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Immigrant stores left hanging

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio says that immigrant business owners could improve the economy of the neighborhoods where they operate by seeking assistance from the city and hiring more workers.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Although New York City has the nation’s most immigrant-owned businesses, 92 percent of such business owners told a survey that they got no help from the city and half said they were unaware such assistance was even available.

The Fund for Public Advocacy, based in the offices of the city public advocate, conducted a study into how immigrant-owned businesses are making ends meet in New York City and how the city can help them.

The study concluded that much of the problem stemmed from the fact that many immigrant-owned businesses have no website and accept only cash. Some 80 percent of businesses even declined to furnish surveyors with e-mail addresses.

“Immigrant businesses are an economic blind spot for New York City,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “We set out to solve the data deficit so we can start tailoring city programs to also suit the specific needs of immigrant entrepreneurs.”

“This is one of the most dynamic and resilient parts of our economy. If they actually received help from the city commensurate with their weight in the economy, they could add thousands more jobs right in their own neighborhoods.”

The Fund for Public Advocacy says there are 403,812 immigrant-owned businesses in the five boroughs, amounting to 42.8 percent of all of New York City businesses.

The study of more than 600 enterprises in the five boroughs concluded there is a significant disconnect between city-sponsored programs and immigrant businesses in need of help.

It found:

• of businesses surveyed, 92 percent reported not receiving information about services to start, sustain or increase business

• 51 percent of businesses that did not get services were unaware city help existed

• of those businesses that got city services, 69 percent said they were helpful

• 79 percent of business owners welcomed support services, including financial help (33 percent), legal guidance (25 percent) and marketing (23 percent)

• a total of 87 percent of immigrant businesses did not have websites, compared to 51 percent of all nationwide small businesses

In the survey, the Fund for Public Advocacy identified 52 neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrant- and minority-owned small businesses. Bilingual surveyors were assigned to specific neighborhoods based on languages spoken.

The surveyors approached businesses with annual revenues under $1 million, talking only to owners and did not get information from managers or staff members. They included storefronts and street vendors, excluding chain stores.

The surveyors sought information at 171 businesses in Brooklyn, 120 in the Bronx, 191 in Queens, 94 in Manhattan and 49 in Staten Island.

In Queens, surveyors visited Astoria, Cambria Heights, Flushing, Hillside, Howard Beach, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, Jamaica Hills, Long Island City, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, South Jamaica, Sunnyside, Woodhaven and Woodside.

The businesses that responded were 33 percent Asian, 26 percent Hispanic/Latino, 16 percent black or African American, 22 percent white and 3 percent of two or more races.

Those responding were 78 percent male and 22 percent female. Birthplaces of those responding were Latin America (32 percent), South Asia (15 percent), Middle East (14 percent), East Asia (14 percent), Europe (11 percent), the Caribbean (8 percent) and Africa (6 percent).

Ninety percent of respondents were in storefronts, with 9.5 percent in street trucks and/or carts. One-tenth of 1 percent were home-based.

The Fund for Public Advocacy said it plans to conduct a five-borough, small business listening tour to determine what needs to be done and to disseminate information to businesses on services available to start up, help, sustain and increase business.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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