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Boro sees fewer jobless, more retailers in ’03

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The Queens economy showed signs of recovering from the national recession and Sept. 11, 2001 during 2003, with joblessness easing slightly and employment at the borough’s airports increasing to levels that existed before the World Trade Center attacks.

In another indication of a rebound, the number of offices and retailers have been growing in Long Island City, Flushing and Jamaica, analysts said.

“Overall, the economy is shelving off and looking to increase,” said Spencer Ferdinand, the executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corp.

The unemployment rate in Queens was 6.4 percent in November 2003, compared with 6.7 percent in November 2002, according to James Brown, a labor market analyst for the New York State Department of Labor.

“We’re going through a fairly standard recovery from a recession,” Brown said. “Citywide the year-to-year loss in jobs is about half a percent. Probably, we’ll start to see positive job growth in 2004.”

In Queens, employment in private sector, or non-governmental jobs, dropped by 0.6 percent in 2003, Brown said. Health care, non-profit, construction and social assistance sectors fared well in the borough, while the information sector, including computer services and publishing, were weak citywide.

Queens has a lower unemployment rate at 6.4 percent than the city overall, which had a 7.8 percent jobless rate in November, according to the state Labor Department. The borough was not hit as hard by the recession as Manhattan, which has more economically sensitive businesses, such as financial companies and law firms.

The most important sectors of employment in Queens are transportation and warehouses, which account for 11.2 percent of jobs in the borough, Brown said.

This year employment at the borough’s two airports, which had dropped by several thousand after Sept. 11, 2001, rose to pre-Sept. 11 levels, Ferdinand said.

In general, the loss of jobs at airports is especially damaging to the local economy because less people coming through airports means less business for other sectors, including taxis, retail shops and restaurants.

“Air transportation has a multiplier of 1.44, which means that for every 100 jobs we gain or lose at the airport, we gain or lose 44 jobs in Queens,” Ferdinand said. “If there are more people coming through airports, there are more people riding taxis, buying at shops at night. All of those things create jobs.”

With zoning changes enacted in 2001 that allow for high-density development in areas that used to house light manufacturing, Long Island City is being touted as a new economic hub of Queens.

“Some of the manufacturing facilities are being built out for new uses. (Long Island City) is being looked at as an alternative to Manhattan for back-offices,” said Michael McGaddye, the director of neighborhood development at the Queens Economic Development Corp.

In Flushing, an ongoing revitalization of the waterfront and downtown areas is bringing in more housing and commercial development. A proposed College Point center for auto technicians is expected to bring 200 jobs to the area, McGaddye said, and a proposed ferry service from Manhattan to Flushing would increase tourism in the borough.

Terri Osborne, the head of the Queens Tourism Council at the Queens Economic Development Corp., said that with fears of terrorism dampening international travel, tourism in the city has been boosted by domestic travelers.

Osborne hopes to increase tourism in the borough by promoting Queens as the home to many pockets of international culture that can be experienced in a safe environment.

“Let’s say you were from the Midwest and you wanted to travel abroad (but were afraid to),” Osborne said. “You could come to New York City and find little microcosms all over. New York City has the offering of many countries within the city itself.”

The opening of the AirTrain, the $1.9-billion light-rail system that connects Kennedy Airport to mass transit lines in downtown Jamaica and Howard Beach, is expected to revitalize the Jamaica economy, attracting companies and more commercial development to the area.

“Jamaica is definitely an area that will see growth,” Ferdinand said.

With manufacturing declining in the country overall, Queens has struggled to maintain jobs in industry, which accounts for 9 percent of employment in the borough, according to the Queens Economic Development Corp.

“The city as an urban area is not particularly friendly to manufactur­ing,” Ferdinand said. “Transporta­tion is hard — getting trucks in and out of places. There are a lot of regulations they have to abide by, and wages and costs tend to be higher in the city.”

Health care, the borough’s largest employment sector which accounts for 19.4 percent of borough jobs, has continued to fare well in Queens, Brown said.

“There’s been space here that is not overdeveloped like some of the other boroughs,” McGaddye said. “It allows for the development of nursing homes and health care facilities, and Queens is a borough of families and neighborhoods that support that.”

McGaddye predicted that with new transportation alternatives, a population that is underserved by retail and more zoning changes proposed in Long Island City, regional shopping hubs, housing and commercial development would continue to grow in Queens.

“Queens has enormous potential,” McGaddye said. “It is part of the global economy, and we need to ensure that all sectors of our economy are able to take advantage of business opportunit­ies.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at news@Timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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