THE NEW PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE BROOKLYN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IS INITIATING SWEEPING CHANGES IN THE WAY SMALL BUSINESS IS REPRESENTED IN THE BOROUGH
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
Shortly after Hector Batista was named president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in October, he embarked on a listening tour of the borough, visiting hundreds of local business owners to get a better understanding of their wants and needs.
“I wanted to understand why people are connected to the Chamber, and hear the good, the bad, and the ugly of what we do, straight from the source,” Batista said in an interview. “I sent out a five question survey to the members of all the programs we run, and am using the information collected as a sort of compass, telling me which direction the Chamber needs to take.”
For Batista, who grew up in Sunset Park, the son of a small business owner, the mission of speaking on behalf of local commerce is personal.
“I think businesses in New York City are under siege,” he said. “There’s a lot of legislation being introduced that has shifted the pendulum so far to one side, basically overprotecting workers’ rights and not protecting businesses themselves in the same way. I think we need to look at the message that government leaders are sending to the business community. Yes we need to protect our workers, but if they have no place to work, we will have accomplished nothing.”
“Factoring rent, taxes and healthcare, small business margins are so small,” he explained. “So, we’re focusing on providing help. Recently, for example, a number of retail stores were being fined by the Department of Buildings for a violation regarding awnings. We found out the law they were violating was set up in 1965. To be fined $5,000 for an out of date law really makes no sense, so we’ve enlisted elected officials to take a better look and hopefully grant a moratorium.”
A graduate of Brooklyn’s St. Francis College with a degree in political science, Batista began his career in economic development, including a stint as a senior policy advisor to the Brooklyn borough president. In a city wide post, he was the chief operating officer of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. In the private sector, he ran external relations for Jeffrey M. Brown Associates, a construction management firm. In the nonprofit realm, he has served as executive vice president of the American Cancer Society and CEO of the Vocational Foundation, which helps disadvantaged young adults. In 2010, he was recruited by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and during his eight year tenure with the organization has expanded programs and fundraising, as well as doubling the number of youths it serves to more than 5,200 annually across the five boroughs. He grew the organization’s citywide footprint, too, opening new offices in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.
“There’s nothing more gratifying in life than helping a young person find his or her way,” he said. “I love the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters and am proud to say we doubled the number of young people served and increased the budget from $7.5 million to $11 million. I hope to make similar improvements to the Chamber.”
Batista plans on promoting Brooklyn as a destination for tourists not just a pass through and is fighting for more ferry services while also investigating more innovative forms of transportation, such as a trolley service.
“We have 2.8 million residents; we need to think about better ways to move them around,” he said, adding that he’s also making attempts to promote Brooklyn business generally.
“We have a lot of tech companies and so much innovation on our coasts,” Batista said. “There’s 340 companies that manufacture and fully produce products here in the borough. We’re looking into how we can help those industries and promote their success.” He is also planning a trip to Albany to lobby for better group healthcare benefits and 401K planning.
“It’s a process; I’m meeting and talking to companies and legislators…doing whatever I can to help,” he said.
But bottom line for the Chamber president is promoting sensible economic development in the borough where he was born and raised.
“We want to promote what we believe are great developments that will spur economic growth,” he concluded. “I’d also love to increase our membership by at least 50 percent and help our businesses continue to improve. We want to be the organization that sits at the table with decision makers in Albany and City Hall, giving them our point of view and making sure that our voice is heard.”
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
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