CLFCR Welcomes Federal Reserve Bank Of NY President
The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York met with entrepreneurs and community leaders in Albany recently to discuss economic obstacles in the Capital Region.
The event with John Williams was hosted by the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region, and showcased a number of community development projects. CLFCR Executive Director Linda MacFarlane says the goal was to start a conversation about the barriers faced by low-income families and aspiring entrepreneurs.
“What a lot of people were talking about today was, if you have an individual of low income, and they want to start their own business – it takes a while to ramp up and to be successful," MacFarlane says. "So how can you do that if you are relying on other sources of revenue to be able to support your family, whether you’re a single parent or not?”
Kellie Roe is executive director of Second Chance Opportunities, a janitorial company that supports and employs people recovering from substance abuse. Given the nature of janitorial contracts, where the business might not see payment for 60 days, Roe says she knows the importance of up-front resources firsthand. She credits the CLFCR with providing the credit needed to help cover Second Chance’s up-front costs, and wishes there were more opportunities for workers in her program to receive the same. Roe particularly mentions one woman she works with.
“She had her LPN license, and wants to go back to school for her RN. It’s $16,000 for a 10-month program. She can’t go," Roe explains. "She doesn’t qualify for student loans, and she can’t give up her job because she can’t support herself or go visit her kids or stuff like that. That’s the need.”
Second Chance Opportunities has helped a number of people. Of its 77 employees, Roe says 66 are in recovery – and substance abuse can come with its own challenges. She says she’s hired middle-age adults with no job or budgeting experience whatsoever, and used the program to teach employees.
“Nobody really funds soft skills. You can’t really earn an income by teaching somebody how to balance their checkbook," notes Roe. "But if they don’t have the tools to balance their checkbook, no matter how much they’re making they really can’t pay their rent, they really can’t feed their family.”
Anthony Capece, executive director of tech incubator STEAM Garden, says training needs go beyond soft skills and funding. He says even college and trade school students enter the workforce unprepared because many curriculums can’t keep up with the ever-changing fields they teach.
“You can’t train kids on donated cars from 1983, on regenerative brakes that are being fixed for volts in Priuses. They don’t match, and the curriculum takes three years to get approved," says Capece. "What is the training, what can a community college turn around their training in – six weeks? Because that’s what businesses are doing.”
By way of disclosure, Capece is a WAMC board member.
The event also took a look at “food deserts” – urban areas where it’s difficult to find fresh, affordable food. Konstandin Kacani represents a Freihofer redevelopment project on Spruce Street in Albany’s West Hill. He says he and his wife bought the property with the help of the CLFCR with hopes of turning it into an income-based food hub, complete with grocery store, restaurant-style kitchen, and food stalls. Kacani says the project would also provide food-related training, and give participants a safe space to try out new restaurant ventures.
“We are trying to not only give them the theoretical part, but the actual like, ‘OK, so you have a concept, you have a theory, well let’s put it to [the] test. And if it actually works, you can be our partner here or get your own place somewhere else where it’s much needed,'" Kacani explains.
President Williams of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said, while the U.S. economy is doing well overall, it’s crucial to create opportunities to promote income equality. CLFCR Executive Director MacFarlane says doing that requires engagement from all aspects from the community.
“We need to have people in the neighborhoods being able to voice what they need and what is important to them, we need to have businesses be able to support that, and we need to have the local government be in support of the community development that is needed," says MacFarlane.
Williams’ visit was part of an ongoing tour across upstate New York. Incorporated in 1985, the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region is a non-profit investing in businesses and affordable housing for economically underserved communities.