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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2003 / 5 Tishrei, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Wall Street welfare means the little guy gets stepped on | So I'm eating breakfast at the Twin Donuts on 23rd St. when I notice a new sign at the back of the restaurant: "SUSHI."

Sushi and doughnuts. I try to digest this notion without reaching for a paper bag. Then, shakily, I amble back and ask the chef, "How's business?"

"Not so good," he replies, smiling wistfully. His shop within a shop opened just three weeks ago, so perhaps - let's hope - it will catch on soon. But its strange and desperate locale just highlights a huge problem here: New York City is hell on small businesses.

That's the same conclusion recently reached by a think tank called the Center for an Urban Future. In its scathing report, "Engine Failure," the center castigates our fair city for actually being a very unfair place to start a business: Regulations are many, taxes are high. But worst of all, it is just too expensive to rent space here.

At least, space that isn't at the back of a doughnut shop.

"Space is the No. 1 concern," says Neil Kleiman, director of the think tank. That explains why, over the past 25 years, New York's jobless rate has hovered 2 or 3 percentage points higher than the national average. Businesses can't afford to start or stay here - and it's not getting any better. Since 9/11, the city has hemorrhaged 200,000 jobs.

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The fall of the twin towers is not solely to blame. That tragedy only accelerated the trend of companies departing for pastures that require less green, according to the report. And since local rents give no sign of dropping anytime soon, the report's authors are recommending a radical step to save New York's small businesses:

Quit kowtowing to Wall Street.

What on Earth does Wall Street have to do with little printing, pita and plant companies moving out? Plenty.

You see, since the go-go '80s, when Wall Street came to represent all that was exciting and expanding in this town, New York's economic policy has been to cater tothe big-boy banks. We gave them terrific tax breaks just for staying in town. And what did we get in return?

Higher rents! "If you are subsidizing J.P. Morgan, they have more money to pay for real estate," explains Adam Friedman, head of the New York Industrial Retention Network. "At the same time, you have 50 small businesses that are not getting tax benefits, and yet they are competing for New York space."

Too often, those little guys can't afford it. So they share space, like the sushi/doughnut shop. Or they leave.

This is bad news for New York. We need small businesses. They keep the economy diverse. They provide middle-class jobs. Given the chance to expand, they do! Wall Street, meanwhile, takes the money and runs.

Where to? Well, New Jersey for one. Since 1990, our city has gained a measly 700 securities jobs. New Jersey has gained (sit down) 30,000. And we were paying to grow those jobs here!

From now on, let's insist: No more favors for an ungrateful Wall Street. Let's help the little guy who's makin' doughnuts. Or makin' maki. Whatever.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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