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More than 470,000 people are employed at workplaces within New York City’s 17 industrial business zones, small pockets of land spread throughout the five boroughs that host manufacturing and industrial businesses that receive special benefits for operating in the zones. The city’s government has barely changed the zoning or regulations of industrial business zones since 1961, but there’s a new push by City Council members to revitalize and update these critical zones, spurred on by federal legislation and local advocates who’ve called for change.
Council Members Amanda Farías and Jennifer Gutiérrez introduced a bill April 27, supported by Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, that would require the Department of City Planning, the Department of Small Business Services and the Economic Development Corporation to create a “Citywide Industrial Development Action Plan.” The plan would focus on retaining jobs for workers in industrial business zones, supporting further industrial development, making local supply chains more efficient and transitioning to a more environmentally friendly economy.
During a press conference on April 26 where Farías, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Economic Development, announced the legislation, the council member said her bill was “important and long- overdue legislation … which puts a much-needed spotlight on how important our industrial zones are citywide.”
“The industrial workforce runs our city and deserves support and recognition from our city leaders,” Farías continued, saying her goal was to ensure that “our workforce has a successful transition to the green economy, our local economies are supported and our supply chain is efficient and resilient.”
The city provides tens of thousands of dollars in tax credits to companies who move their business into industrial business zones, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation labels these areas “safe havens for manufacturing and industrial firms.”
Key to sustainability, economic mobility
More than 50 percent of New Yorkers employed at workplaces in industrial business zones are immigrants and the council members emphasized the importance of protecting jobs in these zones, which are often high-paying, provide generous healthcare benefits, have union protections and are open to workers without college degrees. In addition, 81 percent of workers in industrial business zones are people of color.
“Strengthening the industrial sector is key to opening up pathways for equitable economic mobility and securing a sustainable future for New Yorkers," Speaker Adams said in a statement after last week’s press conference. "Industrial sector growth can only be achieved with the intentional planning and strategies that the Industrial Development Action Plan legislation will kickstart, so the city can achieve its green energy goals, expand job opportunities with low barriers to entry and sustainable wages, and meet citywide needs.”
Council members said at the announcement that they were inspired by both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, laws signed by President Joe Biden that focused on rebuilding American infrastructure and incentivizing manufacturing jobs.
“Thankfully the federal government is providing resources for infrastructure and we’re in a moment where we can take those dollars and put them into shovel-ready visions for our city to preserve and protect our manufacturing spaces,” said Council Member Sandy Nurse.
Advocates from Evergreen Exchange and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, two non-profits that support industrial businesses and their employees in industrial business zones, said that it’s refreshing to see lawmakers focusing on heavy industry and manufacturing.
“We are pleased to see focus placed on the importance of the Industrial Business Zones in New York City’s economy,” Christopher Casey, ANHD’s senior campaign organizer said in a statement after the bill was announced. “A thriving industrial sector is not only critical in meeting NYC’s overall economic and sustainability goals, it is a key strategy to expand the availability of good-paying jobs, especially in BIPOC communities.”
Farías and Gutiérrez stressed that their bill was only in its early stages and that more partners, including unions and labor organizations, would join the coalition pushing for the bill's passage. Farías told The Chief, however, that several labor unions including The Teamsters, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 have looked at the legislation and signaled their approval.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with many labor unions throughout the city,” Farías said at the close of the April 26 announcement. “Most folks who read [the bill] say ‘this is something we’ve been waiting for to happen for a long time, why haven’t we done this already?’”
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