Business owners from New York’s Harlem and Upper Manhattan communities gathered in late September at the Harlem State Office Building on 125th Street to seek answers to the critical issues casting a pall over economic development throughout the area. The gathering, the 2005 Harlem Business Alliance Summit, brought together small business owners from a range of industries, including retail, beauty, health and real estate, as well as business leaders and local politicians. Their most urgent concerns: Lack of affordable commercial space and inability to access capital to boost business competitiveness.
“Our future in Harlem for small businesses is in peril,” declares Charles Powell, senior vice president of the Harlem Business Alliance, which hosted the all-day conference on September 26.
Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, led the opening discussion that set the mood for the day. “Why did we develop Harlem?” asked Williams. “It’s not an issue of skin color…we grew up in a community with Irish, Jewish, Italian and others. It’s an issue of economic balance. Harlem is being developed, but the question is who for? We’re on life support. Most of these small businesses that have weathered the storm are now victims.”
Although these and other questions plaguing Harlem’s small business community today appear to be the same ones raised year after year, organizers of the event say the mood and tone this year will result in a very different summit in 2006. “We have a lot of work to do in following up and getting our recommendations and demands out to the elected officials and private sector here in Harlem,” Powell says. That work includes sending out “a comprehensive plan to address what HBA came up with starting in September 2004,” referring to the organization’s Harlem Small Business Preservation and Retention Project. “We want everyone to recognize this is an ongoing problem. We’re at risk; we’re in bad shape. This conference pulled together the people to have that important discussion,” he says.
HBA chairman Walter Edwards will be very involved in the follow-up, Powell notes. “[He] is meeting with us to ensure he can be of assistance in getting our report out. There are specific recommendations we will make to the state, city and New York City Development Corporation. We’re going to have follow-up meetings to voice those demands,” he says.
In what was billed as a Resource Crisis Intervention Center, summit participants engaged in one-on-one business consultations with representatives from such agencies as The Small Business Alliance, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the New York City Department of Small Business Services, JP Morgan Chase, Empire State Development, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the IRS and Project Enterprise.
“Folks felt that they received valuable information on lack of affordable commercial space as well as access to capital,” says Powell, “Our future in Harlem for small businesses is in peril. If anybody walked away with any other impression, that is the wrong impression,” he says.
HBA will address these issues at its 25th Anniversary Gala, Dec. 7, 2005, at Columbia University. This year’s gala will honor the agency’s founding fathers who, ironically, were faced with similar crises some 25 years ago. Over the years HBA has developed viable, cohesive partnerships with private, public and government entities to assist existing and emerging businesses, community residents and youths. The organization serves as an advocate for the preservation and growth of Harlem’s business community. Information on the 25th Anniversary Gala and a copy of the HBA Preservation and Retention Project can be obtained upon request at 212-665-7010.
By Theresa Racine