A politician’s fate is often tied to the state of the economy. And it’s no surprise, since voters perennially rank the economy as a top concern – or as Democratic strategist James Carville once remarked, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
In Washington, for example, President Joe Biden is contending with rising prices as he seeks to sell his infrastructure and climate change plans as job creators. In Albany, Gov. Kathy Hochul has promised to focus on access to child care, the needs of localities and an expansion of the high-tech sector as she shapes her own economic development agenda. Also, in New York City, executives are welcoming Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ business-friendly rhetoric.
Economic development isn’t just about courting big corporations or even adding jobs, of course. Empire State Development and the New York City Economic Development Corp. explicitly aim to create a more “diverse” and “inclusive” economy, while countless experts and advocates emphasize the need to aggressively tackle income inequality. A lack of qualified candidates in many sectors during the coronavirus pandemic has renewed calls for greater investment in workforce development. Others note the importance of continuing to cultivate sectors like the life sciences as the state shifts away from its traditional reliance on Wall Street.
City & State’s inaugural Economic Development Power 75 identifies the policymakers who are driving economic development strategies in New York and positioning the state for a post-pandemic recovery, including elected officials, government appointees and leaders of chambers of commerce, trade associations, business improvement districts, labor unions, corporations and nonprofits.
Researched and written by City & State’s Kay Dervishi, Jon Lentz and Julia Santiago, along with freelance journalist Alice Popovici.
Kevin Law left the Long Island Association in April, but he couldn’t stay away from economic development work for long. While he’s now an executive at the construction firm Tritec, Law was recently appointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul as chair of Empire State Development Corp. He brings deep expertise in energy, law and local government and experience on the state’s casino siting commission, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, of which he’s still a member. Hochul also appointed Hope Knight as ESD’s president and CEO, a role she has assumed on an acting basis. Prior to her appointment, Knight made her mark during more than half a decade running the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. in Queens, a post that will be filled for now by Justin Rodgers. Knight, who’s also a member of the New York City Planning Commission, will serve as commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development in her new role.
Rachel Loeb was appointed as president and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corp. in May, a couple months after Mayor Bill de Blasio promoted her to serve as acting president. In her short stint heading up the city’s economic development arm – and with just weeks until de Blasio leaves office – Loeb has been moving forward quickly on everything from renewable energy and climate resiliency to bridging the digital divide and investing in pandemic preparedness.
Kathryn Wylde has led the Partnership for New York City for two decades, serving as a key liaison between New York’s top business organizations and influential government officials. Wylde, who also serves on the board of the New York City Economic Development Corp., has applauded new state investment in tourism and backed the Penn Station redevelopment and the Gateway tunnel but opposed the state’s income tax hike on the wealthy. Wylde, who has criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio on quality of life and public safety, is looking forward to Mayor-elect Eric Adams taking office with his more business-friendly stance.
As New York’s small businesses struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, many owners turned to federal relief loans to stay afloat. As chair of the House’s Committee on Small Business, Rep. Nydia Velázquez played a key role in monitoring the efficacy of those programs and pushing for more small business aid. The New York City lawmaker coordinated with other top lawmakers to strike a bipartisan deal on extending the Paycheck Protection Program earlier this spring and held hearings to evaluate the Biden administration’s efforts to support small businesses.
After helping Democrats make inroads on Long Island by flipping a state Senate seat in 2018, Anna Kaplan has emerged as a proactive lawmaker, including in her role as chair of the body’s economic development committee. She has championed legislation eliminating income taxes on state small business recovery grants, imposing an eviction moratorium for small businesses and allocating funding for small business incubators. Her counterpart is Assembly Member Harry Bronson, a Rochester lawmaker who has emphasized workforce development and labor rights since taking office over a decade ago.
When New York’s leading businesses have pressing objectives in Albany, Heather Briccetti is one of their most influential advocates. The Business Council of New York State’s president and CEO has been at the forefront of the fight against tax increases for corporations and has spent time lobbying for small business relief as unemployment insurance rates rise. Briccetti enjoys a collegial relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul, who attended the group’s annual meeting this September, and she shared some of her plans for economic growth in the state.
Randy Peers, who has driven workforce development for over a decade, took the reins of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in 2019. As one of the largest business advocacy groups in New York, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce counts executives at Con Edison, Brooklyn Navy Yard and NYU Langone Health among its board members. Peers is politically engaged, joining the transition team of New York City Comptroller-elect Brad Lander and creating a loan program for small businesses owned by people of color.
When Janno Lieber was promoted to run the MTA in July, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo asserted that “public transportation systems will be the backbone of New York's comeback as more and more people return to work in person.” Lieber is set to be appointed to the post permanently by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who recently announced a postponement in MTA fare hikes thanks to the new federal infrastructure bill. Lieber is also eyeing an expansion of the Second Avenue subway due to the influx of federal funds.
As commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services, Jonnel Doris has overseen the city’s efforts to support local small businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the measures Doris has implemented recently include offering over $2 million in grants to revitalize commercial districts in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and partnering with Ernst & Young LLP to connect local Black entrepreneurs with consulting services. Before joining the city agency, Doris served as senior adviser and director of the Mayor's Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises.
At the end of the year, Stephen Scherr will resign as the chief financial officer of Goldman Sachs. But he’s following in the footsteps of other Goldman Sachs veterans by embarking on a second career in public service. Scherr is co-chairing New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ transition committee, a sign of Adams’ embrace of the city’s business community. Scherr is also reportedly being considered for a top role at City Hall, possibly leading the Economic Development Corp. or serving as deputy mayor for housing and economic development.
Jamie Dimon, whose JPMorgan Chase & Co. is one of New York City’s largest employers, often weighs in on public policy. The Wall Street executive joined executives at firms such as Citigroup and BlackRock to oppose tax hikes on wealthy New Yorkers this year, arguing it could spur well-off residents to leave the state. Last August, he launched the New York Jobs CEO Council alongside other top banks and companies to hire 100,000 New Yorkers from disadvantaged communities by 2030.
When U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced his U.S. Innovation and Competition Act – which allocates $52 billion for domestic computer chip manufacturing and research – he turned to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna this year for support. Krishna’s Westchester-based company, which is one of New York’s largest employers, continues to lead on chip research and development. The technology company also unveiled a new quantum computing chip this year that is expected to outperform traditional computers.
Tourism in New York City is finally on an upswing after COVID-19-related lockdowns. That news is a good sign for NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing organization that promotes travel and tourism that helps boost the city’s economy. Fred Dixon – who has served as the organization’s president and CEO since 2014 – has managed its latest efforts to help facilitate the growth in tourism, including launching a new advertising campaign in eight countries to encourage foreign visitors to come to New York City.
The hospitality industry was hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. But efforts such as large-scale reopenings and expansion of outdoor dining programs – priorities that the New York City Hospitality Alliance fought for – have helped the city’s restaurants and nightlife survive. The association’s work is led by Executive Director Andrew Rigie and Melba Wilson, who serves as its board president in addition to running Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem.
As president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Grech advocates on behalf of more than 1,300 companies’ needs and pushes for broader economic development in his borough. He has called on New York City’s leaders to help develop its growing technology sector and to renew development projects to revitalize the economy. Grech has also remained in support of moving ahead with the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport.
Known as a vocal champion of organized labor, Gary LaBarbera’s successes include a long-sought expansion of the state’s prevailing wage. He recently promoted the importance of establishing union apprenticeship programs to jump-start New York’s economic recovery, using funding from the federal infrastructure bill. LaBarbera, who has led the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York since 2009, now also heads the statewide chapter.
After delays and disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Carlo Scissura sees brighter days ahead for New York City’s construction industry. Major construction projects are still underway, and a business-friendly new mayor – Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams – will soon be taking office. Scissura has cheered on the federal $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which will bring New York City even more funding that will be used on transportation improvements. It’s not a bad way for the New York Building Congress to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin entered his role this year with numerous priorities, including helping to boost vaccination rates and solve long-standing problems with the New York City Housing Authority. He also assumes oversight of the state’s regional economic development councils, which have disbursed more than $5.4 billion to launch job-creating projects across the state. During his time as a state senator, he sponsored legislation to allow New York City to set up a rainy day fund and another bill to get the state’s public pension funds to divest from private prisons.
Matthew Cohen helms one of Long Island’s most influential business groups, advocating for policies promoting job growth and investments in Nassau and Suffolk counties. He was promoted to the position in May, after spending a decade as its top lobbyist pushing for a permanent state property tax cap and greater funding for economic development. Since becoming president and CEO, Cohen has been monitoring job recovery in the region and has encouraged Google to open up a Long Island office.
In September, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that Tremaine Wright and Christopher Alexander would pave the way for the launch of New York’s recently legalized recreational marijuana industry and regulate the production, licensing and marketing of cannabis products. Wright, who is a small business owner, attorney and former Assembly member, will focus on reversing the impact of aggressive policing of marijuana use in communities of color. Alexander helped draft the bill that legalized cannabis and spearheaded the Start SMART New York campaign supporting it. The state expects to receive $350 million annually, but revenues aren’t expected until 2023.
New York’s casino and gambling industry has seen a big shift with the recent legalization of mobile sports betting and disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. As chair of the New York Gaming Association, Taryn Duffy keeps a close eye on all of the policies and changes affecting the state’s racing and gaming venues. Her experience as vice president of corporate communications and public affairs for Yonkers’ Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts – which is seeking a full-fledged casino license – informs her advocacy for the rest of the sector.
When it comes to navigating state and local politics, Bob Duffy is at an advantage. Before heading the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, he spent four years as New York’s lieutenant governor and another five as Rochester’s mayor. While lieutenant governor, he chaired the state's Regional Economic Development Councils. That experience makes him a powerful ally for Rochester’s business community, especially as businesses large and small have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis. Duffy has also touted the increasing diversification of the local economy.
As in many parts of the country, businesses across Buffalo have struggled to find workers to fill positions recently due to COVID-19. And they’ve turned to Dottie Gallagher of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership to draw attention to their needs and back initiatives to continue to develop the local workforce. Gallagher has also been on the forefront of other pressing issues that Western New York businesses face, such as the U.S.-Canada border reopening and navigating vaccine mandates.
One of the top economic development officials in New York in recent years, Howard Zemsky served four years running Empire State Development Corp. before transitioning to the role of ESD’s chair emeritus. Since 2019, Zemsky has returned to running Larkin Development Group, his Buffalo-based real estate company, which has transformed the neighborhood of Larkinville into an emerging social scene of restaurants, shops and residential real estate. Zemsky has also supported Gov. Kathy Hochul, a fellow Western New Yorker, as she settles into her new role.
Once a thriving tourist destination, Manhattan’s Chinatown has been struggling for nearly two years, due in no small part to COVID-19 and an uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes. Wellington Chen, a former commissioner on the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals, leads the Chinatown Partnership, the organization that is spearheading the neighborhood’s recovery. There is some good news for Chen: Chinatown recently received a $20 million state grant to revitalize its public spaces.
The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III oversees the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church’s housing development arm. The 32-year-old Abyssinian Development Corp., which Butts founded, is responsible for more than $1 billion of residential and commercial development throughout Harlem. In addition to its developing responsibilities, the housing nonprofit operates its Harlem Economic Literacy Program to advise and support local residents seeking to purchase homes. Butts stepped down last year as president of SUNY Old Westbury after 20 years leading the Long Island institution.
Famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer is optimistic that the beleaguered hospitality industry will bounce back. But Meyer still believes that his industry should do more in the face of ongoing staff shortages, calling on restaurant owners to boost staff pay to $15 an hour and encouraging Gov. Kathy Hochul to address the issue. Meyer also chairs the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s board of directors.
Randy Wolken heads the Manufacturers Association of Central New York and co-chairs the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council. In addition, he oversees the Manufacturers Alliance of New York State, which pushes for policy proposals in Albany and Washington, D.C., on behalf of more than 5,400 manufacturers and businesses. This includes guiding the statewide organization’s work, which involves workforce development partnerships with the state Department of Labor and SUNY. He recently joined Rep. John Katko to tout the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill.
Expanding broadband access is a critical factor in increasing economic opportunities in rural and poorer areas, and Verizon’s expanding Fios network is a big part of the solution in New York City and beyond. Verizon’s Leecia Eve supports the telecommunications giant – which is also a top employer in the state – in its efforts to deploy 5G service across the New York metropolitan region. Eve previously served as the deputy secretary for economic development for the state.
Many New York politicos tune into Charter’s political shows hosted by the likes of Errol Louis and Susan Arbetter on its Spectrum channels, but the media and telecommunications company is also an important player in state government as a driver of broadband buildout around the state, including in rural areas. Charter’s Camille Joseph-Goldman has spent about five years bolstering the company’s government affairs efforts in New York. As a top executive with the telecommunications company, she also manages its strategic partnerships and monitors regulations across the Northeast.
The federal government’s agency dedicated to small businesses has Marlene Cintron overseeing its operations in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. President Joe Biden named Cintron, who has spent over a decade leading the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp., to the position within the U.S. Small Business Administration in November. She also serves on the board of directors of the New York City Economic Development Corp.
The reopening of the U.S.-Canadian border has been key to helping revitalize tourism to the North Country. Garry Douglas, who has led the North Country Chamber of Commerce for nearly three decades, has opposed Canada’s requirement that residents returning to the country must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Canada ended up dropping the mandate for short-term visits, a move Douglas praised for helping facilitate travel and trade in the region.
Colvin Grannum is the head of the Brooklyn-based Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp., the first organization of its kind in the nation. He has led the development of a comprehensive space whose community programs and events have reached over 50,000 people each year and helped more than 25,000 people find jobs. Previously, Grannum served as senior litigator with the New York City Law Department and founded Bridge Street Development Corp., a faith-based community development nonprofit.
The Alliance for Downtown New York has been closely monitoring economic developments in lower Manhattan throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – and it has identified signs of improvement recently, as commercial leasing ticks up and more businesses open in the area. As the business improvement district’s president, Jessica Lappin has fought to make sure lower Manhattan continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. The former New York City Council member has managed efforts to promote arts and culture locally and to connect small businesses to expert advice and resources.
Google is betting on New York City’s economic comeback, as exemplified by its recent purchase of a $2.1 billion office building and its plans to create an additional 2,000 jobs in the city, boosting its local staff to 14,000 people. As Google’s director of public policy and government affairs, William Floyd leads expansion efforts, community outreach and economic initiatives – including a recent effort to support Black-owned startups via up to $100,000 in funding.
Maria Gotsch is the president and CEO of the Partnership Fund for New York City, the investment arm of the Partnership for New York City. Gotsch, who has led the fund for over two decades, has overseen groundbreaking initiatives that undergird the city’s thriving life sciences sector. She applauded a new state biodefense commercialization fund to combat COVID-19 and create new jobs. Gotsch also co-founded the FinTech Innovation Lab, which helps cultivate financial technology startups.
Russell Carson was an early backer of New York’s burgeoning life sciences industry through his tenure as chair of The Rockefeller University, which focuses on innovation in biomedical sciences. Carson, who’s now Rockefeller’s chair emeritus, is also the board co-chair of the New York Genome Center, a nonprofit academic research institute. His private equity firm, Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, has invested in over 250 companies and raised $27 billion in capital focusing on the health care industry. Carson’s New York City-based private foundation also supports nonprofits focused on health care, poverty and medical science.
As the head of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Jessica Walker is working to make sure that the once-bustling borough bounces back from the COVID-19 pandemic. She has prioritized bringing back foot traffic, helping businesses coax remote workers to go back into the office and providing other support to small businesses. Under her leadership, the chamber participated in a public-private partnership launched last year called the NYC Small Business Resource Network.
As chair of the New York State Tourism Advisory Council, Cristyne Nicholas is endeavoring to bring back tourists to New York City and the state following the COVID-19 pandemic, including supporting state funding aimed at boosting the sector. Nicholas, who also helped New York City bounce back following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is the co-founder of Nicholas & Lence Communications, which handles media relations for various government agencies and corporations. She also chairs The Broadway Association, a business organization that is focused on revitalizing New York City’s theater district and drawing crowds back to Broadway.
As leaders of the New York City Business Improvement District Association, which represents more than 93,000 businesses in 76 districts across New York City, Jennifer Tausig and Robert Benfatto recently called on elected officials to provide rent relief and tax exemptions for their members, among other recovery incentives. They applauded the city’s new $11 million NYC Business Quick Start program, which promises to help startups get off the ground with less red tape. Tausig also heads up the Jerome Gun Hill BID in the Bronx while Benfatto leads Manhattan’s Hudson Yards Hell's Kitchen Alliance.
Continued labor shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic have drawn attention to the critical importance of workforce development. As head of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, Jose Ortiz Jr. has spent years pushing to make the issue a priority for New York City’s elected officials and business leaders. Throughout the past year, the coalition has pressed top candidates for mayor and, now, City Council speaker about their plans for workforce development.
Peter Tu has been a tireless champion of Chinese American-owned businesses in Flushing, spending the past year and a half working to bolster the neighborhood’s economy during the pandemic and taking a leading role in combating anti-Asian hate crimes. Earlier this year, he signed an affiliation agreement between his Flushing Chinese Business Association and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, enabling the organizations to share resources and collaborate on economic initiatives.
Greg Biryla, who advocates for more than 10,000 small businesses in New York as the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, has spent the past year and a half fighting for pandemic-related federal aid and tax breaks on behalf of NFIB’s members. He recently pushed back against the upstate minimum wage increase set to begin in 2022, arguing that the measure will be an added burden for already struggling business owners.
Under Mark Jaffe’s leadership, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce offers support to tens of thousands of business and civic leaders across the region. The organization offers educational and networking events for members, in addition to advocating more broadly on behalf of the business community. Jaffe has supported the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent $450 million initiative to renew tourism in New York.
When Winston Fisher started working at his family’s real estate company in 2000, his father reportedly told him, “lose the last name and get to work.” Now he oversees financing and development at Fisher Brothers, which manages about 5.5 million square feet of property in Manhattan, including a new 625-foot-tall skyscraper. He also serves as co-chair of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council, bringing his expertise in one of the city’s most lucrative sectors.
Gov. Kathy Hochul wants New York City employees back in their cubicles in 2022 – and Rob Byrnes concurs. Byrnes asserts that a return to on-site work is key to revitalizing Midtown Manhattan’s economy. Byrnes, who has led the East Midtown Partnership for nearly two decades and helped develop a large-scale rezoning plan for the neighborhood, is working on other incentives to boost the local economy, including attracting customers with a traveling bingo game.
As a member of New York City’s Economic Development Corp.’s board of directors, Shirley Aldebol brings the perspective of organized labor to its efforts to create jobs across the five boroughs. The labor leader also has a track record of successful campaigns on behalf of the union’s members. She recently helped about 5,000 32BJ SEIU members who work as custodial staff in the city’s public schools to negotiate a four-year contract that includes an increase in retirement fund contributions, among other benefits.
The New Economy Project has long pushed for the creation of a municipal public bank in New York City, a proposal that has earned support from labor unions, credit unions and some local and state lawmakers. The group’s co-directors – Deyanira Del Río and founder Sarah Ludwig – have been at the forefront of that advocacy. Ludwig founded the New Economy Project in 1995, and Del Río brings with her more than two decades of experience pushing for equitable development and economic rights for immigrants.
Expanding affordable housing in New York City is Rafael Cestero’s primary goal. Since 2012, he has led one of the largest community development financial institutions focused on financing multifamily housing. Throughout its history, the Community Preservation Corp. has dedicated more than $11 billion to support more than 196,000 units of affordable and workforce housing. Cestero is informed by his previous experience as commissioner for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Melissa O’Connor has underscored the critical role retail venues are playing in the state’s recovery, both as economic hubs and sites for COVID-19 vaccination clinics. O’Connor, who previously led government relations at the Retail Council of New York State, was named the council’s president in November 2020, following the retirement of Ted Potrikus. As an advocate for New York’s largest retail association, she is helping members navigate a new economic landscape, including operating online via the retailnewyork.com portal.
Nick Lugo co-founded the 116th Street Festival in 1985; since then, he has helped develop the event into the city’s largest Latino street festival, stretching over 20 blocks and featuring music, food and corporate events. Lugo has long been active in organizations that promote local economic revitalization, including as a board member of both the New York City Regional Economic Development Council and Ponce De Leon Federal Bank.
Having served as SUNY’s provost-in-charge since last year, Shadi Shahedipour-Sandvik holds an important leadership position guiding the university system’s work to educate a new generation of students. As part of that work, she oversees SUNY’s Office of Research and Economic Development, which is responsible for directing SUNY’s approach to research, innovation and economic development initiatives. Before taking on her current position, Shahedipour-Sandvik served as interim vice president of research and graduate studies at SUNY Polytechnic Institute.
Brandi Mandato serves as a bridge between CUNY and New York’s industry leaders. As CUNY’s director of strategic partnerships, she founded an initiative that brings the school system, philanthropic funders, nonprofits, policymakers and top businesses together to create strong talent pools across CUNY’s 25 colleges. She also partnered with top firms such as Bloomberg LP, Centerbridge Partners and Goldman Sachs for another initiative she is heading, which aims to prepare CUNY students for jobs in the financial industry.
Robert Harding, who represents clients in economic development, financing and regulatory matters, certainly draws on his experience working in former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration. He served as deputy mayor for economic development and finance on Guiliani’s team – a role that involved overseeing policies pertaining to city labor, housing and economic development. Harding, who leads Greenberg Traurig’s state election and political law compliance practice in Albany, has been busy handling election law cases throughout New York.
Andrew Kennedy served as a trusted aide in the Cuomo administration, holding the positions of assistant secretary for economic development and deputy director of state operations while working on Moynihan Train Hall, the Javits Convention Center and other development and redevelopment projects aimed at creating jobs across the state. Last year, Kennedy joined Ostroff Associates, a leading government relations firm based in Albany, where he works on behalf of clients on workforce development, affordable housing and post-pandemic reopening efforts.
Perhaps one of New York City’s foremost legal experts on land use, Patrick Sullivan recently co-authored an op-ed in Crain’s New York Business calling on officials to update zoning laws to make the city more hospitable to real estate development in the life sciences industry. Prior to his current role at Kramer Levin, where he represents clients in complex transactions before various municipal land use agencies, Sullivan served as counsel at the New York City Economic Development Corp.
As former director of economic development for then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Kara Hughes coordinated with elected officials and the business community to redevelop ground zero after the 9/11 attacks. At Kasirer, she manages strategy for a wide range of clients, including restaurants reeling from the economic fallout of COVID-19. Two of Hughes’ recent legislative wins – the New York City restaurant surcharge bill and the outdoor dining initiative – provided a boost to struggling businesses.
With the Bronx recording New York City’s highest rates of crime, poverty, unemployment and COVID-19 infection during much of the coronavirus pandemic, Lourdes Zapata has called on the city’s next mayor to invest resources in the borough’s recovery. As a former chief diversity officer in the Cuomo administration, Zapata had previously managed various community development projects at SoBro for almost two decades before stepping in to lead the organization – and its $15 million budget – in 2019.
Ruth Mahoney, who was named co-chair of the Capital Region Economic Development Council in 2018, is helping to manage the economic recovery of a region that has been hit hard by the pandemic by prioritizing investment in tech hubs, workforce development and local industry diversification. Mahoney joined NBT Bank in August after more than three decades of experience in wealth management and regional leadership at major Capital Region banks.
The New York State Economic Development Council serves as the state’s top organization representing leaders at industrial development agencies, local development corporations, banks, chambers of commerce and other institutions focused on economic development. Ryan Silva has served as the organization’s executive director since 2017, advocating for state and federal policies that promote economic growth in New York. He brings with him experience as vice president of regional economic development for Empire State Development Corp.
Wilton Cedeno monitors and seeks to shape state energy policy for Con Edison, a massive utility company that provides electric and gas service to residents – and businesses – in New York City and Westchester County. As the company’s director of state regulatory affairs, he leads its communications and advocacy strategies on state policy and regulations. Since 2015, he has also served on the board of directors at the New York City Economic Development Corp.
Valerie White manages about $3.1 billion of the Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s investments in New York City’s most underserved communities, helping to create affordable housing and facilitate job growth across the five boroughs. This past summer, the nonprofit closed on a $9.6 million construction deal to renovate and convert three Lower East Side buildings into affordable housing. White is also a prominent advocate for expanding opportunities for women- and minority-owned business enterprises.
The Center for an Urban Future is focused on ensuring New York City implements policies that reduce inequality and boost the city’s economy. Jonathan Bowles, who has been with the think tank for nearly 20 years, has overseen its groundbreaking research. Throughout 2021, the center has produced research on workforce development related to future rezonings, the growth of Asian American-owned businesses in the city and the struggles arts and cultural groups face amid the pandemic.
Manhattan’s Meatpacking District made headlines earlier this year when it made the decision to ban cars from the neighborhood, in an effort to promote foot traffic for local businesses and make space for cultural programming. It’s one notable way that Jeffrey LeFrancois is making the area friendly for pedestrians and its thriving commercial space. His previous experience in top aide roles to New York City Council Member Corey Johnson and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried informs his work locally today.
Wilma Alonso has been a fierce supporter of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District since helping to establish it in 2005, leading major projects including securing funding for the renovation of Bryan Park and heading up a $1.5 million lamppost installation project. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Alonso pointed out that the district – which has been praised as one of New York City’s COVID-19 success stories – has been resourceful in its efforts to survive.
During his time as executive vice president and head of real estate transactions at the New York City Economic Development Corp. – where he now serves on the board of directors – Patrick O’Sullivan became well-versed in public-private partnerships, working on transactions like the city’s acquisition of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governors Island. Since joining the law firm Herrick Feinstein in 2017, he has broadened his geographic area of focus to handle real estate matters for developers, government organizations and nonprofits nationwide.
Quenia Abreu has advocated for women in business since she co-founded the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce in 2002. Abreu’s organization has supported more than 10,000 entrepreneurs and helped create more than 5,000 businesses over the years. She’s now prodding the government to help Latino communities still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, including urging New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams to appoint Latino leaders to senior positions in his administration.
When municipal bonds were made available to help rebuild ground zero after the 9/11 attacks, Steven Polivy helped his clients avail themselves of the opportunity. Polivy, who represents clients ranging from real estate developers to nonprofit organizations, has worked on some of New York City’s biggest development projects, including transportation hubs, distribution centers and shopping venues. He has served on the boards of the United Nations Development Corp. and the Urban Land Institute.
Ron Rock stepped into his current role handling economic development, transportation and energy clients throughout the state at Brown & Weinraub after spending three decades in New York state government. While working for several different governors, he led a $100 billion transportation project, as well as major programs in the manufacturing industry and higher education. He also serves as chair of SEFCU, a major credit union that is used by many New York state employees.
Yasmin Cornelius is a leader in New York’s nascent cannabis industry. She helped draft social equity language in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act and hosts her “Blunt Discussion” podcast. She also established the New York CannaBusiness Chamber of Commerce, a new nonprofit that promotes the state’s industry. Much of her work has focused on equity for people of color and those wrongfully incarcerated by providing educational and economic opportunities. Cornelius is also vice president of community affairs at L+M Development Partners, a real estate development company known for its affordable housing work.
An entrepreneur who “relishes doing the impossible,” per his LinkedIn profile, Marc Alessi helps small and midsized businesses navigate complex transactions involving financing, expansion and real estate. As an Assembly member from 2005 to 2010, Alessi led efforts to boost technology innovation and business development. In addition to being chair of the startups practice group at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick LLP, he is the executive director of the Business Incubator Association of New York State.
Since establishing the Asian American Business Development Center in 1994, John Wang has expanded the organization and launched a successful annual awards program, all while working to create business partnerships between New York and China. This year, he has focused on helping businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic through efforts like launching Project Rebuild to assist minority business owners applying for grants and hosting virtual roundtable discussions on finding solutions to pandemic-related challenges.
William Candelaria has served on the board of the New York City Economic Development Corp. for the past 16 years, including on the real estate, audit and executive committees. As a partner at the law firm DLA Piper, he handles transactions in emerging markets with a focus on Latin America and Spain, advising corporations, banks and investors. A former partner at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, he also serves on the board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Kristin Morse oversees the Center for New York City Affairs, a research institute housed at the New School focused on delivering insight into policies in areas such as education, income inequality and poverty. Over the past year, the center has delivered research and in-depth reports on changes in workforce development and recovery in the hospitality industry. Before Morse took on her current position, she spent years heading New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity, where she helped develop anti-poverty initiatives.
As a carpenter for 35 years and a union official who has held several local and regional leadership positions over the years, William Banfield knows firsthand both the value of hard work and the benefits of collective bargaining. In his role with the 30,000-member North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, he maintains ties with union officials and other partners in New York and across half a dozen other states. He’s also a vice president of the influential New York State Building & Construction Trades Council.
Correction: This feature has been updated to accurately reflect Wilton Cedeno's title.
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