Her love and commitment to her new home, The Bronx, was immediate, and as she grew, so did her pride in the borough she still calls home, more than four decades later. After a twenty year marketing career in the corporate world, she decided to venture off on her own to follow her lifelong passion for her hometown, by creating the first-ever tour company specializing in Bronx tours.
As Managing Director of Bronx Historical Tours, Ms. Maruri has and continues to educate visitors, both local and from around the world, to the hidden (and not so hidden!) gems that exist in the borough, but, moreover, that are part of her world.
Her business philosophy is quite simple - a deep dedication to promoting sustainable tourism practices in The Bronx. Her goal is to forge opportunities for local businesses by bringing tourism to the borough, with a sensitivity for economic growth, social awareness of the local culture, and environmental respect, while raising awareness of the borough's historic preservation.
In light of this commitment, she possesses passionate views about some of the steps that can be taken within the borough by business developers and entrepreneurs to create jobs and career opportunities within the Bronx.
During my latest conversation with Alexandra, she detailed some of the ideas about which she is most fervent.
EV: Can you describe what it is that makes you so passionate about The Bronx?
AM: I love the people, the food and our beautiful historic buildings. But, for the most part, I
would say I love the history and culture of The Bronx. I’m very passionate about preserving our history, while at the same time, believe we have a unique opportunity to embrace and learn about new cultures that are brought to The Bronx as new immigrant groups flow through, enhancing the existing history and culture here in The Bronx.
EV: As a Bronx small business owner, what have been some of your greatest challenges?
AM: The day to day operations in a world of uncertainty, makes it hard to plan ahead and
requires the ability to be flexible, opportunistic and seize new opportunities without losing
focus of long-term business goals and missions. I depend on the support of the local
residents and visitors, and one of the ways I’ve come to make things more predictable is my continued commitment to help local small businesses by facilitating visitors to feel comfortable and excited about The Bronx so that they stay and linger after the tour to grab something to eat or visit a gallery or museum, thereby, helping the local economy.
EV: I’m sure that giving tours around The Bronx, has led to creating good relationships
with many of the other small business owners and hearing some of their concerns and
challenges. Can you tell us some of these?
AM: From my observations and conversations, I would say that most businesses in The
Bronx struggle to keep a steady flow of customers coming through. There is no doubt
that The Bronx has come a long way, but, I do think that we have a ways to go.
For example, I would love to see more opportunities for local residents and business people, both of which I believe get negatively impacted from current rising commercial rents, housing, transportation and food prices. If you look at the numbers, the local economy could really benefit from a roughly 25% boost in the local economy to keep up with the rising costs of the aforementioned.
EV: Any thoughts on some measures that might assist your fellow small business owners?
AM: Some measures that might assist are more programs offered by banks
for small businesses to help them expand and grow, as well as tax breaks and incentives for independently owned mom and pop businesses. Local, independently owned enterprises are more likely to hire from the local community, and they are emotionally more invested in the success of their fellow residents, unlike large chains and developers. And of course, more tax breaks and incentives geared for small businesses would aid in their ability to expand and excite entrepreneurs to start new ventures.
EV: Where do you think the biggest opportunities lie in building the economy in The Bronx?
AM: I can think of two right off the bat.
1) Creation of higher paying job in a variety of industries to maintain local Bronx college
grads to build their career in The Borough.
2) Commercial real estate development, such as business park complexes.
EV: Can you elaborate on “keeping local Bronx College Grads”?
AM: Considering that we have 13 Universities and colleges in The Bronx, the Borough would
benefit enormously from this new, educated talent if there were good paying jobs for these graduates right here, where they have lived during their college years.
Keeping students in the Borough, like many other college towns around the country manage to do, will enable these young professionals to re-invest in their community with their knowledge and career endeavors. So, for example, at present, the current rents in Port Morris and Mott Haven are running between $2900- $4000 per month. Not many kids coming out of school can afford this. However, it would be a real win for our Borough if there was more high level job creation by a variety of business industries for which young graduates are looking, such as advertising, finance and other white collar jobs, and then grads might be willing and able to stay in The Bronx and result in more demand for apartment rentals such as these for shared apartment space by these 20-somethings. The Bronx needs to build career opportunities from the bottom up and not the top down.
EV: Tell us more about your second suggestion regarding commercial real estate
AM: I believe there exists tremendous opportunity with the help of large builders and
Investors to build the economy here in The Bronx.
Since 2015 The Bronx has had a healthy amount of investment, in the range
of $9.95 billion according to this article. However, we haven't experienced significant
job market growth. Based on the Critical Labor Department numbers, approximately only 32% of the Bronx residents are employed full time (excluding part-time, seniors, veterans, disabled and children.) We need to improve these numbers.
I believe that an opportunity is being overlooked, and that the creation of large business park complexes could prove lucrative for developers and would enable job growth and would prove successful for retaining professional talent in The Bronx.
As a word of caution for developers, we have an excess amount of expensive housing real estate inventory in New York City which remains unsold and untouched. Attracting more Bronx-owned businesses and eventually, outside businesses will create more jobs and disposable income to fill the current real estate inventory.
EV: Do you think The Bronx needs more housing?
AM: We definitely need more housing but not at market rate, we need to balance the ratio of
affordable apartments and market rate. That’s why I would love to see real estate developers creating mid-range housing, targeted to locals.
Additionally, expanding on my earlier comment about our Borough needing an economic boost, I believe that the creation of large business park complexes for businesses is what visionary developers should embrace.
EV: Can you tell me more about the current economic conditions of The Bronx?
AM: Sure. I think these Department of Labor numbers speak for themselves.
- NYC Unemployment Rate: 4.2% March 2019
- NYS Unemployment Rate: 4.1% March 2019
- USA Unemployment Rate: 3.8% March 2019
- Bronx Population according to census: 2017 - 1.471.160
- Bronx Unemployment Rate: 5.7% March 2019
- Labor Force: 606.5 March 2019
- Employed: 572.0 March 2019
- Unemployed: 34.5 March 2019
- Median Income: South Bronx $32,000
- Top Job Industries: Education & Healthcare
- Businesses: 21 with 1,000 or more employees, 15 in Healthcare
Additionally I believe this quote from The Office of New York State Comptroller, An
Economic Snapshot of the Bronx brings across my view quite clearly:
"The Bronx has set employment records for 10 consecutive years, and the
unemployment rate has fallen to a record low. Despite these positive trends, the Bronx still faces challenges. Many residents live in poverty, youth unemployment remains high and there is a shortage of affordable housing. Nonetheless, the Bronx has made great strides over the past four decades."
EV: From the Labor Department numbers you site about The Bronx economy, it appears that
the majority of the current jobs in The Bronx are predominantly in Healthcare. How
would you like to see this expand?
AM: To have a more diversified and broader range of industries creating high paying jobs in
the Borough. We need to improve the median income across The Bronx, every resident needs reap the rewards, so industries like advertising, finance and technology to name a few.
EV: From your position as a small business owner and someone who knows The Bronx well,
What are your thought about bolstering the local economy, and specifically, regarding the Federal Government’s Opportunity Zone Program?
AM: I believe there are some promising possibilities and the success lies in strategic implementation. The Opportunity Zone Program is one of these.
This new alternative economic development program established by Congress in the Tax
Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was implemented to foster private-sector investments in low-income rural and urban areas.
According to the government site,
“New York State is participating in the new Opportunity Zone community
development program, offered through the Tax Cuts and Job Acts of 2017. The federal program encourages private investment in low-income urban and rural communities. Based on analyses by Empire State Development (ESD), New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), New York State Department of State (DOS) and the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), New York State has recommended 514 census tracts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for designation as Opportunity Zones.”
In other words, the major tax legislation from December 2017 created Opportunity Zones allowing investors to defer, reduce and eliminate capital gains tax if they invest in 8,000+ very specific areas throughout the U.S. As it relates to The Bronx, there are 12 tracts in the South Bronx, designated as Opportunity Zones.
EV: What are your thoughts on The Opportunity Zone Program as it relates to The Bronx?
AM: Considering that under this Program, developers would receive tax breaks to help
stimulate the economy, it seems like a great opportunity for investors. Individual companies can manage and run their organizations as needed for maintaining and growing their business in the qualified Opportunity Zone provided they adhere to the new proposed law which states that 50% of the wages or hours must come from a qualified Opportunity Zone Safe Harbors. These businesses can take advantage of the tax benefits while investing in the local community.
As the IRS releases clearer data for the investors, this should also encourage proposing more incubators and start-ups in The Bronx. I would also encourage the top organizations in the Borough to hire more qualified executives from The Bronx. This would create a huge boost of local opportunities in The Bronx.
EV: What is the current state of real estate development in The Bronx?
AM: Most of the large purchases in the South Bronx in recent years have been bought and
flipped by developers, strictly for profit, which is what they are supposed to do for their
investment portfolios, unfortunately, there has not been much foresight for how it benefits
the community. This borough has been targeted by developers who are only out to
make quick buck and leave. They have not demonstrated that they are interested in growing or helping the Borough, and this is clearly not what we need, nor want, in The Bronx.
EV: What are your thoughts on a better approach to real estate investment in The Bronx?
AM: The basic rule is they have 30 months to build the project and make it profitable, those
rules will not change. However, I believe that the community would be better served if
developers focused on creating more appealing office space for the expansion of
businesses, with the ultimate goal being the creation of jobs. I do believe from an investment standpoint, they could command a better return on their investment building with businesses in mind. At present, I’m not aware of any business park development and would be thrilled to hear of any.
EV: Are you worried about people of the community being displaced with business real
estate development versus housing development?
AM: No, I believe that you can lessen the displacement by balancing housing and business
real estate development. I believe that real estate developers are seasoned professional men and women and while they are in business to turn a profit, which is how it should be, I feel strongly that these savvy developers have the creativity to approach it the right way that will result in positive and profitable long-term benefits to the residents of The Bronx, the business community and give them a good return on their investment.
EV: Other boroughs have found a winning formula by using their waterfront areas to
invigorate the community with new businesses development opportunities. Do you think this is possible in The Bronx?
AM: Waterfront development takes a special and delicate approach, for which I’m not an
expert. However, what I am pretty certain about is that the waterfront area in The Bronx would need to be addressed in sections since it is broken up so to speak and separated due to the industrial land.
Large parcels of land have been purchased with no plan for a business and commercial development. If they build a business complex on this lovely land, it would open a huge opportunities for Bronxites since it would have great commercial and business appeal for a variety of industries such as financial services, advertising, technology as well as shopping, restaurants and International food halls. These type of businesses could boost the local economy and offer our residents better opportunities for job growth and improve their quality of life.
It would also bring about changes in how people perceive The Bronx from the outside and create a great buzz for entrepreneurs looking to create new businesses.
About the Author:
Elisa Valentino is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog as well as twice weekly blogger for The Bronx Traveler blog for HeartofTheBronx.com, and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.
A native New Yorker, Fordham graduate, world traveler and vegan, she is passionate about The Bronx as a travel destination for locals and tourists.