The New York Fed’s regional visits typically take our team many hours and miles away from our office in Lower Manhattan. There is, in fact, a lot of ground to cover in the Second District. But in March, we stayed closer to home, with a visit to New York City’s remarkably diverse borough of Queens.
Queens is the largest by land area of New York City’s five boroughs, and the second largest by population, behind Brooklyn. About half of the 2.3 million people who live there are foreign-born, with large numbers from Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. The borough’s economy has expanded by 22% since 2010, and because Queens is home to both of New York City’s airports, one of its key industry sectors is transportation. Indeed, transportation accounts for roughly 11% of private-sector jobs, or four times the U.S. average.
Our day in Queens got off to an early start in Corona — not far from Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the home ballpark of the New York Mets — where New York Fed President Bill Dudley spoke with an array of small business owners from the borough. The views shared by those in the room were enlightening. They talked about having trouble hiring qualified people, explaining that prospective employees often lack the skills and training needed for them to move seamlessly into their roles. They detailed the challenge of transportation services in Queens, which has areas that can be considered “transportation deserts.” While there are some discussions around light rail in the borough, one persistent obstacle is the “last mile” problem — or the difficulty people have in getting from a transportation hub to their home or work, and vice versa. Ultimately, they discussed their experiences with small business capital investment, how to get that capital in a timely manner, and what challenges they face today.
From Corona, we went to Jamaica for a roundtable discussion at York College moderated by Professor Olajide Oladipo. Before a room full of students, professors, community members, and local elected officials, President Dudley discussed economic growth, his views on financial regulatory reform, and the skills required to work at the Federal Reserve. When the floor was opened to questions from the audience, topics included cybersecurity, predatory lending, and the role of minority- and women-owned businesses in the economy.
Following the discussion at York College, we headed to lunch in Flushing, where we met with members of Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), who told us about their approach to community development across New York City, and a few projects specifically in Flushing. Rather than independent silos addressing various community needs, AAFE takes a holistic view and provides a full slate of services — such as supporting efforts to secure affordable housing or home and small business loans, organizing senior care, or urban planning and organizing at a broader level. Each project they described was meant to address more than one need in the local area, with the overall goal of developing financial, human, social and community capital.
After lunch, the team headed to Long Island City, where our first stop was a meeting with the leadership of LaGuardia Community College to discuss workforce development. LaGuardia is working to increase the supply and pipeline of talented employees in the community — a program designed to counteract the skills mismatch that small business owners described earlier in the day. LaGuardia has around 50,000 students, and it is a diverse population, with some students using it as an interim step toward a four-year school, while others use it for continuing education. With respect to the latter, LaGuardia has joined with individual employers to build programs that develop skills tailored to that employer’s needs. It’s an innovative approach to workforce development that could have lasting effects on the labor market in New York City.
Our day ended at JetBlue, also in Long Island City. This Queens-based company, which began operations in 2000, is the sixth largest airline in the United States. While there, we took the opportunity to view their operations center — which tracks the airline’s roughly 900 flights a day — and heard from the leadership team about the advantages of basing the headquarters in Queens as it pertains to their workforce.
All told, our on-the-ground interaction with businesses and community members in Queens gave us a unique window into the diverse borough, which has economic opportunities and challenges alike. As we consider policy and create community development and other programs, we can incorporate what we learned to better serve the communities of Queens and our District more broadly.
This article was originally published by the New York Fed on Medium.
The views expressed in this article are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.