Diverse businesses keep borough economy afloat

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Thanks to its diverse economic base, Queens has been able to weather the recession, but in order to ensure the borough stays strong, the Queens County Economic Development Corporation is formulating a comprehensive economic development strategy for the county.

The strategy, which the group hopes to have finalized by November, is aimed at providing a blueprint for the borough to build on it economic assets, Marie Nahikian, chief executive officer of the QCEDC told a luncheon of the Queens Chamber of Commerce Tuesday at Antun’s in Queens Village.

The strategy has not yet been drafted, but the first step, identifying Queens’ economic trends, was completed in a study led by Marilyn Rubin, a professor at John Jay College. Rubin presented the results to the chamber Tuesday.

“You have to know where you are before you know where you want to go,” she said.

Rubin pointed to the borough’s diversity, both ethnically and economically, as strengths which have helped it survive the recession better than some areas. About 15 percent of the borough’s jobs are in the transpiration and utilities category, which includes air transportation and the jobs at both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, with another 15 percent is in the retail trade, Rubin said. This breakdown, combined with a low dependency on hard-hit industries, such as financial services, has supported the borough financially, Rubin said.

Queens also boasts a strong retail trade and a strong real estate market, with the largest percentage of home ownership in the city, Rubin said.

“This is a very middle-class borough,” she said. “Queens has a very strong middle class which supports a lot of retail shopping.”

But one problem is that Queens residents are leaving the borough to spend their money, Rubin said. For every $1 Queens residents get in income, they spend just 16 cents in local stores compared to Nassau and Suffolk County residents, who spend 31 cents in local stores per dollar earned, according to Rubin’s study.

“We have to get Queens residents to spend more money in the borough,” she said.

Another strength is the borough’s population, which grew by 14 percent from 1990 to 2000, outpacing both the city and the state. Queens residents are also becoming an increasingly younger and more working-age population, Rubin said.

“We have so many young people here,” she said. “We have to make sure they’re educated on the business needs now and in the future.”

With a younger population, Queens’ work force also grew faster than the rest of the city and the region, Rubin said, a fact that excited some of the employers at the luncheon.

“We need continued quality of people to come and work in our operation,” said Gary Strong, director of the Queens Borough Public Library, which employs about 1,800 people. “Constant work force flow is key.”

The QCEDC is seeking input for the next step of the strategy, which is to determine where the borough should be headed, economically, Nahikian said.

The final strategy will be used by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to decide how federal dollars should be distributed, Nahikian said.

“We have to effectively recommend to the EDA how funds for future projects should be used,” she said.

Borough President Helen Marshall, who also attended the luncheon was optimistic about Queens’ future.

“There’s development all over the borough and that’s important,” she said. “Queens is on the rise. Queens is going to do just fine.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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