Baruch Students Discuss New York Business and Politics with Crain’s New York Business Publisher Alair Townsend
Small businesses are key to New York’s continued growth and success, but excessive regulations are creating a stifling business climate that may cost the city its status as an entrepreneurial hub, said Alair Townsend, publishing director of Crain’s New York Business, during her presentation to business journalism and English students at Baruch on Oct. 31.
More than 200,000 small businesses, defined as enterprises with fewer than 500 employees, call New York home, and two-thirds of the city's private sector employees work for such companies. “Because this is such a vast place, we tend to think of New York City as a place for big business, but we actually mirror the nation in the [percentage] of small businesses,” she said.
A former New York City deputy mayor and budget director, Townsend addressed a mixed crowd of students and faculty in Baruch’s Newman Vertical Campus, touching on topics as diverse as the differing leadership styles of city mayors over the years to the prohibitive cost of doing business in New York state as a whole.
“We can’t compete with Mexico or Hong Kong, but we ought to be able to compete with New Jersey,” said Townsend. “It is very hard to convince people in the New York City Council that the cost of doing business matters,” she added, pointing out that many legislators “who are in the City Council have almost no experience in private industry.”
In discussions with the editors of Crain’s, business owners routinely cited high taxes, strictly enforced fines, and the ever-increasing cost of health insurance as their main reasons for moving into less-challenging environments. “(Workers’ compensation) for instance has proven to be extremely difficult to reform, and has led to several companies leaving the state,” she said.
Students had an opportunity to ask questions about the inner workings of the city’s numerous business improvement districts (or BIDs), current debates about immigration, and challenges to New York’s role as a financial center, particularly as online trading begins to edge out the necessity for physical market spaces.
Townsend also shared her concerns over the future of the print media industry, suggesting that gains in website advertising revenues are not keeping up with significant losses in newspaper advertising pages. “The truth is that ad dollars on websites come nowhere near to replacing the print ads we’re losing.” While the publication maintains a healthy online presence, Townsend confessed that she was partial to the printed word. “I love print, and I’m still not wedded to the small screen.
While acknowledging the importance of entrepreneurs to the city’s economy, Townsend also emphasized the indispensable contributions of the financial services sector. “Wall Street is the economic engine that drives the city and the state,” she said. “We have a lot at stake in maintaining the primacy of our financial sector.”
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