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New York’s Employers: Planning for the City’s Re-Opening

Mohamed Attia Executive Director, The Street Vendor Project
Samara Karasyk Chief Policy Officer & Executive Vice President, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Kathryn Wylde President and CEO, The Partnership for New York City
Michael Hendrix Director of State and Local Policy, Manhattan Institute
Thu, Jun 11, 2020 EVENTCAST

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New York’s Employers: Planning for the City’s Re-Opening

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Forum

New York’s Employers: Planning for the City’s Re-Opening

Mohamed Attia Executive Director, The Street Vendor Project
Samara Karasyk Chief Policy Officer & Executive Vice President, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Kathryn Wylde President and CEO, The Partnership for New York City
Michael Hendrix Director of State and Local Policy, Manhattan Institute EVENTCAST 01:00pm—02:00pm
Thursday June 11
Thursday June 11 2020
PAST EVENT Thursday June 11 2020

In the midst of a devastating pandemic and violent protests, New York City’s employers are charting a path forward to safely reopening. How can New York’s business community emerge from crises stronger than ever? How can the city’s small businesses stay afloat while staying safe?

While New York’s governor and the city’s mayor are pressing forward with a phased reopening, it remains unclear what this will mean for businesses. Many have been tested by this novel coronavirus and are struggling. Others too have seen their livelihoods threatened. We will hear from New York City’s employers about their plans, and their concerns, as they try to return to normality.

On June 11, Manhattan Institute Board member Kathryn Wylde joined the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s Samara Karasyk, and The Street Vendor Project’s Mohamed Attia for a discussion on how New York’s businesses are planning for the city’s reopening.

Event Transcript

Michael Hendrix:

Welcome to the Manhattan Institute EventCast on how New York's employers are planning for reopening. Thank you for joining us during these unprecedented times. I'm Michael Hendrix, Director of State Local Policy here at the Manhattan Institute and we're joined today by a stellar lineup representing an enormous cross section of our city's business community both large and small. Throughout our program please enter your questions on our Slido platform and I'll recommend to our discussion. Also, please click on the polls tab and share your affiliation with us including even if you don't have one.

Michael Hendrix:

Now, it's my pleasure to introduce Mohamed Attia, Director of the Street Vendor Project. Mohamed immigrated to the US from Egypt in 2008, and worked as a vendor for nearly 10 years selling hotdogs, halal chicken and rice and smoothies. He became a member of the Street Vendor Project in 2012. Was elected at the leadership board and served on the board until 2018 when he joined their staff.

Michael Hendrix:

We're also joined by Samara Karasyk, the Chief Policy Officer and EVP of the Brooklyn Chamber. Before joining the chamber, Samara worked in the New York City government for 16 years, beginning her public service career in parks and recreation, later moving to Taxi and Limousine Commission, The Department of Transportation. Between 2011 and 2017, Samara was Assistant Commissioner of External Affairs in the New York City Department of Finance, managing all public affairs for the organization.

Michael Hendrix:

And we're joined by Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the non-profit Partnership for New York City. Prior to taking over as president in 2001, she was the founding CEO of both Partnerships Housing and Investment Fund Affiliates. Kathy has received honorary degrees and served on a number of advisory boards and advisory groups, authored numerous articles and policy papers, and has been recognized for her leadership by dozens of educational, professional and non-profit institutions. This is really a stellar group. Thank you all for joining us today.

Mohamed Attia:

Sure. Thanks for having us.

Michael Hendrix:

Kathy, I want to start with you, Kathy. We're in the midst of a pandemic and we see protests. What are you hearing from your members right now, especially looking back after serving your members in March, what are you hearing now?

Kathryn Wylde:

Well, a large number of our members are from the financial industry generally, the media industry information technology. And those companies made an amazing shift to work remotely. Throughout this crisis they have kept the world financial system and the supply chains, commercial markets going. So they are and many of them are global companies who have experienced and have the experience of China, South Korea, Japan, Europe, before the COVID struck New York City.

Kathryn Wylde:

So I think that they all have plans, very clear plans for bringing people back. It's going to be slow. We have pulled them. They feel that they have, that about 10% of their workforce will return to the office during the course of the summer, between now and September. About 30% by the end of the year, so they're not going to push.

Kathryn Wylde:

I think that they're waiting to make sure that number one, transit, their employees are comfortable and safe using. I think, by the way, that the MTA has done a terrific job on the efforts they have made to clean up and make healthy the transit system, to provide protocols, require the masks, and now they're starting to really communicate. We actually sent a letter to all our employers yesterday, we have more than a million employees in the city.

Kathryn Wylde:

And from Pat Foye, the Chairman of the MTA describing what they're doing, giving an emergency hotline to call if you see or run into any problems on the buses, subways, commuter rail. So I think for the first time the MTA is doing a phenomenal job beginning to communicate with their customers. They seek to bring them back, and that's really something that employers have to support and to do as well, and hopefully are doing and it's going to bring New Yorkers back with some confidence and some trust.

Kathryn Wylde:

So those are the areas that we've focused on. We also have industries that are under real strife in the city. Obviously the tourism industry, the real estate industry, hotel industry, and all of small business. And I think the businesses that are doing well all feel a responsibility to figure out how they can support those businesses that are really going to be struggling. We have a million people unemployed, more than a million people that have applied for unemployment.

Kathryn Wylde:

We're going to lose more jobs before this is over, and so I think this is a moment where large business are prepared to use all their resources and expertise to try and be as supportive as they can of the rest of the community. Oh, I didn't mention in terms of the big businesses, in addition to the hotel tourism, real estate, the retail sector, obviously and we have some large retail members who have struggled both through the COVID crisis and more recently as a result of the looting that took place last week.

Michael Hendrix:

It's really interesting, Kathy, and I will point out for our viewers, we had a recent event on the state of the tourism industry. Please check it out in our videos. And I also want to get back in later questions to you Kathy on how we can support struggling businesses. But Samara, I'm curious, how have you been helping your members in Brooklyn navigate these unprecedented times? How bad has it gotten for them? I mean, for instance, you have a Bring Back Brooklyn Fund and you talk about real struggles, right?

Samara Karasyk:

Yeah. So, I mean, since the beginning of March, our team has been working remotely pretty much around the clock, trying to help save as many of our small businesses as we can. We're very concerned. We saw early on that some of the government programs weren't really helping as many of our small businesses as we had hoped. The first round of PPP really failed our small businesses and it failed even deeper with our minority and women owned businesses.

Samara Karasyk:

The second round they did a lot better on, but it still is concerning for a lot of our businesses is just not enough. We're very happy that the federal government passed the changes that they did to PPP last week. So that is going to work better for our businesses. They now have 24 weeks to use the money. They can use up to 40% on expenses and utilities like rent, which of course is a huge expense for most of our businesses in New York and 60% of that has to be spent on salary, but they have to be able to reopen and bring their staff back for that to work, and now they have until the end of 2020 to do that. So this is a great and welcomed change.

Samara Karasyk:

Nonetheless, there's a lot of expenses that aren't covered under these programs, and there are still folks that can't access them. So we launched the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund. It's a crowdfunding campaign. We have a CDFI at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, so it's a non-profit Community Development Financial Institution that makes micro loans with a focus on minority and immigrant owned businesses, and those loans are between $530,000, and so we're crowdfunding. I like to say if a quarter of all Brooklynites gave $25, we'd raised $16 million, and that is so many businesses that we would be able to help.

Samara Karasyk:

So the goal for the fund is to give out loans and grants upon reopening so that businesses can restock inventory, and if they need to restock other things as well, that they'll be able to do a deep sanitizing cleaning of their business before they open. And we're also going to be providing personal protective equipment to all of the employees for a number of months. Either we will distribute it to them or they will be able to procure it from one of our preferred vendors who's a local vendor. So we're hoping that this will help get everybody back to work. Obviously, we want to see them get back to work as quickly as possible and as safely as possible so that they can stay open and our economy can slowly reopen.

Samara Karasyk:

But we are very worried. We think that there's maybe a third of our businesses aren't going to reopen and reopening isn't the magic bullet. We still need to make sure that consumers come back and people's businesses come back and taking out loans is hard for a lot of businesses when they're not really sure what's going to happen going forward. So we're just doing everything we can to get them all the tools, resources and financing assistance that we can. Randy, our President and CEO was out there walking in a bunch of neighborhoods this week. We're really out there talking to businesses, getting them PPE directly to their businesses and just doing what we can to help.

Michael Hendrix:

I'm struck, a third may not come back. That seems like a really big number. I will also come back to that too. But quickly to you Mohamed, I'm curious how your community of street vendors first navigated orders to stay at home. And then now with people taking the streets and the city even embracing outdoor dining, what that's looking like?

Mohamed Attia:

Yeah, well, so the situation with vendors is very complicated as you can imagine. A lot of vendors since the beginning of this pandemic had the city stopped working completely because they have seen the decrease in their daily sales. And it has been like to a level where people are not making any sales in a whole day. So a lot of people stopped working, not because they were forced to basically, all food vendors are considered essential, just like any restaurants and supermarkets.

Mohamed Attia:

So they were allowed to operate, I would say, under the executive order, but again, with the stay home instructions and the guidelines of social distancing, there were no foot traffic in many neighborhoods, and you can imagine how vendors would survive without foot traffic. So the situation was really bad for them. A lot of them stopped working and a lot of them were waiting for the government to step up and support them, but sadly, that didn't happen.

Mohamed Attia:

We all know that all the programs that the government offered small businesses didn't really benefit street vendors at all. Street vendors were not eligible for many of these programs, whether it's loans or grants even like on the city level, on the local level where we thought that our city will step up, when we thought that the Small Business Services Department will step up and create programs that will support street vendors as sole proprietors, we haven't really seen this happening, so that was really disappointing from the administration side.

Mohamed Attia:

And of course now things are reopening, we just started phase one, hopefully things are getting better. In the past couple of weeks we heard from many vendors who went back to work and things are of course not as good as before, but it's better than nothing, comparing to what's been happening in March, April and May, at this point, people would say anything is better than nothing, and we still need a lot of support. Like the vendors' community need a lot of support. A lot of people really can't go back to work because they have huge bills waiting for them and the commissaries where they park their cars and trucks at that they really need to pay before they go out. They need some cash support to get supply for the businesses to restart again.

Mohamed Attia:

And of course, as individuals, because we know most street vendors are sole proprietors, they own the business, they work on it, and most of them they don't receive any support from the government. Not even the stimulus check that went out to individuals who have social security number. You can imagine that most street vendors who are immigrant don't have social security number, they don't receive a penny from the government yet, so that's how the situation is so far.

Michael Hendrix:

Kathy, I want to come back to you, considering the entire situation that we're in now, what's your sense of the city's path to reopening? Where are we, where are your members and what do you think of the process?

Kathryn Wylde:

Well, we're in phase one of the process, which is a very modest reopening. Hopefully within a week or two if the health metrics stay stable, we will be in phase two, which allow a little more leeway and more people coming back and more businesses getting open. One of the problems that we face is that the solutions we've become used to asking for during a couple of decades of growing prosperity in the city, as we've expected the city and state government to come up with solutions, and right now they're down 13 billion and nine billion in revenues, respectively, at least and looking at a very tough time where they're going to be facing severe budget cuts and not be in a position to come in with the kind of support they have had.

Kathryn Wylde:

Hopefully, the federal government will come forth with some money for the States and cities to reimburse both their revenue losses and the multi-billion dollar expenses they've made on the COVID fight. But it's unlikely to begin to fill the gap. So we're all going to have to be, when I mentioned before about the role of business, we're going to have to be a lot more creative as we were. I went to work at the Partnership in 1981 when the city was broke and coming out of ... and was still in the municipal financial crisis. And we had to think a lot more about how we could leverage the city's assets like land and buildings, and we'll see what happens, but we're labile to have distressed properties coming out of this.

Kathryn Wylde:

How can we leverage that to be able to generate and private sector resources to be able to help with some of the issues that have been raised and that we're going to face going forward? We do have some good examples for what happened during this crisis. I mean, the unemployment system at the state level had faced a terrible problem with an old legacy system that could not keep pace with the million plus people that were applying for unemployment. And Google and other companies came in and fixed it in a very quick time frame.

Kathryn Wylde:

Same thing, the Department of Education had to suddenly switch to online. I mean, they managed that in two weeks with the help of private sector partners, which was unprecedented for the Department of Education to do anything in less than two or three years, it was amazing. And they got it done and they've done a terrific job, and they've now set up summer school online, 100% for 177,000 kids. And during the school year they had established an 88% check in of kids. 88% of the kids were coming online and participating.

Kathryn Wylde:

Of course, it also exposed in the school system experience and our overall health experience exposed huge racial disparities, particularly for the black and Hispanic communities where we had this disproportionate share of COVID cases and deaths, and then 300,000 kids who didn't have an iPad or a computer to be able to use and some limited problems with the availability of Wi-Fi technology. A lot of the problems that have been underlying problems in terms of racial and economic disparities have also been exposed. And again, the government facing severe fiscal problems, lack of revenues, how do we fix those? We're going to have to be a lot more creative than we've been in the last decade.

Michael Hendrix:

Kathy, I actually want to follow up with you. You talk about vacant commercial spaces. Has there been any talk about creative reuse of vacant spaces? I wonder if you could expand upon that, if there's retail spaces for schools or has there been talk about that? I'm curious.

Kathryn Wylde:

Well, there's lots of talk. To be fair, the focus has been on the health crisis and then on the racial justice crisis. And so I would say yes, the biggest industry from a real state standpoint, the hotel industry has lost like 92% of their customers and the city has been able to make up for that a bit with plugging in healthcare providers, essential workers and homeless households, but they're in real trouble. They're going to be a lot of distressed hotels and there are people looking at, can that be converted to permanent SRO housing, homeless housing, affordable housing, what's the opportunity there.

Kathryn Wylde:

And that's very similar to what we did in the '80s, where the city owned 50 to 60% through tax foreclosures, owned 50 to 60% of the properties in low income areas of the city, and that became the equity in rebuilding the neighborhoods of the city for a number of years. Those were all done through public private partnerships, mostly privately financed with free city land tax abatement, et cetera. But we don't have that situation today. Much of the real estate is ... There are longterm global investors in New York City, real estate it's securitized. It's not a simple matter of tax foreclosure.

Kathryn Wylde:

The tax liens will be paid by people who expect the longterm offsite. So we're going to have to be very careful about how we go about that. We're going to have to need some new tools. It would be great to see the federal government do some kind of focus on how to help cities in particular because many cities are in similar shape to New York. We're the hardest hit but Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit cities across the country are going to face huge issues for the next year or two.

Kathryn Wylde:

And it would be hopefully we can get some kind of program as we had in the '80s where the federal government set up the Resolution Trust Corporation, went into banks and basically took over their portfolio and local government and non-profit groups had the first access to get in control of that portfolio for a very below market basis, and that was how we again, could rebuild. So we're going to have to see what happens, but we're going to have to be as creative as possible. And we're going to have to overcome the divisiveness that has characterized our city for the past few years when we had the luxury to be fighting with each other, instead of working together to solve problems.

Michael Hendrix:

Kathy, you were talking about global forces, but Samara, I mean, I just moved to Brooklyn. I'm just wondering if my favorite restaurants and shops are going to open again, or if it will ever be the same. So I think there's global forces, there's national things going on, but it's really at the neighborhood level where I see the change and where I wonder what the future is going to look like. And honestly, after quarantine, I think I value my neighborhood institutions even more, even if I can't step foot in them. So how can main street businesses stay afloat while staying safe?

Samara Karasyk:

Well, first let me just start by saying to anyone that's listening to this, please buy local. If you care about your local businesses, support them. Order delivery from them, get a coffee from them, whatever you can do. If it's a retail store, do curbside pickup, right? Try and help your local businesses come back. New York City is a city of neighborhoods. In Brooklyn, in particular, we all feel very strongly about our neighborhoods. That's what makes us Brooklyn and we have to bring businesses back.

Samara Karasyk:

I think that there's a lot of talk you're hearing from government and policy makers about our small businesses and that we need to help them. They're eager to open. They want to serve people. A lot of folks that own small businesses, this is their dream. They put their heart and soul into their businesses and with COVID happening, nobody could have seen this coming.

Samara Karasyk:

There are some things that are frustrating that are hurting our small businesses, like business interruption insurance, which many of them bought, there is exclusions in most of those, from what I understand that pandemics are not included. So here you have people that were paying business interruption insurance for years and years and years, and now they can't use that insurance money. That's something that I think government can help with.

Samara Karasyk:

We have a real disconnect between what our businesses that have been closed for months can pay in terms of rent and what the landlords are able to offer them. And so I think it's really challenging. Kathy talked about the budget situation that we have right now. Tax incentive programs are going to be really hard. The city's heavily reliant on business and property taxes, and they're already expecting that to go down.

Samara Karasyk:

Transfer taxes for properties are also down. So I think that it's going to be really important as Kathy said that the private and public sector work together to try and figure stuff out. We have a great page and resources for COVID-19 and reopening on our website at brooklynchamber.com. And in there, if you look through it, it is pretty incredible how many private foundations and companies have stepped up and they're trying to help small businesses.

Samara Karasyk:

But I will say that organizations like Chambers of Commerce that work with the businesses hand in hand, that are in the neighborhoods every day are just so important to this sort of recovery. And I'm hopeful through our work and the work of other folks that are in similar spaces will make a big difference. And we need to work with our partners and government in the private sector to really make sure that businesses get what they need because reopening isn't the magic bullet, and it's going to be a long journey back.

Samara Karasyk:

I suspect that this is just sort of the beginning of us seeing some businesses closing. But for your beloved local restaurants, I think some of them will be fine. It kind of depends where they were when this all started. How many months of capital they had to begin with, who are their funders, how are their funders doing? All of this kind of stuff, how nimble can they be? How quickly can they evolve? How good are they with using online platforms?

Samara Karasyk:

We're doing everything that we can to get them all of these tools, including for example, point of sale devices that are contactless, because there are a lot of local businesses that just don't have those yet. So there's a lot that we're trying to do to make sure they can open safely. 100%, they can open safely. Consumers should come to restaurants. They are already like the cleanest that they can be. Our retail shops are making sure that everything is clean, that their employees have their faces covered. They care about social distancing, but they need help.

Samara Karasyk:

And that's where government and organizations like ours come in to make sure they understand like what the requirements are and to provide them with PPE and sanitizing services, and all the other things that they need to really get going on this. Business people, especially entrepreneurs, they're nimble. They know how to evolve, but we really need to help them get there especially after months of closure.

Michael Hendrix:

I'm actually curious Samara, so when we looked at the impact of COVID-19, it seemed to especially impact minority communities in New York City. I also wonder if the economic pain has also impacted minority and women on businesses in particular and what that may mean for them coming back in particular?

Samara Karasyk:

Yeah. I mean, that's a major concern of ours. Just as we were talking about systemic injustice, like also let's be real, like Brooklyn, we're a community of immigrants and where many of our businesses are owned by minorities and women, and that's what we care about. That's why we live here. It's that diversity and that spirit and we need to make sure that to help as many people as we can. I mean, that's why the Chamber we're so focused on those businesses, especially the NWBEs, our CDFI, that we'll be making those loans.

Samara Karasyk:

In our charter we make 65% of those loans to minority and women owned businesses, and we also focus on immigrant owned businesses which often sort of cross those lines as well. So yeah, I mean, there's a particular concern for those. They tend to be more under-banked. They were not as well served with the federal funding programs and that's an area where all of us need to do better work. And we are their boots on the ground helping these businesses as much as we can, but I think it's really important that everyone continue to focus on our minority and women owned businesses because traditionally they're under-banked, and so financially they're going to need more help. And again, the simplest thing you can do, if you're just a regular New Yorker is make sure to go to these businesses and support them as much as you can in whatever situation that you are in right now.

Michael Hendrix:

That's a great transition to you, Mohamed, where do you street vendors fit in New York's reopening? You talked about, look, they were essential, but they've suffered from a lack of foot traffic. They're facing large commissary bills now. On the other hand, you're not going to walk along Prospect Park West and see food trucks, ice cream trucks along open streets. What does it look like for reopening with street vendors?

Mohamed Attia:

Yeah. I mean, people are back to business, as I said in the past couple of weeks and they are expecting the regular customers to come back to them. So again, I want to echo what Samara just said, please shop local, buy from your grocery store, from your vendor, from the local business in your neighborhood. That will be very important for these businesses to come back. And yeah, a lot of people are out in work and they're saying, "Okay, it's going to happen. We're going to get back to where things were. It might take some time." Hopefully it won't take so long time, but yeah, people are surviving and they are out there.

Mohamed Attia:

I mean, as a [new wish 00:27:35] Brooklyn resident, I just moved here last year, I'm enjoying Brooklyn. I love the halal food cart in Bay Ridge. I go there all the time. I get my halal food meal. They are out there, I'd say one of them actually never closed during the whole pandemic. They were out there every single day, serving their customers, the workers and their neighborhoods. And a lot of people are now out and they are expecting the community to step up and support them.

Mohamed Attia:

So you don't have to shop in the fancy big corporation supermarkets. You don't need to go there, go to your fresh produce vendor at the corner who'll offer you the affordable food, the affordable fresh produce, the fresh one that you need. Go shop local, support your local business. That would be pretty essential. As we have seen that the city is not really doing much for the street vendors yet.

Michael Hendrix:

Actually, that is a great question too and maybe that can help us move to more of a policy section of our discussion. So Mohamed, I imagine that some of the policies you've been arguing for haven't really changed since the pandemic, but maybe some of them have gotten more urgent. Is that right?

Mohamed Attia:

Yeah, that's right. I mean, we have a lot of issues with the policy, with the rules and regulations, the governance street vendors in New York City. And the whole law is super outdated. And I can tell you from my own experience as a food vendor was pretty, it was like really hard and sometimes impossible to find a legal spot to operate and run a business where I can make a living, but also follow all these rules and regulations. The 50 pages book that I received from Department of Consumer Affairs and comply with the transportation, the health, the administrative code, all that mess is like, it's just really chaotic.

Mohamed Attia:

And I think that now it's more than ever, it's needed now. Like fixing this whole system, fixing this dynamic. I mean, a lot of people perhaps watching now, they know anything about street vending. They know a lot about how the rules or regulations are, but I'll say just the very basic first step in regulating a street vending is to get a permit or a license that's required. And these permits for food vending cars are capped by the city since the '80s and people for many, many years cannot get a permit. I was a food vendor myself, I never had a permit on my own.

Mohamed Attia:

And the cap on the number of permits created an underground market for the permits, where people like myself, where vendors who had a food cart and want to work in a legal way, had to go to somebody and pay them up to $25,000 to use their permit for two years. So you can imagine how this crazy system is happening and how vulnerable the food vendor is. I mean, I pay that person $25,000 in cash, they can just go away and never show up next day to give me the permit on the cart.

Mohamed Attia:

So this is the system that people live in. We also see especially in Brooklyn, a number of women vendors who sell without permits. We have seen this in Bushwick last year in November, where a churro vendor got arrested. She's selling churros on the subway station for a dollar, she got arrested because she was making a living, honestly not hurting anyone, serving the community, serving people, serving the riders, and she got arrested for that because she can't get a permit from the city. So now it's time to think about how the city can reform the whole vending system and make a just equitable system for all vendors.

Michael Hendrix:

Regulation I think impacts all businesses, but they impact them differently. Kathy, I want to go to the other end of the scale to maybe some of the larger businesses in New York City, maybe the financial services businesses, how do regulations impact your firms and particularly now, what are some of the best measures you've seen in New York City and some of the worst coming out of this crisis?

Kathryn Wylde:

Well, I think, and it would probably help the street vendors as well is the whole, the emergency orders, executive orders that the government during the emergency allowed a lot of activity to move online that formerly had, had to be in person and going into the offices. An example is board meetings of both non-profits and business, so we're now being able to conduct online. Those kinds of changes and we'd like to see that in the whole permitting area, if that can move entirely to online, it should save the city money and it certainly will save business a lot of money and make it much more efficient.

Kathryn Wylde:

So that's one category of activity work where things have started during the COVID out of necessity under emergency orders. I think the same with procurement. The city has done a terrific job in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and with small businesses throughout the city in procuring and starting production here of face shields, of gowns, of masks, of now the test kits, the COVID-19 test kits.

Kathryn Wylde:

That's a very big deal and something that I hope that we can come in at competitive prices and keep going because the more, Samara mentioned earlier, the more we can move to local procurement the better off and the sooner our economy will recover. So I think that we've seen a number of models of activity, and that was possible only because of flexibility in the procurement process that has helped us a great deal. And I think, if we can keep doing that, that will be a very good thing.

Michael Hendrix:

Just a question for everybody here on one stop shop permitting. Is there agreement among all of you that, that is a good idea, or are there issues with that? Just out of curiosity.

Samara Karasyk:

I'm not sure what one stop shop permitting means, but I agree 100% that the process must be easier and streamlined. I'll give you an example. So the city has been talking about opening up public clauses so that restaurants and bars can serve outside and there is a city council bill which is a little bit on pause because of other world events that are going on, and some of the police reforms that they were working on this week. But it's a very important bill to get passed.

Samara Karasyk:

So we're hopeful that we're going to hit phase two in a few weeks, and at that point, restaurants will be able to serve outside and bars will be able to serve outside, but they need places to do it. We need to rethink the way that we use our streets. So as Kathy's talking about some of the creative things that can happen, right? In times of crisis, that's also a time when we can get stuff done in a different way and more quickly. And so the example is this permitting process doesn't exist yet, so the city is going to set up temporary permits for folks to have outdoor dining. We're like two weeks away from that, hopefully, and there is no system for folks to apply for it.

Michael Hendrix:

Interesting.

Samara Karasyk:

And I know people that are also trying to work with some private landlords to say, hey, there's space outside of like, we want to all work together to do this ourselves on private land, but we need to get a temporary permit to do it and there's just no process in place yet. So yes, we need like figure it out, make it happen quickly. Let's make sure that they're meeting all of the safety precautions that they need to because that's why government regulates and let's make it happen so that we can get back to life and New Yorkers ...

Samara Karasyk:

I saw a question come in about consumers, when are they going to come back? This is New York. Yes, they're going to come back. That's why we live here. Okay? So some people aren't going to be comfortable going around in New York City and some people may leave, but the city will rebound. This is New York. And I think that anyone that's a little bit nervous that's okay, take your time. But we have the advantage of walkable streets. We have a lot of space we can use outside. There are a lot of cities around the world that have done amazing things with their streets and their sidewalks. So I think there's real opportunity for us to grow as a city in really unique ways in our public spaces.

Michael Hendrix:

Well, as someone who has argued for more outdoor dining, more flexibility for outdoor retail, I certainly like that. We are actually having questions come in from our audience about this, you Samara addressed some of this. Amy Samson, how do businesses avoid a social recession? Samuel asked about, is cleverly termed here, the home body economy. I imagine that means that people have been used to over the past handful of months, ordering much more online.

Michael Hendrix:

How do you get people not just to feel safe, yes, or to trust, to go outside and go into businesses? But is there any worry that people have in some ways permanently changed their behavior to doing business virtually in some ways could either hurt some businesses or if let's say the financial services for some re-engineering in how they service businesses or consumers? This is a question for anybody.

Samara Karasyk:

I mean, I'll jump on the, has consumer behavior changed? I mean, look, I'll say my parents who are in their 70s have ordered delivery groceries for the first time ever, but they ordered those groceries from a local place, right? And then there's like a small little market that they like to go to sometime where they're actually ordering by phone, nothing that they would have ever considered. So I do think more and more people are moving to online delivery options.

Samara Karasyk:

It's great that city council recently passed a bill limiting the amount that delivery services can charge to restaurants. And some of the services, especially for independent restaurants have really tried to help with the delivery. I think we need to see a lot more of that to make it easy for people to support their local restaurants. And I know more and more sort of digital platforms that are coming up that are run by folks that care about their local communities. And they're saying, how can I help our small business owners pivot, which is the word of the day, right? Pivot to an online model so that you can still shop locally or you can pick it up curbside and you can help that business evolve in that way. And I think that we will get there and a lot of our businesses will get there, but we need to be thoughtful about it and we need to help them.

Michael Hendrix:

It's interesting, there's a question here from Matthew Freeman. "How does a business leadership strike the right balance between hoping for something in the future, but also being realistic about the challenges facing us right now?" This is less of a policy question, but more, what are you telling your members about being realistic about the challenges today? Kathy, I wonder if you're interested in that.

Kathryn Wylde:

I mean, it's not a matter of telling them that they're telling me what it is. So I'm listening. I would say that getting people back, getting people to come back to the office is very important to most employers. They value the company culture. They value the team interaction, but they feel they can't force them back so that they have to know that they're safe on the subways. They have to know that school is going to be operating, and if schools are only going to be operating half the day, that there's some plan where their kids can be safely accommodated in another place.

Kathryn Wylde:

Those are questions that we don't have answers to. I think people are beginning to see the improvements in the subway. Sarah Feinberg, the President of New York City Transit the other day described it in her tweet as sparkling, which may be a slight exaggeration, but I think it's directionally correct. So I think that business leadership wants their people to come back but they know they can't force them back. They're going to have to trust, they're going to have to be comfortable. They're going to have to know when they get on an elevator, a dozen people aren't going to jam in.

Kathryn Wylde:

Certainly, the fact that everybody is pretty universally understanding we have to wear masks to go back in, I think that's going to make a big difference. And this is going to last until we have a vaccine, which hopefully vaccines will be universally available by the second quarter next year. But that's a long stretch between here and then. Go ahead.

Michael Hendrix:

Kathy, are you worried about a carpocalypse? Are you worried that some ...

Kathryn Wylde:

[inaudible 00:40:14], you mean?

Michael Hendrix:

Yeah.

Kathryn Wylde:

No, it'll be absolutely jammed, it will be a complete mess. Now, I think we're going to have to move to micro mobility in a more aggressive way than anybody had planned. And that goes along with the closing of the streets and providing more protective space. And so I do not think that as much as people would like to drive in private cars, I don't think that's going to be possible. Just the increase in online shopping, which is up 30, 40%, this means delivery is free coming in a much higher traffic level. That was a big cause of congestion before, it's going to be a lot worse. So I don't think there's going to be a choice of cars coming in, in great new numbers because they're not going to be able to move

Michael Hendrix:

Samara and then Mohamed, I'm going to get to you. Samara, a year from now what do you think we'll see for business in Brooklyn, and since most predictions are also seemingly useless today, what do you hope for in the next, a year from now?

Samara Karasyk:

So in a year, I think any business that was sort of hanging on before this began is probably going to close, but there are going to be intrepid individuals that are opening. There's actually a place that opened across the street from me last week. And if they can figure out how to move forward, they will. I do think that the vacancy issues that we've seen are going to continue, but I'm also hopeful that landlords are going to be a little bit more flexible in terms of the tenants that they seek. And so there will be some sort of return to the ability for new entrepreneurs to come into spaces that maybe they couldn't have afforded before. And there'll be a balance in the end, but it's going to be a tough year. It's going to be a really tough year.

Michael Hendrix:

Yeah. It reminds me that people who are predicting the death of cities have been predicting the death of cities for hundreds of years. They still continue. I would imagine if some space becomes less expensive that, that is potentially someone else's opportunity. But that is a challenge though, if rather than a downturn effecting businesses, if there is a fear of riots or looting, I mean, boarded up shops seem to send a different message. Saks Fifth Avenue is surrounded by razor wire than simply a downturn. Is that a concern for any of your businesses?

Samara Karasyk:

Before some of the protests and looting, there were some commercial corridors we were seeing just like a little of vandalism throughout the borough. We worked very closely with all the business improvement districts and merchant association, so we kind of know what's happening around the borough and various commercial corridors. But I don't know, I mean, call me naive, but I believe in New Yorkers, and I think that we understand that we need to support our local businesses. There was some looting, it was minimal fortunately for our businesses. And a lot of our independent stores were actually spared some of that.

Samara Karasyk:

People are angry and they're acting out in lots of different ways. It's justifiable where this anger is coming from, but I also have to believe that most people do understand that our local businesses are just owned by people that are working hard to make a living. Their employees are like family. They hire locally, they support the community. And that is not a huge concern of mine right now, that like we're going to see widespread looting.

Samara Karasyk:

I think that businesses are reopening and people are anxious to go back outside and see people and enjoy the open air. So I think right now we're in sort of like, it's going to be okay. We're going to lose a lot of businesses, but there is hope. And I believe in New Yorkers, our business people and our residents to work together to find a solution. We have the smartest and the most talented people in the city, particularly in Brooklyn, I have to say. And I think that if we all kind of work together to help each other out, it's going to be fine. It's going to be painful, but it's going to be okay. And we're going to come up with creative solutions and I think government is going to be more creative than it's been in the past, which has been needed for a long time.

Michael Hendrix:

Some people are saying we're in another great depression, but suddenly I'm filled with hope. But Mohamed, do you have a similar kind of hope? What is the future of street vending post coronavirus?

Mohamed Attia:

Well, I do have hope for sure. I mean, at the very beginning, the tone amongst the vendors’ community was so negative. Especially seeing things coming out, seeing stimulus checks and support coming from the government and the vendors' communities being left out as small businesses, as workers, even when we talk about workers, it's very important to acknowledge that many street vendors we know, I mean, thousands of people we know who applied for the unemployment benefit for the PUA haven't received anything, very, very few people who have received.

Mohamed Attia:

And that's why like we have been pushing the governor and the mayor to create fund for excluded workers. People who have been excluded from the federal government support. But I mean, the tone at the very beginning, as I said, was so negative because a lot of people said, "Okay, I'm doing this great work. I'm running my business and the government doesn't care about me. Maybe after this whole thing is over I'm going to change my career. I'm going to go find another job or run another business," which of course is very devastating to hear that people just give up their dreams.

Mohamed Attia:

Because every vendor we know is an entrepreneur who have a dream about going bigger, establishing their own business, starting from the very micro model of business, with a street cart or a table in the street, then go to brick and mortar, then start their own thing. And giving up that dream was very negative at the beginning. But then later on, when people have seen that things are going back and the city is reopening and New Yorkers are supporting each other, they are supporting the vendor community, a lot of people are saying, "Okay, we will go back to business. It will take some time to bounce back to what things used to be before, but at least we're not going to give up."

Mohamed Attia:

So now I see that there is a lot of opportunities for street vendors to go back to their businesses, to rebuild a business again, because that's what people are doing. People who had regular customers for years, people who had like a stable business, a stable income every day that is not happening right now. They are starting again from scratch, which is very, very hard for them. So it's going to be a very tough year, let's be honest. It will be a very tough year. People need to support each other. People really need to stay strong and hopefully we'll get through this. But a year from now, I really believe the vendors would be in a better place.

Michael Hendrix:

Well, Kathy, I wonder if you can help wrap us up here. How can New York's business community emerge from these crises stronger than ever?

Kathryn Wylde:

Well, I think there's general agreement that there's going to be some major changes. And one of those changes is there's going to be more flexibility in the work schedule. So you're going to have fewer people in the office. That makes room for more people to move into offices, to build new businesses. Hopefully, it has some impact on rent rates that make that easier. The tech community has done and will do very well as was noted before.

Kathryn Wylde:

eCommerce has really shifted, but in general the move and understanding of the ... the accelerated move to technology in all forms of business and government is now established and is going to take off. So that's going to continue to be our strongest growth sector, and hopefully other sectors will stabilize. We haven't talked at all about the universities and research institutions, the hospitals, all are coming out of this with serious needs changes in their business model.

Kathryn Wylde:

All these big institutions, which really have lost a great deal during the crisis, and so they need help coming back, but they also need to figure out, for example, if the federal policies go through for two and a half months, there've been no visas issued for students. Universities, about 20% of their undergrads and 50% of their graduate students for many of our private universities are foreign students. And the change and the unavailability of Visas is just going to have a huge financial impact on their institutions and on their enrollment.

Kathryn Wylde:

It's going to have a huge impact on the city in terms of attracting entrepreneurs. More than half our small businesses are foreign owned businesses or they're owned by first generation immigrants who were born in another country and have come here and are bringing their entrepreneurial talents, whether it's on the vendor side or the tech side, the retail community. And it's a real concern in terms of immigration policy, so I don't want to leave that out. New York has historically grown and prospered because of immigration, foreign immigration and if we don't continue to have that or restore that after this is over very quickly, it's going to be a very sad thing for the city.

Michael Hendrix:

Well, thank you, Kathy. Thank you to all of our participants, Kathy, Samara, Mohamed. These are challenging times through pandemic, protests and fiscal pressures, but I think as you heard, we're also seeing creativity and we certainly need even more of it in policy and from our leaders. And we need growth again in New York City, but there is hope. There's hope for New York and hope for our businesses and you all play a part in that. So thank you to each of you and thank you to everyone tuning in.

Mohamed Attia:

Thank you.

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