Top business leader says crime is slowing NYC's recovery

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- New York City's crime surge is threatening the economic recovery as many workers resist the return to offices.

"This is a setback," said Partnership for New York City president and chief executive officer Kathryn S. Wylde on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

Office occupancy in the city is just 37.1 percent, according to security firm Kastle Systems which tracks building access activity among its partners in the top 10 U.S. markets.

"I think that for the time being, particularly with the subway shooting that was such a shock to New York City and to commuters but everybody, I do think that we're going to see actually a slowdown in the return to office temporarily," Wylde said.

"What we've got to think about is how we rebuild and restore confidence so that we can have a very robust return in the fall of 2022."

A recent Morning Consult poll on behalf of the Partnership for New York City found concerns about public safety is the biggest deterrent for commuters. Ninety-four percent of those surveyed said not enough is being done to address homelessness and mental illness in the city, followed by gun violence, namely in the subway system. The poll was conducted online about a month before the April 12 shooting on the N-train in Sunset Park, Brooklyn that left 29 people injured.

But, Wylde notes most New Yorkers do want to participate in the city's ongoing pandemic recovery, 70 percent, in fact, according to the group's survey.

"New Yorkers are very resilient and very special," she said. "Living in our city is not easy as you know, but for those who find it the best city in the world, they want to stay here, they want to help rebuild, and I'm confident we're going to do that."

The business leader predicts there will be fewer employees in Manhattan offices going forward, but not that many fewer because younger employees will realize the benefits of in-person work to advance their careers.

"We have about 60 percent of the office workers are young people who, you know, have gotten used to working from home and don't appreciate the office culture, and how much you learn, and how you gain mentors, and how you advance is also through personal interactions in the office," said Wylde.

Earlier this month, the city broke ground on a new office building in East New York, Brooklyn. It's phase one of Mayor Eric Adams' plan to open office buildings in residential neighborhoods outside Manhattan, which have been more populated since COVID hit.

"As people have worked from home, they've really partnered with their local restaurants and merchants and service providers to make sure that they survive. We want to see that in every neighborhood of the city, because we've got an infrastructure, we've got over 200,000 small businesses and they're looking for foot traffic," Wylde, who advises political leaders on business policies, said.

She told WCBS 880 it would only make sense if the city creates affordable housing in these neighborhoods and if the state, which operates the MTA, rethinks the transportation system to offer direct routes to the outer boroughs.

"The governor has proposed a Brooklyn to Queens express rail operation, which makes a lot of sense because (of) the people who were going to work both in the city buildings and the other activities that are going on," said Wylde, adding, "We're going to have to have a much more flexible and integrated transportation system. And that's something we ought to be thinking about right now. We shouldn't just continue with our current plans."

The influential Partnership for New York City head said small businesses are the key to the Big Apple's economic recovery and she confirmed talks with both Mayor Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul about ways to incentivize business development in the city.

"The first incentive is, do not continue to raise taxes and figure out how we can reduce taxes," she said, mentioning the cap on state and local tax deductions as part of the 2017 tax reform law that was passed under former President Donald J. Trump.

"We had a big tax increase on high-earners two years ago that has really created migration out of New York City."

Wylde also wants to streamline the city's regulatory process to make it easier for businesses to open and grow in New York.

"I talk to small businesses all the time where it takes them three years from the time they find a space to the time they can open their doors. We can't allow that to continue particularly since small businesses have lost over 200,000 jobs. We still have a restaurant industry that's down 30 percent of its workers. We have a retail industry that's down 15 percent of its workers. So, we've got a lot to make up for small business," said Wylde.

See what it will take to get New York back on its feet on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.