Opinion: Finding New Ways to Help the City’s Small Business Owners

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NYC Council/William Alatriste

SBS Commissioner Gregg Bishop touring small businesses in East Harlem.

There are over 230,000 small businesses in the City, nearly half of which are owned by foreign-born New Yorkers. They are the backbone of New York City’s economy, and they are embedded in our everyday lives. Not only do they provide a staggering variety of goods and services, including an impressive array of international cuisines and essentials like medications, hardware or our morning cups of coffee—they are often extensions of family in our very own neighborhoods. It is critical that we support them.

The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is uniquely positioned as a friend and government navigator to these entrepreneurs. And for the first time in the City’s history, we created a comprehensive system to support this vital economic engine. Since taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has championed the needs of small businesses through the Small Business First plan—by reducing fines, cutting red tape, providing legal protection, and leveling the playing field for minority, women and foreign-born business owners. These changes are expected to save businesses $50 million annually, and the time to complete common business transactions with the City (like permits and licenses) has already been reduced by 30 percent. There is now an online, one-stop portal that allows business owners to track such licenses, permits, and violations in one place, and free compliance consultations are available to help them avoid costly fines. City agency guides for starting and operating a business are now more transparent, and accessible in six or more languages.

We know that the costs of a commercial lease often weigh heaviest on business owners and can literally be a matter of survival. It’s important to know that there is free legal assistance available that can help owners to get a fair lease—or resolve other leasing issues.

More than ever, there are new opportunities for small businesses to start, operate and grow. And every day, entrepreneurs face the twin challenges of operating their businesses while building them—so in May, we launched the first online business course series that aims to help more than 5,000 New Yorkers to grow their businesses while saving them travel time. In the last year, we awarded $5.3 million in grants through the Love Your Local program to keep our treasured legacy small businesses thriving. And we’ve deepened the pool of minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) that can compete for lucrative City contracts, by reaching the Mayor’s goal of 9,000 certified firms.

The needs of entrepreneurs are as diverse as the City’s myriad communities, and we have successfully built tailored services that extend beyond M/WBEs. We are lifting up women entrepreneurs through our WE NYC initiative, which offers a suite of leadership, financing and mentorship programs tailored to help women build their businesses. And with foreign-born New Yorkers representing nearly 50 percent of the small business community, we created an online guide dedicated to immigrant entrepreneurs. I hope you’ll join us as we celebrate their history in a first-ever photo exhibit collaboration with the Tenement Museum, featured through Sept. 8.

Through these measures and the Administration’s commitments to expanding economic opportunity for all New Yorkers, the Mayor will continue to help small business owners support their families and provide quality jobs for their fellow New Yorkers. We are ensuring that there is no wrong door for the small business community—and that we are open for business. For more information on our services, visit nyc.gov/sbs, call 311 and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Gregg Bishop is commissioner of the city’s Department of Small Business Services.

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