Sunset Park

Opinions & observations: The path to recovery begins at Industry City, and small businesses will lead the way

August 18, 2020 Randy Peers and Jacqueline Capriles

In March of 2019, more than 60 small businesses from the Sunset Park community wrote to their local councilmember to express their strong support for the rezoning of Industry City.

Some were tenants on the Industry City campus and others were located on nearby commercial strips. They included tech startups, small manufacturers, artisans, barbers, bakers, furniture makers, industrial suppliers and the best taco place in southwest Brooklyn.

And while each had a unique and moving story about growing their businesses in Sunset Park, they were all completely united in their belief that Industry City’s success was directly linked to their own.

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Now, as diverse businesses like Sahadi Fine Foods, Diaz Electric, Lilac Chocolates and King of Kings Barber Shop ponder a future that has never looked more uncertain or unsettled, the City Council has an opportunity to send a message to them and similar entrepreneurs throughout Brooklyn and New York City.

By moving the Industry City rezoning forward, they can show them that they are the key to economic recovery across the five boroughs and that their investment in the future of Industry City and Sunset Park was the right choice for them, their employees and their community.

We have spoken with countless small business owners over the past several months and while we have heard far too many heartbreaking stories of loss, we also have been buoyed by numerous expressions of hope and optimism.

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers. Photo courtesy of Peers

But with that optimism come concrete needs. They need immediate, short-term government support with rent, payroll and supplies (yes, we’re talking to you, Mitch McConnell).  But they also have longer terms needs, such as landlords who will work with them constructively; connections to a trained local workforce and free job placement services; and the creation of small business “ecosystems” that allow companies, service providers and even local retail stores to support one another and grow together.

Industry City has already proven that small businesses can thrive within such an environment. Since 2013, they have grown from 150 businesses on-site to 550, and jobs have increased from 1,900 to nearly 8,000 as of March 2020.

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They’ve provided free job training and other services to thousands of Sunset Park residents and have placed hundreds of employees at Industry City businesses.  And the “Innovation Economy” has found a home in Brooklyn in which an incredible range of companies can collaborate and thrive.

Their proposed rezoning would not only unlock new growth opportunities – facilitating expansion to 1,000 businesses and 20,000 jobs – but would help Industry City and its small businesses lead the post-pandemic recovery.

Diaz Electric Chief of Operations Jacqueline Capriles. Photo courtesy of Capriles

They already have committed to protecting industrial space and bringing in a non-profit industrial incubator, which will keep important manufacturing jobs and affordable workspace on the waterfront.

They have pledged to expand their job training and placement initiatives at the Innovation Lab, which will be welcome news to the countless local residents who have lost their jobs in recent months.

And as businesses strive to recover and grow again, they will require access to an educated and engaged workforce, which will be accomplished by finally allowing CUNY to build programs and facilities on the Industry City campus.

The small businesses who wrote in support of Industry City last year concluded that the proposal was a “thoughtful, 21st century approach to zoning and land use that supports the manufacturing and innovation economy’s unique mix of job-creating industrial, commercial, academic and retail uses,” and that “this rezoning gets the balance between all of these components just right.”

Industry City can serve as a precedent-setting example of community-informed industrial redevelopment and become a model for thoughtful growth and recovery not only across Brooklyn, but throughout the five boroughs. And small businesses will lead the way.

Randy Peers is the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Jacqueline Capriles is chief of operations at Diaz Electric in Sunset Park


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