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EDC president touts new Queens projects

The city has launched hundreds of new initiatives to help small businesses and is making progress in developing Willets Point and Hunters Point South, the president of the city Economic Development Corp. told a breakfast Friday at Queens College.

Seth Pinksy, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to head the EDC in 2008 as the recession was just beginning, said the city entered the economic downturn later than the rest of the country, took a smaller hit than the nation and got out of the recession quicker than anywhere else.

“The story in Queens is consistent with the rest of the city,” Pinsky said, noting that at the height of the recession unemployment in Queens was 8.2 percent, less than the city rate of 11 percent and the national average of 14 percent.

Since 2007, Pinsky said, housing prices in Queens have fallen only 15 percent, half of the country’s rate of 30 percent.

Pinsky said that while in the past the city’s economy was competing with cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Paris, it now has to compete with Shanghai and Mumbai.

“Our work is just beginning as the world around us is changing,” Pinsky said, noting that the city’s gross domestic product used to eclipse entire nations’ like China and India, which are now seeing accelerated growth.

The Bloomberg administration has launched more than 100 initiatives in the last two years to help the city’s most widely known industries, such as financial services, fashion and media, create 21st-century business models, Pinsky said.

Some of the initiatives also help the city’s industrial sector, which accounts for 16 percent of private sector jobs in the city in an industry´╗┐ where 150,000 Queens residents work.

Pinsky said the administration has partnered with Goldman Sachs, the investment banking house, to create a $10 million fund to assist small and mid-size food manufacturers, which has seen its workforce drop by 30 percent from 2000-03.

Other initiatives were launched to help the city’s film and television production industry, which included tax credits and investments for businesses, including Astoria’s Silvercup and Kaufman Astoria studios.

“Today the industry is booming,” Pinsky said, noting that there are 70 new television and film projects to be shot in the city.

The city has also been promoting entrepreneurship, Pinsky said, with 63 percent of city businesses consisting of six employees or fewer and 98 percent have less than 100 employees.

The initiatives include training programs and increasing access to financing, Pinsky said.

The future of the city’s economy is partly dependent on two ongoing projects in Queens, Pinksy said: Willets Point and Hunters Point South.

Pinsky said the city now owns more than 90 percent of previously privately held land in the Iron Triangle and is working with the Federal Highway Authority and the city Department of Transportation to develop new access ramps to the Van Wyck Expressway.

He said the city is close to selecting a contractor for water main and sewer contracts at Willets Point and in May solicited requests for proposals for Phase 1 of the redevelopment.

The first phase includes new housing — 35 percent of which will be affordable — retail space, a hotel and 2 acres of open space, Pinksy said.

The Willets Point project will also produce 1,800 permanent jobs, he said.

The city is also investing $300 million in Hunters Point to build the largest middle-income housing development since Starrett City in Brooklyn in the 1970s, which also includes a new public school, 100,000 square feet of retail space and a waterfront park.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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