Long Island Chambers and Civics Unite to Support Local Downtowns

Well over 125 Chamber of commerce and civic leaders joined to support downtown revitalization and small business development at the first LI Main Street Alliance meeting of the year yesterday in Farmingdale.

Over 20 Main Street business districts were represented including a dozen downtowns reporting from Baldwin, Farmingdale, Hicksville, Roslyn, Westbury, Lindenhurst, Kings Park, Huntington Station, Bayshore, Port Jefferson, N. Bellport, Amityville and Central Islip.   The case examples all referenced the importance of local planning and partnerships between civic and chamber of commerce leaders as instrumental to getting their projects approved. 

New and existing downtown initiatives underway with representatives in attendance also included, Bethpage, Hempstead, Huntington, Patchogue, Ronkonkoma, Long Beach, Island Park, Northport and Greenlawn. 

The impact of Bail Reform was a key issue with over 2/3 of attendees seeking changes or a repeal to the current law when questioned.   Local action to date has been taken with press events in Central Islip and events with Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.     The Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers reported this issue being a top priority on their agenda at their December meeting.   The LI Main Street Alliance will further poll their members and take a position on this important public safety issue in the coming weeks.

Vanessa Lockel from the MTA/LIRR previewed local station and infrastructure improvements in the recently approved $51 billion capital plan.  “We’re dedicated with the transition team to come in and really change the image of what people have in regards to their relationship with the Long Island Railroad,” said Ms. Lockel. She also discussed procurement opportunities for local small businesses.   She made herself and her team very accessible to meet with local community organizations in their planning process for upcoming train station area improvements.

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman reported 44% of millennials living at home in comparison of 18% in prior decades.   He pledged to work with the Main Street Alliance attendees from local communities to input more local information for the menu of reports on Nassau County finances and economic indicators his office is producing in the coming year. 

“It used to be that 16% of 20-somethings on Long Island lived at home, about the national average,” said Mr. Schnirman.  “Today that number is at 44%.  There’s a whole sort of deal that people make with the idea of living here and, as we all know, in a variety of ways that deal is under some economic threat.  And as with everything … it needs updating and it needs modernization.”

Suffolk Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman spoke about procurement opportunities for small business as the County spends $1 billion annually on goods and services that should go local.  He also covered the past and present investment in wastewater treatment to better Suffolk County downtowns and residential communities.

“One of the things that is important for our region, for business, for communities, for quality of life, is that everybody respects everybody else,” said Mr. Kaiman.  “We understand that it’s not just about tolerance but growing our diversity in a way that helps us all rise together.”

Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs Director Lionel Chitty and Luis Montes from McBride Consulting discussed strategies to build on the small business diversity in local downtowns and job development.  “When it comes to downtown areas,” said Mr. Chitty, “you need to be involved in your community, you need to be involved in the chambers of commerce, you need to be sitting at the table, you need to be a part of those community benefit programs, to make sure that your voices are heard and that you are a part of that process.”

The goal is for minority and women owned business to take advantage of local economic opportunities as revitalization efforts take shape.  Mr. Montas noted that “NYC set a goal to certify 9,000 MWBE (Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises) companies, and they did it in record time, two years ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately, only about 600 of those are actually procuring from NYC right now.  This is due to issues like bonding, issues like insurance.  Those are the issues that many times these small businesses have no experience or no record in.  This is one of the issues we need to address going forward.”

The concern of gentrification was raised and displacement was also raised from the audience with a project in N. Amityville removing affordable trailer parks for luxury apartments as an example.

Attendees are reviewing the recently proposed NYS Budget and pleased with the prospect of a Small Business Tax cut, increased funding for affordable housing, transportation assistance and the prospect of an environmental bond assuming Long Island receives its fair share of these resources.   Members of the Main Street Alliance are preparing to join the LI Lobby Coalition for the annual LI Lobby Day in Albany in February.

The Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce, the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers and Vision Long Island co-sponsored the meetings and provided updates on their respective work along with the LI Hispanic Chamber and Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce.   All attendees pledged to work together collaboratively in the coming year to combat increased polarization on the national and regional level to better their members and local communities.

You can read more about this meeting in Long Island Business News here.