Airline employment hits record low in Queens

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Employment in the borough’s air transportation industry fell to its lowest levels in nearly three decades after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and recouping those jobs is key to spurring growth in Queens, an economic report concluded.

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Queens revealed that the borough’s economy continued to grow one month after the city hit a recession in May 2001 — growth that may have continued had the airports not suffered the blow of Sept. 11.

“Air transportation wiped Queens out of the air, because this is where the big impact has been,” said Marilyn Rubin, an urban economics consultant commissioned to perform the study.

The Queens County Overall Economic Development Corp. held a meeting Friday at the ConEdison Learning Center in Long Island City to present the report, which the U.S. Economic Development Administration requires before it will support projects in the borough.

The survey and its recommendations will serve as a blueprint to guide economic development in the borough and will be modified based on continued research and community input over the coming year.

Queens’ air transportation industry was hardest hit by Sept. 11, hemorrhaging more than 6,400 jobs in the last quarter of 2001 and another 1,800 in the first quarter of 2002 — falling to 32,500 jobs from more than 39,000 earlier in 2001.

That employment figure is the lowest logged by air transportation in the borough since at least 1975 — the earliest year cited in the report — when the industry employed about 38,000 people. The industry hit its previous low in 1994 at slightly more than 35,000 jobs.

Targeting air transportation for growth tops the list of strategies outlined in the report, which recommends building on existing assets in the borough as the first in a list of 10 objectives.

It also calls for the encouragement of “cluster development,” or nurturing businesses related to major industries such as food and limousine services to feed off the airports.

The borough’s status as the nation’s most diverse county also plays into its economic climate with high numbers of minority- and women-owned business, which should receive additional support, the report found.

While Queens boasted the third highest proportion of Asian- and Pacific Islander-owned businesses in the nation, it also ranked sixth in the number of Hispanic-owned firms and seventh in those owned by blacks, according to 1997 statistics. Women-owned firms, meanwhile, accounted for more than half of all minority-owned businesses in Queens.

Employment in Queens is concentrated in five economic sectors, with services accounting for the lion’s share at 41 percent of all jobs in the borough. Health care, which is part of the services sector, is the borough’s biggest employer at more than 72,300 jobs — or 15 percent of all jobs in Queens.

Transportation, the second-ranking sector, employed more than 63,000 people — 13 percent of borough jobs — while retail came in third at 49,000, followed by construction at 9 percent and manufacturing at 8 percent.

“A lot of people poo-poo manufacturing and say it’s over,” said Rubin, indicating that Queens lost close to 39,000 manufacturing jobs from 1980 to 2001. “Manufacturing declined, but it’s still very important.”

The report recommends retaining and attracting manufacturing companies as well as encouraging the development of entire economic sectors — for instance, by providing incentives to industries instead of specific companies.

Although the retail market in Queens has historically been under-served, the report cited improvements like the Queens Center Mall, which generates the highest level of sales per square foot of any mall in the country and is undergoing a multimillion-dollar expansion, and big box stores like Target in College Point, one of the chain’s highest grossers.

The median income of Queens residents, at $42,439 in 1999, was 15 percent higher than that for the rest of the city and only 2 percent below the state average, but incomes are believed to have fallen since 1999 because of the recession and Sept. 11.

“A lot of the newer jobs in Queens are in areas that don’t pay as well as areas that are leaving,” Rubin said.

Although the borough’s so-called “economic engine neighborhoods” are concentrated in urban centers like Long Island City, Flushing and Jamaica as well as industrial sections like Maspeth and College Point, retail hubs are spread all across Queens.

The report recommended supporting neighborhood economic revitalization efforts and providing educational opportunities to create a trained work force within the borough.

“It doesn’t help to have jobs here,” Rubin said. “You have to have jobs for people who live here.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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