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LaGuardia CC program boon to small business

When LaGuardia Community College began offering affordable office spaces and other resources to design companies several years ago, school officials knew it would be a boost to small businesses. But only recently have they realized just what a lifesaver it was for the operations that probably would have closed their doors had it not been for help from the Long Island City school.

“Many of our clients would’ve gone out of business if we hadn’t been here,” said Natalia Arguello, director of NYDesigns, LaGuardia’s program which tries to grow small companies by offering them rent for $260 a month as well as business classes and consulting services. “It’s not just that we’re helping them with rent, we’re giving them moral support, too.”

State and college officials first started talking about opening a business incubator — a space where the design firms are located on campus — after Sept. 11, 2001, when lawmakers and civic leaders wanted to create jobs in a languishing economy. The school officially opened the incubator in 2006 with five firms, and it now holds 14 companies, including fashion, lighting, furniture and Web and design firms.

“When we started out, we analyzed the industries in Long Island City to figure out how to best help the neighborhood,” said Arguello, who used to run her own graphic design firm. “We saw there were a lot of designers moving into Long Island City from places like DUMBO and Williamsburg in Brooklyn because Long Island City is more affordable and it’s close to the city.”

Businesses in the incubator are able to stay for three years, pay $260 a month and have access to a variety of equipment such as printers and laser cutters they may not otherwise be able to afford — all of which Arguello said makes it more likely the ventures will be able to stay afloat in a rough economy. Additionally, the owners and employees can take business classes at a discounted rate, including the sustainable design courses that Arguello said are skyrocketing in popularity.

“We also helped our businesses during the worst part of the bad economy,” Arguello said. “Sometimes they couldn’t pay the rent one month so we set up a payment plan for them.”

The NYDesigns director said she has noticed a turnaround in the local economy for the businesses.

“We’re seeing a recovery,” she said. “We’re experiencing more phone calls about people interested in renting space or wanting to hire designers,” she said.

Arguello said she is now setting her sights on helping the Latino business community, which she said is rapidly expanding in the borough but does not have an over-arching organization that can help them best sell their product.

“We conducted a survey of Latino designers to find out what their needs are, and we found people want to know how to find Latino designers,” Arguello said. “There’s no professional organization that represents Latino designers, and we’ve recommended that a professional organization be created.”

NYDesigns also is focusing on boosting other small businesses, many of which are owned by Hispanic residents, through funding from the bank Capital One. The recently launched Capital One Student Design Center helps immigrants who want to start their own companies to write and implement a business plan.

“For example, we helped get $1,000 for a woman who wanted to start a shaved ice business,” Arguello said. “Now she’s putting her first cart in Astoria.”

Arguello noted NYDesigns will hold a panel discussion on Latino designers Sept. 16 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 29-10 Thomson Ave. in Long Island City.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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