“I think [small businesses] have real issues, and you’re not a man on an island,” said Nigel Thomas, owner of Golocker, a DUMBO-based package delivery company. “Everyone is facing the same things. So it was good to voice that and hear that from others.”
Thomas was one of the 100 or so attendees at The Red Tape Commission hearing, hosted by NYC Comptroller Scott String, Friday morning at Brooklyn Law School campus.
The hearing was the second in a series the comptroller is hosting across all five boroughs, where entrepreneurs can share first-hand insight into the hurdles they face while growing their small business.
Small business owners took turns addressing the panel, which included the comptroller and eleven commission members (of 29 total) from both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, expressing their personal challenges in keeping their doors open in Brooklyn– a borough where rising rents are putting more pressure than ever on their bottom line.
Friday’s panel of commission members included:
- Michael Lambert, Executive Director, Bed-Stuy Gateway BID
- Jessica Lappin, President, Alliance for Downtown New York
- Kate Albright Hanna, Founder and CEO, Tarbell Industries
- Jonathan Butler, Co-Founder, Brooklyn Flea
- Melissa Chapman, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
- Tamara Greenfield, Co-Founder, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts New York (NOCD-NY)
- Dr. Roy Hastick, Sr., Executive Director, Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (CACC)
- Jill Johnson, CEO, Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL); Workshops in Business Opportunities (WIPO)
- Ngozi Okaro, Interim Executive Director, Project Enterprise
- Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, New York City Hospitality Alliance
- Paul Slee, Executive Director, Ensemble Studio Theatre
Some of the issues raised by the small business owners included the need for a central office contact in the city to address questions or problems. One of the audience members suggested incorporating a 311 small business liaison who could take calls and make referrals.Other issues included breaking through the red tape of city regulations tying the hands of mobile food truck owners, as well a dearth of legal spaces for vending.
However, it seemed the most recurring issue was access to capital and funding, particularly for community-based non-profits and cultural arts institutions.
Jill Johnson, one of the commission members, said she was hearing common themes from borough to borough: “You sometimes begin to scratch your head about why it so difficult to make change in some of these areas when it seems like it shouldn’t be as difficult,” she said. “But I’m excited about addressing some of the low-hanging fruit around things that should be able to be changed in a relatively easy manner.”
The hearing lasted two hours, and by most accounts, participants seemed pleased, at the very least for the opportunity to be heard.
“I thought it was very good,” said Shannon Pridget, owner of Heavenly Crumbs bakery in Bedford Stuyvesant. “With me working all the time, I’m disconnected. So this incentivizes me to reach out and connect with people who can assist me.
“I don’t think if you have specific questions, that they will be answered right here necessarily. But it’s a start, because now, I can connect the dots and find my way. And actually I made a very good contact while I was here. So it was really worth it, me coming today.”
Comptroller Stringer said at the hearing’s conclusion that the commission plans to review the testimonies to produce recommendations for the City to better serve entrepreneurs.“Our staff has been taking notes, and I want you to know that this is not a hearing that does not result in change,” Stringer told the audience of entrepreneurs. “I want you to know the reason we are in every borough is because these stories are giving us the information we need to dig deep and to come up with a real commission report.”
In addition to the open public hearings, the commission has provided an online platform, for collecting testimonies and stories from those small business owners who cannot attend the hearing.
Johnson added, “As a member of the commission, our job is to listen. There’s going to be a lot of thought and effort put into this. We’re taking this really seriously; the comptroller is taking this seriously, and he will be at every meeting from beginning to end, listening.”
The Comptroller’s office has three more scheduled hearings. The next one will be Wednesday, October 21, in Queens.