Adding some gas to a sputtering economic engine, Council Speaker Christine Quinn pledged Thursday to rev up technology startups, lobby for a tax break in Albany for small retailers and launch a program to get uneducated New Yorkers GEDs.
During her fifth state of the city address, Quinn said above all 2010 will be about job creation.
"This year I want to focus on just one thing, the thing that's on every New Yorker's mind -- jobs," said Quinn to a round of applause. In her past addresses, the speaker covered several areas of public policy -- from biotechnology to rent relief. "Or, to say it a little more plainly as another former president once did: 'It's the economy, stupid,'" the speaker said brashly.
In a 44-minute speech that was sprinkled with the redhead's specific brand of sarcasm and humor, Quinn pledged to boost technology in the five boroughs and ease up taxes and regulations on small businesses.
She said she would start by bringing financiers and technological innovators together under one group, called NYC High-Tech Connect. The organization, modeled after a similar initiative in San Diego, would give technology gurus the opportunity and the tools they need to start up, from investors to workspace, Quinn said.
Quinn pledged to throw open the doors of the city's office buildings to tech-friendly entrepreneurs to test their products before they hit the market -- think, a device that uses water pressure to create electricity piloted in the bathrooms of City Hall.
And her proposals won praise.
"The lack of a tech culture is a real big factor, and its one that previous economic development officials haven’t been focusing on," said Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future. "It may not sound like much, this High-Tech Connect. If it has some real teeth to it, I think it will fill a huge hole."
Quinn also announced a proposal to create a public market for regional foods at the Fulton Fish Market, which is already slated for redevelopment. She hopes the plan would bring hordes of tourists and thousands of jobs.
The speaker promised to assist small business owners by proposing a tax credit for retailers making less than $240,000 annually. She would need approval from Albany for the measure, which would affect about 19,000 retailers and cost $6.4 million.
The speech, which ended with a song from Coldplay blaring from the speakers overhead, will likely set the tone for her second term as speaker and could potentially be a preamble to a possible mayoral candidacy in 2013.
Getting and Securing Jobs
As most economists predict the worst of the recession is over, Quinn said, the city should prepare for a recovery, but also deal with its current problems.
That means preparing New Yorkers for the job market, and ensuring they have access to GED programs. In May, Quinn said the city would launch a new Web site that centralizes the GED system. Currently, said Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson, individuals have to sign up at individual test centers to guarantee a seat. The Web site, he said, would put that process in one place.
Quinn also said the city's job training centers would become a hub for GED sign ups, and the city would have individuals take a practice test before the real thing to assess their readiness. The GED programs would cost about $1.4 million to implement, according to the council.
"We need to give every New Yorker all the support we can -- whether it's getting their GED, starting a small business or critical tax relief," said Quinn.
The speaker also committed to bring a loan program from upstate down to the five boroughs, which would give small businesses that had been denied a loan a second chance at financing. Quinn also announced the expansion of a pilot program to give small manufacturers space in subdivided vacant warehouses -- a $10 million commitment in capital funding.
Much of Quinn's address was an attempt to reclaim the approximately 144,000 jobs lost statewide last year. Quinn, however, did not promise to create a specific number of positions -- she merely mentioned hundreds here or thousands there.
Nonetheless, the ideas, supporters said, were welcome.
"Clearly Chris is focusing on what most New Yorkers are talking about," said Jackson. "And that is jobs and employment opportunity."
The focus on small businesses, such as creating a small business bill of rights to avoid excessive ticketing, won significant praise from city officials.
"I think she very much learned a lesson from the November election, which is that New Yorkers don’t feel so prosperous, and they are tired of being taxed and ticketed to death," said Councilmember Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn.
With the exception of her proposal for tax relief for small retailers, almost all of the speaker's ideas have already been put into action or are not likely to receive significant opposition when they go before the full council.
Whether Thursday's address shed light on the speaker's mayoral prospects four years from now, though, attendees were less apt to opine on.
"It was a speech that was responding to the conditions we are all dealing with right now," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio -- another name floated in the 2013 mayoral contenders. "It was about the here and now."