preserve the market, EDC “senior counsel” Terri Feinstein Sasanow, has simply reiterated the original position of the city: “Here’s a few dollars to get out of town. Take it or leave it.” What’s incredible here is that the city has not seen it necessary to find a solution for the BTM in the face of a corrupt deal that is the closest thing possible to the theft of city property. The Sasanow letter is dripping with an arrogant disregard for fairness and an equally arrogant disregard for the truth. Sasanow says that “EDC will not consider construction of a new market” and erroneously argues that unlike with the Fulton Fish Market, “the city is not the landlords of the tenants at the BTM and has no obligation to provide relocation for them.” But Terri, the city is indeed the landlord and in its landlord capacity brokered the deal that brought Related into the market."

And then there is Willets Point where there are ten times the number of businesses and five times as many workers as there were at the BTM. Big retail developments, projects that will only really shift jobs from neighborhood stores to peripheral malls, are the linchpin of the phony five borough economic development strategy. Making a bad situation that much worse, is that these projects so often replace indigenous employment that is sui generis-unlike the retail cannibalization.

So excuse us if we're underwhelmed by the EDC hoopla-and what exactly has the city been doing to save the Stella D'oro factory? At least the city council has recognized the plight of the company workers; while the mayor's folks got no game when it comes to real job preservation in the face of adversity. So when we hear that the latest EDC deal will create 15 jobs in three years in a plant in Jamaica, all we can think is that, at this rate, it will only take 830 years to replace the jobs that Bloomberg wants to forcibly evict at Willets Point. Some strategic plan!