Tourism boosting Brooklyn economy, Cornegy says

Councilmember points to Airbnb growth

September 13, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Robert Cornegy says the tourism and hospitality industries have spawned economic growth and entrepreneurship in places like Bedford-Stuyvesant. Photo courtesy of Cornegy’s office
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As chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Small Business, Councilmember Robert Cornegy keeps close tabs on the economic climate in the five boroughs.

His verdict? “The climate is decent at this time,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent phone interview.

A big reason for the upswing in the economy is the success of New York City’s tourism and hospitality industries, he said.

Those industries are job-creating engines, and not just in Manhattan, according to Cornegy, who said that in places like Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood he represents in the council, there are more than 1,000 Airbnb locations in apartments and private houses providing places for tourists to sleep.

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The Airbnb locations are an important source of income for hosts, he said.

Restaurants, bars, gift shops and other businesses that cater to tourists are also doing well, he said. “Limousine companies too. Not everyone wants to take the subway,” Cornegy said.

The city’s overall economic picture is bright when it comes to small businesses, Cornegy said. “In neighborhoods where there has been an influx of new residents, there has been small business growth. It comes from population growth,” he said.

All is not rosy, however, “There are neighborhoods that have seen population growth but they are still small business deserts,” Cornegy said, pointing to East New York and Brownsville as examples.

“Some of it is poor planning. We should all be trying to promote business opportunities. The population that lives in those communities need goods and services just as other communities do,” Cornegy said.

Cornegy, a Democrat who was elected to the council in 2013 and represents the 36th Council District, takes his role as chairman of the Small Business Committee seriously.

There are more than 200,000 small businesses in New York City, according to the Department of Small Business Services (SBS). A small business is generally defined as one with fewer than 100 workers. Ninety-eight percent of all businesses in New York fit the definition of a small business.

There are an estimated 52,605 small businesses currently operating in Brooklyn, according to SBS.

Cornegy’s first goal is similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors. “First, do no harm,” he said. “My aim is to make sure that we aren’t doing any harm to small businesses with excessive fines and fees.”

The city has taken a step in the right direction by standardizing fines for violations, he said. “The Department of Health used to have a fluctuating set of fines that could run from $800 to $2,500 for the same violation. We standardized that,” he said.

New York also has a new law on the books to protect commercial tenants from landlord harassment. “There were protections in place to protect residential tenants from being harassed by their landlords, but there was nothing in place for commercial tenants. Now we have that,” Cornegy said.

The protection was badly needed, according to Cornegy, who building owners have “cut off electricity, gas and other essential services” to store owners.

Cornegy cited one shocking case in which a landlord cut off a restaurant owner’s water supply. “The landlord found out that he could rent the commercial space for much more money than that tenant was paying and he wanted him out,” the councilmember said.

Cornegy plans to conduct an informational tour of the five boroughs to make sure that small business owners are aware of the new law.

He and his committee also work on strategies aimed at helping small business owners gain access to capital so that they can grow.

One project, Chamber on the Go, developed by Cornegy and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, involves a truck that visits business areas around the city for a day so that experts can answer questions on everything from fees for licenses to how to fill out a loan application.

After a successful run in Brooklyn, the Chamber on the Go project expanded citywide and is now overseen by the New York City SBS. Cornegy and SBS always let local councilmembers and community boards know when the Chamber on the Go truck is coming to their neighborhoods so that they can help spread the word to business owners.

Cornegy said he is constantly thinking of ways to promote small businesses in the city.

“Small businesses are the economic engines that run the city’s economy. We need them. We need them to create jobs,” he said. “If we could get every business in New York City to hire one more person, we would decrease unemployment by 50 percent.”

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