Op-Ed | Anti-development will jeopardize New York City’s economic recovery

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It has been a difficult 14 months for our city and our local economy. This time last year, we were looking at unemployment numbers most of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Sadly, due to the pandemic we’ve lost a number of cherished small businesses that served our neighborhoods and created jobs for New Yorkers. As more and more of us get vaccinated and COVID restrictions are lifted, we’re finally returning to normal.

But even before the pandemic, our economy was at a crossroads. We were moving towards more high-paying jobs in tech, and more lower paying jobs in the service sector, all while robust pathways to the middle class were slowly disappearing. 

Historically, the one industry that has provided stable, middle class jobs for New Yorkers has been the construction trades. Construction and real estate account for 20 percent of New York City’s GDP, 10 percent of jobs, and 5 percent of wages. Construction also has a catalyzing effect on other industries. For every $1 million spent on construction, eight new jobs are created. 

The industry is also a driver of small businesses, as well as minority- and women-owned businesses. One hundred and seventy-seven WMBE contractors are members of the Building Trades’ Employers Association, and minorities and women make up 55 percent of the Building Trade Union workforce.

Unfortunately, after a decade of growth, COVID hit the construction industry hard, wiping out years of progress in the blink of an eye. Over the course of the pandemic, $9.8 billion in construction activity, 74,000 jobs, and $5.5 billion in wages were lost

Now, the recovery of the industry is threatened by the baffling rise of anti-development sentiment amongst politicians and candidates for office. This jeopardizes the economic recovery of our entire city, and closes off job opportunities for families struggling to make ends meet.

Turning away billions of dollars in private investment into our communities that would create jobs and generate tax revenue for our city would be foolish. We also cannot afford to wait for federal action. Even if President Biden’s infrastructure plan passed today, we’d still be at least two years away from shovels being in the ground on those projects.

New Yorkers need to put food on the table and pay their bills today. There are a number of ways the City can support construction, from expediting standard permitting at the Department of Buildings, to establishing a single point of contact in the Mayor’s office to streamline large projects. But we also need elected officials at all levels of government that understand the vital role private sector development will play in our economic recovery. 

We have a unique opportunity to remake both the physical and social infrastructure of our city. But we cannot do that without supporting the construction industry, which provides a clear and stable pathway to the middle class for millions of New Yorkers. 

Grech is the President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Coletti is the President and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association.