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Experts say boro will grow

Though Queens is certainly hurting from the current recession, the borough has weathered the storm far better than some of its neighbors and is poised for growth, analysts and public officials said last week at a economic outlook breakfast.

Led by a keynote speech from state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans), a raft of experts offered cautious optimism at the forum, held on the top floor of the Citigroup building in Long Island City Friday morning and sponsored by the Queens Economic Development Corp.

Smith, a former real estate developer, predicted the beginning of an economic turnaround in the city and state.

“I think we are moving in a tremendous direction,” he said.

Smith also emphasized the importance of keeping home ownership within reach for the residents of southeast Queens and criticized banks for their continued reluctance to provide home loans.

“Their credit releasing practices are not the best right now,” he said. But he also noted that Citibank and Bank of America have started hiring thousands of mortgage processors.

“For small business, this is the time for you to begin to plant the seeds so you can reap the harvest next year,” Smith said. But he also warned that investors and lenders would scrutinize their practices before handing over the cash.

“People are not just going to look at your financial statements,” he said. “They’re going to look at your operational system.”

Jonathan Bowles, director of the planning think tank Center for an Urban Future, warned about increased pressure on the city’s middle class and pointed out that many Hispanic−owned businesses were moving to Charlotte, N.C., or Atlanta, Ga., where the cost of living is lower. But he praised Queens for its variety of industries and cultures.

“No other borough has such a diverse economy,” he said, noting Queens retains a good portion of the manufacturing industry that has largely fled the city over the past few decades. “Maspeth really is such a strength for the borough. It’s filled to the brim and there’s a lot of good−paying jobs out there.”

He also noted that 15 of the 40 ZIP codes in the city showing the most growth in retail jobs over the past decade were in Queens.

Bowles urged the encouragement of immigrant−owned businesses.

“They need start−up capital from friends and family, they need microloans,” he said. “We need to make sure we harness that and help them to grow.”

James Parrott, an economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, said that Queens’ unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in April, compared with 7.8 percent citywide, 8.4 percent in Brooklyn and 9 percent in the Bronx.

Parrott also noted that a major portion of the jobs lost during the 2001 economic slowdown were in the air transportation sector. This time, he said, fewer than 5,000 jobs have been lost out of a total of 50,000.

“Queens is the quintessential middle−class community in the city of New York. It’s important to keep public services affordable and keep housing affordable,” he said.

City Economic Development Corp. President Seth Pinsky also painted a rosy picture, touting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Five Borough Economic Plan and an initiative to eliminate the unincorporated business tax on small businesses.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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