2017-05-24 / Front Page

Queens Chamber Of Commerce Holds Annual Business Expo & Breakfast

By Thomas Cogan
The annual Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Business Expo and Breakfast 2017 lasted about seven hours on a sunny day in mid-May, drawing a good number of speakers and exhibitors to Citifield.  Exhibitors used fifth-floor space to represent their share of Queens and meet many visitors who were there for more than just free ball-point pens.  The speakers on the fourth and fifth floors were informative and sometimes provocative.  The breakfast panel, the opening speaking session, had John Catsamatidis as lead speaker.  He had a sweeping view of the city, while the seven panelists commented on the state of healthcare, transportation and manufacturing in Queens alone.  Though their emphasis was forward-looking, some of them had an implicit skepticism about the prospect that coming events would help solve current and growing problems.

Catsimatidis, head of the Red Apple supermarket group, said the city has established a fine safety record but said its transportation record is problematical.  He praised the new and expanding ferry service as one means of alleviating delays—though delays have already occurred even there.  On the panel situated to his left in the Citifield auditorium were three transportation representatives, to go along with two healthcare and manufacturing reps. 

Speaking for healthcare were Susan Browning, executive director of Forest Hills Hospitals, Northwell Health, and Caryn Schwab, executive director of Mt. Sinai, Queens.  The transportation advocates were Ya-Ting Lu, executive director of Friends of the BQX; Elana Ehrenburg, community relations rep for NYC Ferry; and Michael  S. Wojnar, assistant secretary for transportation, office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.  The manufacturing reps were Thomas Powell of Boyce Technologies and Paula Kirby, managing director of Plaxall Corp. in Long Island City.

At the urging of QCC’s Executive Director Tom Grech, some of the panelists commented on the changing Queens scene and their place in it.  Paula Kirby said she is a Queens native who grew up in Forest Hills and now represents her family’s third generation in a Long Island City business.  Caryn Schwab said the last 20 years have seen the potential Queens takeoff become real.  Elana Ehrenburg said she believes that ferries will not only prove critical in Queens transportation but are already solving the problem of the borough’s size relative to transportation, now that it is possible to get from Flushing to the Rockaways by water instead of traversing a daunting overland route.  She said the first ferry has 49,000 riders, “about the size of a bus route,” but with further openings, beginning with the one on June 1, rapid expansion is expected. Tom Powell said there is “an intellectual vortex” in Queens, building “intellectual equity,” and as a result, companies such as his, Boyce Technologies, have been surveilled by companies as far away as Virginia that are searching for brainpower.

Catsimatidis asked the healthcare reps how the current battles on the national level are likely to affect New York.  Schwab said that the proposals for replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, if made into law, would inflict heavy losses on the city.  Nationally, she estimated, $800 billion in funding is likely to be lost in the coming decade.  As for Queens, she said healthcare here is “very fragile” without facilities for the performance of “high-end medical procedures” that bring in high-end revenues.  Browning said the ACA subsidies seem ready to die of neglect, or less provocatively put, be allowed to expire.  She sees the state’s health system to be in better shape than the city’s but still likely to be damaged if repeal-and-replace legislation is achieved. 

Grech returned to transportation, asking about the desperate situation affecting Penn Station and the Long Island Railroad.  Powell asked in return how many within the sound of his voice are driving 1972 model automobiles.  Few if anybody, he assumed, but the bulk of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rolling stock goes back decades, not merely to 1972 but even to 1958.  He said he sees a great many Queens commuters each morning emerging from the 34th St.-Hudson Yards stop and the end of the No. 7 line, “to help build Hudson Yards.”

Other panelists had commentary too.  Ehrenburg said that on transportation in New York, access is a problem for the elderly and disabled.  She finds that fact particularly noticeable since the new ferry boats are up-to-date and American Disabilities Act-compliant and are thus easy-access.  Schwab said that in Queens, transportation is oriented toward getting passengers out of the borough, but what of getting them in?  She said she is not likely to see the creation of light rail and other transportation projects in her lifetime.  Kirby, however, seems to assume the light-rail Brooklyn-Queens Connector will be operational in a few years, allowing residents in Ravenswood to go to work in Brooklyn.  Ya-Ting Liu, a direct representative of the BQX, said the Manhattan-centric model, effective since the 19th century, will be changed radically, in a way she termed “multi modal.”

There were questions and commentary from the audience.  A man calling himself an immigrant living in Jackson Heights wanted to know if there’s anywhere to park one’s car.  Catsimatidis said that the anti-automobile spirit has been strong in the city for too long a time.  He said specific zoning should be legislated in the interest of parking.  A woman said that of the many Sunnyside Yard building proposals the best would be to build only a park, which western Queens needs, over the railroad tracks.  Catsimatidis said he wants both buildings and parkland over the yard.

The final inquiry was about Cornell Technion, the scientific graduate complex due to open soon on Roosevelt Island.  What of the great effect on Queens that was predicted, one person asked.  Kirby said nothing’s happened yet because it’s still early.  She predicted a significant effect on Plaxall, her company, and much of western Queens when Cornell Technion becomes operational.

The later “breakout” sessions, devoted to business technology, strategies and forecasts, filled out the rest of the expo.  In one of them, Ellis Henican, veteran newspaperman, looked over the political situation and forecast how it would affect business.  He started with immigration, saying it would be impossible to banish 11 million aliens but quite possible to tighten borders.  Thus, employers could no longer anticipate a flow of illegal but employable aliens and would have to be more attentive to retaining the ones they have.  He said Obamacare would stay because Democrats support it while Republicans really don’t know how to replace it; but Medicaid, expanded under Obama, would be downsized significantly. 

He does not see tax reform succeeding, so corporations will continue to gripe about high taxation but still find means to avoid a good deal of it anyway.  He said he was bullish about the military and law enforcement as a source of business contracts, and healthcare too.  At one point, when he was talking about solar energy (not good, since the tax breaks it has enjoyed will diminish), one man protested that his viewpoint was too liberal.  Henican agreed but said he’s always ready to argue and hear opposing arguments (which he quickly got from a solar energy businessman who said his confidence in it remains high).






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