When the recession kicked into high gear with the collapse of major financial institutions in 2008, everyone was nervous. Very few people wanted to take financial risks. By 2009, the worst fears were realized: thousands lost their jobs. Unemployment swelled. Conversely, so did the numbers of people looking to start their own businesses, according to Ricardi Calixte, director of Neighborhood Economic Development for the Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC).
“By mid 2009, that’s when the layoffs had accumulated to mass proportions,” said Calixte. It was one year into the recession so people had time to take stock, look at their savings and come to the conclusion that they’d like to start their own business. “They didn’t have a job so they were looking for a way to make a living,” he explained.
“One of the things we have focused on is entrepreneurship,” Calixte said referring to QEDC. “We understand the role small business plays in the recovery.”
Other experts agree. In fact, a Business Week article recently reported that 31% of the American workforce is self-employed. “These individuals represent the single greatest source of job creation,” the article states.
To help aspiring entrepreneurs, the Queens Economic Development Corporation offers programs including a 10 week, 60 hour Entrepreneur Assistance Program, which Calixte describes as academic in nature and explores different areas of business development such as legal issues and marketing. Also each year QEDC holds a business plan competition for Queens residents who want to start a business within the borough. Business plan training is offered through the Queens Public Library. The grand prize last year was $12,000. The amount changes each year.
Calixte contends that fixing the country’s current economic woes is many pronged. Entrepreneurship is one avenue. Education is another.
“I read recently that while more New York City students are graduating from high school, they are increasingly less prepared for college,” he said. Along with being left behind academically, Calixte has observed that many young people lack financial literacy and are not aware of even the basics of how to open a bank account.
Education, he says, is “a multi-layered process” that must be tailored to the needs of the individual. Those who want to enter corporate America need to know how to make themselves attractive to employers, “and if that’s not your thing, start your own business,” he said.
Calixte believes that once someone becomes successful, they shouldn’t stop there, but should help others as in the days of the Civil Rights Movement.
Just being visible to young people in the community gives them something to aspire to. “If they see a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer coming home from work, that’s a good role model,” he said.
Calixte, who was born in Haiti and raised in Brooklyn, says the lack of economic opportunity and subpar social conditions in the inner city are what inspired him to bring about change. “In general, we need to be more community minded,” Calixte states. He says communities should be active in solving local problems. “No one understands our conditions. No one can create a blueprint better than the people who live there.”
Calixte attended the State University of New York at Albany where he received a bachelor's degree in Economics and double master’s degrees in Urban Planning and African-American Studies.
In his current position, Calixte has managed multiple commercial revitalization projects in various neighborhoods in Queens County, NY. He provides technical assistance to local merchant organizations, Business Improvement Districts and development corporations in implementing neighborhood-based planning initiatives with a particular focus on underserved or low to moderate income communities.