Experts Address Concerns Of City Small Business Owners

Experts Address Concerns Of City Small Business Owners

Experts Address Concerns Of City Small Business Owners
July 15, 2014

Aiming to raise awareness about various business growth strategies and how to navigate potentially onerous new regulations, a panel of experts at City & State’s “On Small Business” event Tuesday weighed in on the concerns of small business owners fighting to stay relevant in a competitive climate.

The event, co-sponsored by CAN Capital, focused specifically on the challenges facing New York City’s small business community, and the panel reflected a mix of representatives from the city and state government, as well as the private sector: Steve Cohen, the executive vice president and deputy commissioner of Empire State Development; City Councilman Robert Cornegy, the chair of the Council’s Small Business Committee; Julie Menin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs; and Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

Maria Torres-Springer, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Small Business Services kicked off the event with brief remarks, pointing out that small businesses represent nearly 95 percent of all businesses in the city, and employ nearly half of the private sector workforce. Torres-Springer also ran through a list of new initiatives from the de Blasio administration that included a new tech talent pipeline, the creation of the Jobs for New Yorkers task force, a business mentorship program, and a craft entrepreneur program in Spanish, as well as more aggressive outreach to immigrant communities.

The subject of outreach to small business owners came up again during the panel discussion, with Cornegy explaining that despite the renewed engagement efforts from the city, he has found anecdotally that some small businesses are still left in the dark.

“What I found in my tenure is that there are great services, including access to capital, that businesses don’t know about because they don’t have the capacity to attend all the workshops,” Cornegy said.  

Menin, perhaps trying to create distance from the policies of the Bloomberg administration, often criticized as burdensome the myriad regulations pertaining to small businesses, touted the de Blasio administration’s announcement last week of 24 reforms aimed at reducing fines for business violations, and lauded its move to put 41 inspector checklists online so that people can see what is expected of them.

But fines are not the only concern small businesses have to worry about. The panel was asked whether major legislative initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act and the city’s recently passed Paid Sick Leave, while well-intentioned, might negatively impact the health of small businesses. Cornegy, who voted in favor of Paid Sick Leave in the Council, was careful to qualify his enthusiastic support for the bill by communicating the concerns that he has heard from businesses owners.

“In and of itself [Paid Sick Leave] is a great opportunity to support workers,” Cornegy said. “But also coupled with the Affordable Care Act, [it] can potentially put a constraint on businesses for growth and development. We want to make sure there is not an unintended consequence for these great programs.”

Cornegy added that the particular concerns he heard from business owners were regarding accounting and record keeping for sick days. Addressing that apprehension, Menin said that mediation would be the first resort for any sick leave disputes between business owners and employees.

The prospect of an additional increase to the city’s minimum wage, potentially to as high as $13 an hour, is another legislative change that unnerves some small business owners. While Menin stood steadfastly behind the de Blasio administration’s call for higher wages to tackle a widening income equality gap, her co-panelists said that such a sudden, major change could be harmful to businesses.

“There’s only so much that business can afford,” Rigie said, before adding that the Hospitality Alliance did not oppose the previous increase to the minimum wage. Rigie cited the restaurant business as an example of an industry where wage scales are applied differently because of tips.

Cornegy supported the idea of an increase in minimum wage but only if it is done responsibly, and incrementally, over a period of time, and cited a fact that reflected a sobering reality in a city that is becoming more costly for the ordinary consumer.

“Even $13 an hour, if someone told you that allowed them to survive in this city, that would not be true,” he said.  

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misquoted Andrew Rigie's position on the recent minimum wage increase. Rigie and the New York City Hospitality Alliance did not oppose the increase. 

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Azure Gilman