“We’re going to do everything in our power to do that,” he said. The agency already has a COVID-19 response plan in place that it is deepening and building upon, Doris said. SBS is currently connecting small businesses to financial relief, legal assistance and training for business owners and employees.
As part of its five-borough strategy, SBS is “doubling down” on community engagement with elected officials, local chambers of commerce and business improvement districts (BIDs), Doris said. SBS will also identify and connect small businesses to additional financial opportunities, including to the 40 lenders that are in the agency’s network.
“One of the biggest functions SBS plays is actively guiding businesses through the government hurdles,” Doris said. “Our role is to be explainers and to help facilitate, connecting businesses to us.”
The city agency also plans to drive deeper into a data-driven approach to delivering services strategically and equitably, according to Doris, who noted that equity is a “huge part” of his framework.
“Communities that have been left out before, we want to engage them so they’re aware of the resources,” he said.
Under his leadership, Doris hopes to build five key principles, including innovation, collaboration and adaptability. The other two focus on core SBS functions: resources and services for small businesses.
SMALL BUSINESS RECOVERY
As New York City reopens and recovers from the pandemic, Doris has a message for small businesses: SBS is here for you. The agency can provide not only financial assistance, but also guidance on rules and regulations, as well as help finding employees.
“Our role as SBS is to be the voice, ears and advocates for small businesses,” he said. “We understand the uniqueness that small businesses play in the fabric of our city and how they contribute to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.”
He noted that the mayor’s advisory councils, which span all types of industries, will provide feedback to city officials on forming a reopening plan. They have already formulated some recovery structures and frameworks.
What they have heard is that businesses need “clear and concise” guidance on what they should be doing and how they can be compliant. Doris said the advice is coming directly from the small business community itself, which will play a critical role in disseminating information about reopening.
“We are working internally as advocates so whatever comes out of this process, small businesses are at the core and at the center,” he said. “We not only want our small businesses to survive, we really want them to grow and thrive.”
Although SBS is evaluating its programs and services, Doris noted that the agency still provides technical, financial and legal help. They also have Workforce1 Centers, which are working remotely, to provide assistance to job seekers and employers who may be essential.
In Queens, SBS runs five Workforce 1 Centers, oversees 13 BIDs and a business solution center on Sutphin Boulevard. Doris, who lives in Queens, noted that BIDs, chambers of commerce and advocacy groups will play a critical role in the recovery effort. Not only can they disseminate information to small businesses, they will be the agency’s “eyes and ears on the ground.”
“We need them because they have a unique touch in the community, they understand those communities,” he said. “They’re able to let us know what is needed in those communities and give us an opportunity to advocate internally and externally.”
Although Doris has been a longtime public servant, he also has experience running his own small business, which has informed many of his past roles. As the director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs, he initiated an MWBE contract finance loan fund, which allows firms that have contracts with the city to get some financial support.
He drew from his experience of trying to get a loan from a bank when he ran his small consulting business. When the bank did not award him a loan, he turned to a community development financial institution (CDFI), which provided him his first business loan to build up his firm’s operations. Doris said he also knows what it’s like to meet payroll and other business obligations.
“I know the role that government, small businesses and advocates play,” he said. “I know that our small businesses will come back and we will thrive in the city.”