As we are in a strange, uneven state of recovery right now, five months into 2021 the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming visible from the difficulties and challenges of 2020. There is no doubt, many of us feel as if we have lost an entire year of normalcy, business as usual, and life in general. However, with renewed hope, this is a great time for a call to arms for a renewed “lift up” here in The Bronx.
As an entrepreneur for over a decade, I have a clear perspective on the bumpy road this borough has traversed for quite some time, and the added trauma of the covid-19 pandemic during the last year, served to further bring down both the economy and structure of an already delicate state of conditions in The Bronx, with a weak economy and damaged reputation to the outside world.
Unlike our neighbor, Westchester County, for which The Bronx was part of until 1895, when it was annexed as part of New York City, The Bronx has not enjoyed the same economic prosperity or positive reputation as a desired destination with upwardly mobile opportunities. Nor has it enjoyed the same focus as Westchester from large companies to set up shop, thus attracting young talent from around the immediate area for job and career advancement. Such dynamics add to growing the economy of a borough and enable putting money back into the community. It would also serve to increase demand for a wider variety of career opportunities including more executive and business positions and thus elevating the median income level as a whole throughout the area.
I often wonder what things would have been like both economically and opportunity-wise had The Bronx remained part of Westchester County. Would there be more corporations eager to base their headquarters with the geographical area that is now The Bronx? The Bronx has suffered for decades with income inequality and disinvestment generating cycles of poverty for years to come.
For example, If one takes a closer look at where the business investments have been in the borough, it has not focused on areas that would provide long-term economic growth for the borough as a whole or to propel high income career and job opportunities.
A great example can be observed in the ongoing development of high income residential apartment complexes throughout The Bronx in the absence of employment opportunities for high paying jobs. The result is a lack of individuals and families that can afford such luxury residences and their expensive price tags.
The simple fact is that The Bronx has long been a place of great contrast. On the one hand, this borough boasts of one of the greatest ethnically diverse and culturally rich populations throughout New York City. The Bronx is also home to a wealth of hospitals and healthcare facilities, over a dozen institutes of higher learning, as well as an abundance of small businesses.
So, with all of these “ingredients”, why has it been so difficult to come up with the right “recipe” for greater economic expansion and success?
As an entrepreneur and small business owner and immigrant of the first-ever Bronx tour company, I believe wholeheartedly that it is possible to transform our beloved borough from economically weak with thriving small businesses; from high unemployment to a more jobs for the community; and to retain the talent that comes out of our colleges and universities.
I’ve experienced first-hand what it is like to build a business from the bottom up and the capital and personal tenacity it takes to take ownership of my dream. Knowing the rich history of The Bronx, I believed there was great value to locals and tourists alike in offering an opportunity to see and learn about the area’s landmarks, neighborhoods and destinations. With very little tourism in the Borough back in 2011 when I began my tourism business, Bronx Historical Tours, I blazed the trail to establish a small local enterprise that boasts a clientele from around the globe.
In the same way, I do feel certain that there are some vital steps that can be taken by our local politicians, corporations and large organizations that can assist in growing The Bronx to its rightful position of strength in New York City. Considering the devastation that the covid-19 lockdowns have had on all businesses and the resulting loss of jobs, timing could not be more opportune for our new Borough President and new Mayor to work with the community and leaders to implement some new initiatives for a Bronx “Lift Up” campaign. This is a great opportunity for local politicians to serve the community and their constituents by working with businesspeople and large companies to create long-term plans to invest in the Borough.
Greater Push into Technology and Science Jobs
The recent covid-19 pandemic made it abundantly clear that The Bronx is home to a tremendous number of essential workers. Their grace under fire during the height of this most recent health crisis shone brightly on the borough’s nurses, homecare aids and medical assistants. It also highlighted the great opportunity available for increased training programs for alternative careers in the sciences and technology arena where higher paying jobs can be sought. Careers as lab technologists, pharmacologists, medical research scientists and computational scientists command salaries upwards of $100K annually.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of medical scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Medical scientists will continue to be needed because they contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health.”
Entrepreneurial Training Programs in School
The Bronx has always been and continues to be a destination for new American immigrants and if our borough’s history has shown us anything, immigrants bring with them great entrepreneurial skills and spirit. So many of the successful and multigenerational Bronx businesses were started by immigrants.
What better way to inspire our youth than to develop after school entrepreneurial programs in our schools run by local small and large business leaders in the community. By bestowing interesting stories, especially those that illustrate beating challenging odds, entrepreneurial programs can foster grade school and high school kids’ creativity while showing them how to embrace their own personal power.
Entrepreneur training is not just for inspiring kids! Plenty of adults, particularly single parents, struggle with wanting to do more with their lives to elevate their income, but struggle with how to begin. Joint efforts between community centers and local successful business people looking to give back can make a huge difference to provide the jump start individuals to achieve greater financial independence.
Businesses Considering The Bronx as Headquarters
While large corporations often get criticized for squeezing out small business, this is not always the case. In fact, large companies can fill the void of high paying jobs that smaller businesses are not in a position to offer. With this in mind, The Bronx could definitely benefit from being the headquarters location for big enterprises. According to Entrepreneur.com, “Cost, talent and culture are the three factors that should determine where a company settles down.” When one considers the amount of talent coming out of the numerous colleges and universities in the borough, The Bronx offers a wealth of talent for recruitment. Starting a career based in The Bronx, with the prospect of career advancement and good pay offers a statistically greater chance of graduates choosing to remain in the borough long after graduation. Additionally, large companies based in The Bronx will attract talent from around the New York City area.
Incentives from the city can be instrumental in luring businesses, which would help with the overall long-suffering economy of The Bronx.
Think Opportunities for Kids’ Jobs
The only thing that empowers young people more than working, having responsibility and earning their own money is the belief of an adult. For example, I started working when I was attending Jordan L. Mott JHS 22. While the day of the “paper route” is long gone, there are new jobs available to teens these days such as stocking shelves, bussing tables and working in retail stores. Schools, along with parents can take an active role by encouraging kids to get their working papers with a sense of excitement. Students between 14 - 17 years of age must get an employment certificate, also known as “working papers” in order to work, which is the first necessary step for getting their first job. Public service announcements are a great way to build enthusiasm among the borough’s kids to feel good about finding jobs and motivate more employers to hire kids and create jobs with young, energetic kids in mind.
In addition to small businesses, some chain stores hire teens at sixteen years old such as CVS, Baskin-Robbins, Boston Market and McDonald’s to name a few.
While The Bronx has had a reputation for being a place where poverty and struggle exist, it is also known for its resiliency. A place filled with tremendous cultural diversity, historic places and landmarks, beautiful natural settings and the birthplace of many accomplished business moguls, entrepreneurs, small business owners and artists that have left their mark, The Bronx offers a golden opportunity to today’s visionaries to reshape its future.
Today, more than ever, the youth and all local residents are equally vital to the success formula. In order to establish a permanent fix to ensure the economic growth of The Bronx, we need to be an efficient and competitive Borough running our own budget and economy and not depend on outside government support. We need to bring The Bronx into the 21st century and offer more technology in our curriculum, rather than lag so far behind the other New York City boroughs but rather be in a position where we are equipped handle an economic downturn.
It is vital for growth to change the view of our great borough as a place for economic opportunity for businesses and corporations because of our human resources and place for long-term success. I believe this is possible if our local politicians become great ambassadors to the outside business community to seek out solid investors with a transparent strategy and clear structure to help build the local economy and be part of the great Bronx lift up. In turn our local community will have more professional and sustainable options for a thriving future here in The Bronx.