THE BLOG

Spurring Growth in Every Neighborhood

08/21/2012 02:35 pm 14:35:50 | Updated Oct 21, 2012

The following piece is based on a speech on economic growth delivered by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service. The full speech is available here.

10 percent.

Our city, the undisputed capital of world commerce and American ingenuity, has a 10 percent unemployment rate. That's nearly 400,000 people seeking work and unable to find it -- more than the total population of New Orleans or Minneapolis.

Our city cannot survive, and thrive, unless we put our people back to work. And the city should play a muscular role in helping spur private sector growth and hiring.

Yet when I talk to builders and businesses who are striving to create affordable housing and good jobs, they feel there's more red tape in the way than ever.

When I talk to small business owners, they feel under siege by fines and fees like never before.

When I talk to families in outer borough neighborhoods, they ask when the economic recovery will reach them.

And when it comes to the economic tools we have in hand as a city like our procurement dollars and our pension assets, inertia prevails.

These are not the hallmarks of a city responding to crisis. They are the signs of a city unconsciously accepting the "new normal." We need to marshal the strengths of New York City -- our neighborhoods, our private sector, our government, our schools -- to grow and succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

And there are a number of vital first steps we can take to start on this path toward five-borough revitalization. These steps will help us lay a solid foundation for our city's economic growth -- and demonstrate our government's commitment to every New Yorker's economic well-being.

First, we must begin by breaking down the bureaucratic barriers that exist for builders and businesses.

We cannot build the foundations of a strong and stable city -- good jobs and affordable housing -- if projects stall or never materialize at all.

The pre-certification process run by the Department of City Planning, for instance, can take half a decade to complete -- all before we even start the clock on the formal land use review process. That's just unacceptable.

Here's a radical notion. Let's commit to providing developers with certainty that they will receive responses within 30 - 60 days of each program aspect submitted for City Planning and other city agency review. No more guesswork or open-ended time tables. By promising and delivering on a specific window for approvals, we can unlock new growth potential, lower costs and prevent good projects from getting derailed.

Second, we have to change the city's "fine first, ask questions later" approach to small businesses.

The city is hauling in twice as much from fines as it did 10 years ago; it's now close to $820 million each year. And this is across the board. The Department of Finance's fines went up 50 percent since 2002. Consumer Affairs' fines doubled, and the Buildings Department's tripled. Across the city, small businesses are closing up shop -- frustrated by an endless barrage of fines for everything from scratches on a cutting board to a missing restaurant candle permit.

If we truly understand that small businesses generate the lion's share of new jobs in New York, City Hall should begin by launching a fine-reduction pilot program in one community board district per borough. Let's prove that inspectors can use education as effectively as fines to enforce the law. I've introduced legislation to create a new category of low-risk violations where no fines may be assessed for the first offense. My measure also streamlines the appeals process, so that owners can contest all violations by phone or Internet.

Another way we can start to support small business owners is with real, substantial assistance to immigrant businesses across the five boroughs.

Of the hundreds of immigrant business owners with whom my office spoke as part of a recent five-borough survey, 92 percent started and operate their businesses without any outside help, including government assistance. And over half of those businesses were unaware that any city programs even existed to assist them.

At a time when small businesses are finding it hard to expand, City Hall must take a more active role to encourage growth by helping businesses overcome hurdles like access to capital. We should immediately increase the New York City Capital Access Revolving Loan Guarantee Program -- allowing loans to be used for a greater number of purposes, including companies seeking to scale up their operations.

But even as we consider new programs, we have to stop wasting economic opportunities already in our grasp.

To help our neighborhood businesses further, we must do more to integrate them into the city contracting process. New York City is one of the country's largest purchasers of goods and services, with $15 billion spent last year alone. We need to start tracking bids from local firms so we can increase the proportion of our spending and contracts with competitive businesses that create jobs right here in the five boroughs.

Beyond fostering a healthier climate for smart development and small business growth, New York City must invest deeply in its infrastructure citywide -- putting New Yorkers to work and keeping our city competitive. There's no debating that fixing our infrastructure is critical to staying competitive the global marketplace, but we've failed make this a big enough priority and we've underplayed the resources we have in hand to get projects moving -- resources like our $120 billion in pension assets. I put forward -- and passed -- a resolution at the city's largest provide pension fund to start investing more of our pension assets in local infrastructure so we can earn solid returns and keep New York competitive.

While these first steps will propel us forward on the path toward economic recovery, we cannot claim a commitment to long-term economic growth without investing in our workers of tomorrow.

We must do everything in our power to increase education opportunity. Our goal should be nothing less than preparing every student who goes through our public school system for either college or readily available career options upon graduation. This requires new investment in early childhood education -- not the cuts this crucial area has suffered in recent years. It requires a curriculum that teaches skills for the modern economy rather than teaching to the test. And we will demand an updating of our whole approach to Career and Technical Education (CTE).

We also have to create new career pathways with local employers for graduates of our CTE programs. We must proactively partner with our local higher educational facilities to address critical gaps in workforce skills today like software coding and web design. There is no better way to start than by addressing the talent shortage in the city's growing technology sector. The future of our city's economy depends on instilling necessary skills into the next generation of New Yorkers.

Our city will reach new levels of economic growth, but only if we rethink our approach to break down bureaucratic barriers, lessen small-business burdens and support immigrant businesses. And we must consistently commit to investing in our city infrastructure, and in the workers of tomorrow.

This can only happen if we recognize that we are all in this fight together -- that no matter our differences, these five boroughs must be united in the pursuit of broad-based economic growth.

And this is all with a single purpose: to make this the last time we ever see 10 percent unemployment in the world's greatest city.