Economic Growth In Queens
New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi spoke at the June breakfast of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, held at the Riverview Caf, near the City Lights tower in Long Island City. So did Dave Howard, executive vice president of business operations for the New York Mets. John R. Dunham of Guerrilla Economics, who briefly related a few items about the Queens economy to the audience, which couldn't complain that a QEDC breakfast skimps on information. Faith Hope Consolo, a business consultant, was on the schedule but was unable to appear
Hevesi gave the breakfast gathering the rousing speech in which he said that the city's business structure is far better than the state's. There is population and economic growth in the city and downstate counties, while upstate population and prosperity fade away. As a result, New York state loses two seats in the United States House of Representatives. He could find no good reason for the upstate situation, saying there's a "mindset" there that resists the effort to improve. He summarized an excellent report, Queens: Economic Development and the State of the Borough Economy, put out by the Office of the State Deputy comptroller for the City of New York (that deputy comptroller being Kenneth B. Bleiwas) and distributed at the breakfast. Among many items the report points out is the fact that no single industry dominates the borough, the leading employer being the two airports. Kennedy and La Guardia provided 5.1 percent of the jobs (43,000 in number) and 7.7 percent of wages paid as of 2004, when borough prosperity rebounded from the post-9/11 slump. The manufacturing job base is shrinking, and while Hevesi said manufacturing is still important, he concluded it is "not the future".
Since 2000, home values in Queens have grown by 161 percent, or 14.7 percent annually- a higher growth rate than in the city as a whole and the second-highest growth rate after Manhattan. Home values average about $570,500 in Queens-an increase of 16.3 percent from last year. By comparison, the citywide average home value is about $556,000, a 12.7 percent gain. Almost half of all Queens residents are homeowners, a higher percentage than in any other borough except Staten Island.
The flip side, however, is that housing is more expensive for homebuyers and renters. The median rent in 2005 in Queens was $903 per month-the second highest of the five boroughs behind Manhattan ($1,000). Between 2002 and 2005, the share of income spent on rent rose in Queens from 24.2 percent to 28.5 percent. Overall, Queens residents spent the second highest percentage of their income on rent after residents in The Bronx (30 percent).
"The good news is that homeowners have more equity. The bad news is that housing is less affordable." Hevesi said.
He then went on to praise the city and state comptroller's offices, both of which he has commanded. He said that the state comptroller's office, with its 2,400 employees, is "impeccably non-political" and plays no favorites, though it is currently headed by a Democrat, himself. He said that he has lauded the economic status of Johnson City on the Southern Tier, where, he said, "there are no Democrats", and deplored conditions in the city of Buffalo, "where they're all Democrats." The office, he said, has an excellent reputation with both parties, "because they trust us." He said its $140 billion pension plan, the second largest in the United States, "meets every obligation for every retiree." It invests aggressively, using 15 private investment funds. "I'll take market rate guaranteed every time," he said. The office audits aggressively, too. As an example, it is currently auditing the criminally disastrous Roslyn school board situation on Long Island; as another, he cited what seems to be a negative favorite of his, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He said the comptroller's office found the MTA's budget to be a two-sets-ofbooks fraud and its 2 Broadway rehabilitation project a carnival of fiscal corruption. Strict budget rules had to be imposed on the agency. In contrast, he was glad to cite the shining example of a "perfect" audit at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. "It drove our auditors crazy," he said. "They could find nothing wrong!"
He said the reform picture in the state has improved lately with the passing of on-time budgets after 20 years of delayed ones, a situation that perversely appeared to have become the natural order of things. Concentration must be placed on the reform of public authorities, such as the MTA, he said, because "If you do not fix public authorities"-and there are 740 in the state-"you have no reform." It is tied in with the state's debt problem. He called New York the second most indebted state in the U.S. The state and authorities' debt, with interest added, could soon be $200 billion. "Bad debt kills us," he declared. It is a problem that must be addressed in this election year.
Dave Howard, head of business operations for the New York Mets, was introduced as the first general counsel any major league baseball club has ever had. He was at the breakfast to talk about and show a video presentation of the new home of the Mets, groundbreaking for which will occur some time this summer. he said "By early next spring," he added, "you'll be seeing steel superstructure coming from the ground."
Among Howard's responsibilities is publicity for the new ballpark, and he admitted that sometimes promotion has been headlong and careless, incurring the indignation of politicians such as City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate. But the path seems to be clear now and once ground is broken, construction should proceed to completion and opening in 2010. The video was slick and dazzling, but informative too. The entrance will be designed in a style meant to be reminiscent of Ebbetts Field, the Brooklyn Dodgers' ballpark that has been gone for close to half a century. The new place will have a grandeur all its own, however, with a 65-foot vaulted ceiling inside the entrance. The stands, Howard pointed out, will not rise to such heights as they do in either Yankee Stadium (soon to be replaced also) or Shea Stadium, home of the Mets for more than 40 years. Instead, spectators in even the remotest seats will be closer to the level of the playing field. There will be 10,000 or so fewer seats than at Shea Stadium, he said, but the club is confident that if the fan base can bring average attendance close to the new capacity (about 45,000), the additional seating, often unfilled anyway, would not be missed. He suggested (and others have been more emphatic in saying so) that Shea Stadium itself would not be missed, since it is relatively old, hard to renovate and, in his words, "has problems." Comparing the unbuilt ballpark to the current one, Howard said, when the topic of luxury boxes was brought up, "The least of the luxury suites in the new stadium will be better than the best of them in Shea." Howard was asked if a deal had been made with a corporation whose name the stadium would bear; he said that one had not been closed yet.
Guerrilla Economics, described by John R. Dunham, its president, as "economics of crisis and controversy", is based in Brooklyn Heights. Dunham told his listeners that the economy of Queens is likely to become more like Manhattan's in the next 10 years, though Manhattan's economy will remain much larger (being currently five times as large). Manufacturing jobs are sure to decline further, and governmental, health care and entertainment jobs would probably increase in number. But these latter jobs, he said, are those that grow in every city. He did cite job growth in the retailing segment of the Queens economy, but described it as slow.