City Council debates creating a new office to help small businesses go digital


“One-third of the city’s small businesses have closed because of the pandemic; if we don’t act to help them, more will close,” Menin told Crain’s on Tuesday, referencing a 2020 report from the Partnership for New York City. “We must stop the hemorrhaging.”

The legislation, which currently has 19 council member sponsors, aims to tackle the digital divide impacting small businesses who disproportionately lack the websites, marketing tools and digital delivery options to maximize their potential as sales activity shifts online.

From 2019 to 2021, online retail sales climbed from 13% to 21% of total NYC retail sales. But transitioning online can be challenging for small businesses without the resources of their larger peers. 

Menin pointed to 2021 data showing that 28% of small businesses in the U.S. still do not have a website. That national number, she said, is on par with the online presence of small businesses in NYC. 

“We’re seeing this happen all the time where businesses [without websites] are not able to maximize their true potential, particularly for food and retail, and especially during Covid with so many people wanting delivery options. This puts [these businesses] at a severe disadvantage,” Menin said.

Menin also referenced 2012 data from the Center for an Urban Future, which found that nine out of 10 immigrant small business owners did not have a website. While the study is older, she said, it’s still relevant in underscoring the need for an Office of Digitalization to help these businesses take advantage of the marketing tools at their disposal.

If passed, the bill would allow Mayor Eric Adams to decide whether to house the Office of Small Business Digitalization within his own office, or within another agency.

Matching youth workers to jobs

Menin’s second bill, co-developed with Committee on Youth Services chair Althea Stevens, would target youth under-employment and labor shortages simultaneously by expanding the pool of participating employers for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).

Menin and Stevens began developing the bill this February, when the mayor announced plans to support 100,000 summer job opportunities annually for young people ages 14-24. 90,000 of the opportunities came from the SYEP – a 25,000 increase from the program’s previous record. 10,000 jobs came from other city programs. 

“The [newly expanded SYEP] rolled out this summer with few hiccups, but the expansion happened so quickly that the job sites struggled to catch up,” Stevens told Crain’s on Tuesday.  

The legislation – which nine council members have signed onto – aims to relieve some of that tension moving forward. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The bill would require each city agency to open slots for SYEP participants proportional to the agency’s size, following a report that some city agencies haven’t been active in the program.

It would also create a new pipeline for youth employment by requiring the Department of Youth and Community Development to facilitate SYEP partnerships with private sector employers across a diverse range of companies and industries. 

“We need to focus on creating more opportunities [for youth job seekers],” said Menin. “It’s a win-win for both sides.”

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