Experts discuss challenges to borough growth at biz expo

By Patrick Kearns

Industry experts in manufacturing, transportation and health care led a morning panel at the annual Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Business Expo at Citi Field last week.

The panel featured a keynote speech by businessman and radio host John Catsimatidis.

Catsimatidis noted that Queens will soon be the fourth biggest city in the country. But to improve, the borough will need better transportation options and real visionaries, like the late Robert Moses.

“What’s the next step for Queens?” he asked. “Because somebody has to have an expanded mind that’s going to visualize something.”

Much of the morning discussion was centered around the transportation issues Catsimatidis referenced. Ya-Ting Liu, executive director of the Friends of the BQX, and Elana Ehrenberg, ‎community development supervisor at NYC Ferry, discussed their solutions.

“I come to this work really believing that public transportation is the foundation and lifeblood for the city,” Liu said. “It is how New York City became what it is today, and it’s absolutely critical that we get a handle on how we continue to maintain and upgrade our existing public transit infrastructure and expand for the future to make our city more sustainable and more equitable.”

She said the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed streetcar that would run from Astoria to Sunset Park along the East River, is an exciting opportunity that could be realized relatively soon, unlike the vast majority of capital transit projects.

It’s also part of a new focus on inter-borough, not Manhattan-centric, transportation that will help growing neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.

Ehrenberg said Queens is interesting because of all the hubs popping up along the waterfront, which NYC Ferry is aiming to connect.

“We see that as being a viable form of getting around,” she said. “If you talk to people in Astoria, they are excited for their new route because they can go their family in Rockaway. Prior to the ferry, that was an enormous trek.”

Another issue on the mind of business owners and residents is health care. With the federal government looking to change the way resident access health care, there’s a lot of uncertainty.

Caryn Schwab, executive director of Mt. Sinai Queens, discussed the House-approved American Health Care Act.

“What it means for New York and what it means for the country is that millions of people will lose coverage under the bill that’s currently incorporated and passed by the House,” she said. “Estimates that I’ve heard are up to 15 million will lose coverage.”

Schwab said that the bill will give states the right to request waivers and make changes to provisions that were created under Obamacare, like providing protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

In the context of New York, hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid aid will be lost with the federal government looking to shift costs to states.

States will then have a choice: weaken coverage, raise taxes or pass the costs onto hospitals.

“Probably in some combination, all of these things will happen,” she said.

Schwab said many hospitals in Queens, particularly community hospitals, operate on razor-thin margins, sometimes even deficits.

“It’s taking a system that’s already very fragile and putting us at even greater risk,” she said.

Susan Browning of Northwell Health explained that the subsidies created by Obamacare to help people afford coverage were challenged in court and have a natural expiration date.

So if nothing at all happens, those subsidies will expire.

“What we’re seeing from those that are insured under the exchanges is a level of uncertainty,” she said. “We are hearing that insurance companies are starting to pull out of those exchanges.”

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