In his State of the City address last week Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an ambitious goal to create 100,000 "good jobs" in sectors such as manufacturing, technology and film and television that pay at least $50,000 a year.
To achieve his vision we need a strong economic foundation of restaurants, local shops, mom-and-pop pharmacies, neighborhood grocery stores and corner bodegas—even though not all of their employees make the $50,000 a year that the mayor said qualifies a job as "good."
To be sure, thousands of chefs, servers, bartenders, managers, human resources specialists, financial professionals and others in the restaurant industry make more than $50,000 a year. There are also thousands of restaurant jobs that pay less than $50,000. But just because our city faces an affordability crisis, the implication should not be that these are bad jobs. These positions are of particular importance to our city because they create opportunity for people who are young, lack high school diplomas or college degrees, are immigrants, have struggled with substance abuse or have a criminal history.
Our city’s small businesses keep people employed, our tax base strong, our blocks charming, our streets safer, our cultural institutions rich and our tourism booming. They forge the foundation for strong and vibrant communities that attract investors and innovative companies. These companies, in turn, will create the type of jobs our mayor seeks.
Business groups like the New York City Hospitality Alliance have a blueprint to grow a strong economic foundation that will support the mayor's job-creation initiatives.
The mayor could begin by proclaiming his unwavering support for small business with the same vigor he has shown for affordable housing, universal pre-K, a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave. The wage and sick-pay mandates may seem at odds with supporting small business but he can help offset their financial impacts by introducing money-saving regulatory reforms.
Symbolic gestures of support and appreciation mean a lot to small business owners who often feel forgotten and under siege by the government regulatory complex. Of course, such pronouncements must be followed up with action. This action must focus less on what local government can do to help small business and more on how they can stop hurting small business. For example:
• We need to pass legislation pending in the City Council to eliminate the unjust commercial rent tax on small businesses paying less than $500,000 a year in rent. Then let's expand it to exempt medium-size businesses that need relief from the tax because they pay closer to $1 million in annual rent in prime retail corridors.
• We must pass scaffolding reform so sidewalk sheds aren't left above businesses for years resulting in diminished sales, fewer hours for workers and shuttered storefronts.
• The fine reductions implemented by the mayor represent an excellent start. Nonetheless, we need comprehensive reform that will allow more cure periods and warnings to be issued for minor violations, which will reduce burdensome fines by tens of millions of dollars more. Other cities have done this.
• City agencies should focus on education and compliance first, and penalties last.
• Department of Building requirements should be streamlined so businesses can open quickly, change the interiors of their stores and expand without being unnecessarily slowed down by bureaucracy.
• We must repeal the antiquated rule that prohibits restaurants from adding a clearly disclosed administrative fee to menu prices that will help them afford sky high rents and the cost of well intended, yet ever-increasing wage and benefit mandates.
The list of common-sense reforms goes on and we have details of how to achieve them. The mayor has the power to accomplish these goals in 2017 by issuing interpretation letters, adjusting policy, making rules and supporting legislation that has broad support in the City Council. We do not have to wait 10 years to support the jobs and businesses of today.
Andrew Rigie is executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a membership organization of restaurants, bars, lounges, destination hotels and other businesses.