Below is a transcript of the speech delivered by President of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Albert Pennisi, on Wednesday, April 29th 2014, to the Board of Directors.
During my first term as the President of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, we had to search long and hard for someone who could lead the organization and be an effective advocate for businesses throughout the borough. When we hired Jack Friedman seven years ago, I had no doubt he was the right person for the job. Jack’s enthusiasm for Queens was in everything that he did. He learned the ins and outs of being a small business owner when he opened his first retail store in 1983 in Bayside, and two years later a one hour photo store on Queens Boulevard.
Always having a strong interest in politics, he successfully ran for School Board 26 serving ten years, five as president, where he advocated against re-districting and a proposal to give the Chancellor authority on the selection of Community Superintendent.
In 2003, he began working for then Council Member David I. Weprin, who was Chair of the Finance Committee. During this time, Jack specialized in capital projects and drafted a number of bills on businesses and personal income tax. These experiences all came together when he became Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Given the nick name “Mr. Queens”, he was the voice for the Chamber’s small businesses that make up 80% of our members. By using his knowledge and contacts in the city government, he was able to help them work through red tape, which allowed them to open up their business or bid on a contract. In recognizing the important role entrepreneurs play in communities throughout Queens, Jack always enjoyed planning the Business Person of the Year Awards, where the Chamber recognizes men and women who have contributed to Queens’ economic and social well-being. He also made our annual Business Expo bigger than it ever had been in the past, and recently started the Energy Summit where its first year was a huge success. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Jack used his knowledge and skill to bring resources together to help the Rockaway’s get back on its feet. He also continued to be Chair of Queens Community Board Thirteen’s Economic Development Committee, served on the Board of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (S.N.A.P.), and was an active member of the Samuel Field Y in northeast Queens.
With his wife of 30 years, Lori, Jack raised two children, his son Daniel and daughter Cara. In the past decade, there was not a major project in Queens Jack was not able to contribute to. Whether it was giving his expertise, or helping to connect entrepreneurs. His zest for Queens made everyone better and we are all thankful for it. I know that you will agree that we will miss Jack Friedman (Mr. Queens) for a long time to come. This has been another successful year for the Chamber. We have once again increased the size of our membership by over 100 members, to over 860 businesses, with the entire portfolio growing to over a million dollars. This increase is reflected in the work of the entire staff of Jack Friedman, Cathy Berger, Sophia Ganosis, Dorothy Owermohle, and Gregory Rose, who I publicly thank for their hard work.
I was pleased to see many of you at the events that took place throughout the year, and look forward to continuing the progress we have made. On the legislative front, we met with federal, state, and city elected officials. - At Queens College, we hosted a breakfast with Congressman Joseph Crowley, who led a discussion on issues facing Queens businesses and the economy. We covered the three T’s; tourism, transportation and technology, as well as issues affecting manufacturing and legislation being discussed on all levels of government. - In October 2014 we hosted a Town Hall meeting with Commissioner Julie Menin, who discussed the Department of Consumer Affair’s initiative’s to help reduce fines for small businesses, the Cure Law (where business owners have an opportunity to have a fine reduced or expunged), and updated businesses on the city’s paid sick leave law, so they can adjust their budgets accordingly. Throughout the year our Legislative Advocacy Committee hosted meetings with elected officials from across the borough. They updated us on a variety legislation that is being discussed in the state and city, and asked for our opinion to make sure these proposals would not have an unforeseen burden on small businesses.
Our educational seminars continue to be an important part of our mission. By hosting close to 100 seminars across the borough, per year, we are able to ensure we are out in communities helping small businesses succeed. We cover a variety of topics including finance, online marketing, human resources, and health care. A committee was recently formed to develop ways that will help small businesses better understand the changing healthcare scene. We are also planning a Health Forum this fall to educate our members about the new health care laws and regulations. We continued our organizing efforts to improve underserved business corridors in the Rockaways, and started new projects in Jamaica Hills and Whitestone as well. In Whitestone, we organized a free Direct Door Mail Program with 18 small and medium sized businesses, where we sent out promotional information that encouraged people to buy local. We also built a website promoting the small businesses in Jamaica Hills, on Hillside Avenue between Parson Blvd. and 172nd Street, and are planning a Town Hall with Councilman Rory Lancman. We also sponsored the Taste of Rockaway Beach for the businesses on the Peninsula who are struggling after Sandy. Because of the promotion we helped secure, thousands of people came out to support these restaurants.
We also helped to create the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, who recently became an affiliate of ours, along with the Jamaica Business Improvement District and Southeast Queens Chamber of Commerce. These organizations help to ensure the Queens Chamber remains the premier business organization in the borough, while letting entrepreneurs know who they can turn to for support. Our events continue to be as popular as ever, and this year we added even more. The Building Awards were a huge success with over 200 attendees. This year at our Business Person of the Year Awards, we inducted Marissa Shorenstein, AT&T’s New York State President, into our Hall of Fame. We also honored Daniel Zausner from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Edward Farrell from Resorts World Casino, Denise Erichson from Automatic Industries, and Kevin Alexander from the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation.
Borough President Melinda Katz has been doing a great job branding Queens as The World’s Borough, and it’s paid off with Lonely Planet naming the borough the best place to visit in 2015. We were also very happy to hear when Borough President Melinda Katz announced that Melva Miller would be the new Deputy Borough President. Many of us have worked with Melva as she has been a go to person for our business concerns, and in this new capacity her knowledge and skills will continue to be put into great use. A new event we had this year, which grew out of our Energy Committee, was the Queens Energy Summit. Many of our new members participated at Queens College where we had breakout sessions throughout the day and businesses were able to display their products and services.
With Queens being the leading provider of energy in the city, I’m glad we have taken on this issue head on. We had close to one thousand people come to this Summit, and I’m sure we’ll have even more when we do it again. Our St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon, with a live band, and Steve Cassidy, President of the New York City Uniformed Firefighters Association as our keynote speaker was a big success. As always, I encourage all of you to be an active member by attending one of our annual events and participate in one of our committees. Our Business Expo is fast approaching. On May 13, 2015 we will be at Citi Field beginning at 8:00am. The first piece of our program will be the Breakfast sponsored by the NY Daily News. The theme this year is “Technology, It’s Not Just for Geeks, It’s for Everyone”. Immediately following at 10am our Expo with 110 vendors will be open to the public. Simultaneously we will be having breakout sessions beginning at 10am in the theatre on topics covering technology, finance and energy efficiency rebate programs.
We have over 1,000 visitors to our expo every year which makes this one of our premier events.
In closing I promise you with your help and support we will have continuous growth and success in 2015.