Last Wednesday, the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriot ballroom was filled with small business owners curious to get a taste of consumer and business surveys, as well as advice from city officials. However, the spread of fluffy eggs, crispy potatoes, golden sausages, and other breakfast favorites seemed to be the only glimmer of prosperity.
"We are going through very difficult times," New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson frankly stated. "We are in a recession."
As the keynote speaker, Thompson tried to compassionately describe the hard facts of the tumbling economy to the tables of stoic faces. Thompson's message was clear: that although theses are tough times, there is hope for prosperity in the near future. Money from the stimulus package will help save jobs in city government, as well as the business community.
"As we look to re-tool an economy in New York City," he stressed "we have to focus on small businesses." He also tried to put the struggles of New York City into a larger context. "We are in the midst of a worldwide recession."
Benedetta LeoGrand, Sovereign Bank's senior vice president and Queens retail executive, presented the results of Sovereign Bank's business and consumer outlook surveys.
According to the survey, 59 percent of Queens businesses and 47 percent of Queens consumers surveyed predict the U.S. economy will get worse in 2009.
The top challenges businesses foresee in 2009 are the cost of living, taxes, and the cost of health care. Consumers also see the cost of living as the top concern, along with the cost of energy and employment opportunities.
Businesses and consumers selected the overall quality of life in Queens as their top strength. Other top strengths for businesses included the local development efforts and art and cultural attractions. Consumers selected the low crime rates and stable home values as the strengths to living in Queens.
The business owners also expect to decrease hiring and contribute less to charities in 2009. Over the next two years, the most challenging issues are predicted to be attracting new customers, the cost of health care and employee benefits, and obtaining credit.
The impact of economic troubles on consumers is evident in the consumer habits. Many surveyed said they dine out less, shop for lower prices, and delay major purchases, while 51 percent said their economic situation has gotten worse, which will make it difficult to maintain the current standard of living.
After the meeting the crowd was upbeat. Many were there not just to hear the economic outlook but to network with other small business owners.
Albert Pennisi, Queens Chamber of Commerce president, believed the breakfast was successful, but still knows the main problem today is money.
"We got a hard job these days with the small businesses, because a lot of them are in big trouble," he said.