Last Updated on Monday, 31 October 2011 12:27
With a voice in decisions relating to the competition for $1 billion in funding, Robin Lisa Douglas has become one of the most important professionals to know in the Mid-Hudson Valley region. Governor Cuomo launched, this past summer, the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council – a key decision-making body encompassing a seven-county region inclusive of Westchester. The Mid-Hudson Council is one of ten councils throughout the state charged with developing a plan for job-creating development in their respective regions. The councils represent a fundamental shift in the state’s approach to economic development: from a top-down development model to a community-based approach that emphasizes a region’s unique assets, harnesses local expertise, and empowers each region to set plans and priorities. Ms. Douglas was among a group of some thirty business professionals and elected officials such as Marsha Gordon of the Westchester Business Council and the Westchester County Executive, all appointed to serve on the Mid-Hudson Council.
Robin L. Douglas is the Mount Vernon-based president of the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Westchester & Rockland Counties. As relentless in her advocacy for minority entrepreneurs as she is striking in her presence at corporate events, Ms. Douglas is as likely to be found pursuing her mission in Washington, D.C., the local seven-county region, or the state capitol. I met with Ms. Douglas recently to discuss the new planning and application process, the paradigm that communities face in competing for the $1 billion in state funding – the total prize money for projects they identify as priorities for their economic development strategies. After our conversation, this much was clear: The clock is ticking and this race to the top will be won by the fastest and most focused.
Mount Vernon Today: It has been reported that the planning of the Regional Councils will emphasize a region's unique assets. Given the diversity of the Mid-Hudson region, what unique assets do you think Lower Westchester can claim?
Robin Douglas: The diversity of Lower Westchester is an asset in itself. We are unique to other counties in the Mid-Hudson region in terms of our diversity of urban density combined with suburban characteristics. We are also unique in terms of ethnic diversity. And such diversity brings a new pool of ideas regarding the shared understanding of commerce.
Mount Vernon Today: How is it envisioned that the Regional Council would work with the various state agencies that have an economic development mandate as part of their mission, e.g., ESDC, Dept. of State, DEC, and the MTA?
Robin Douglas: We will work with the agencies and authorities that have capital assets and capital budgets that create jobs. The whole thrust of this effort is to put people back to work. We will be able to weigh in on agency investment plans and provide input regarding what projects should be funded first.
Mount Vernon Today: How will the Regional Councils compete for the total amount of available funding?
Robin Douglas: Of the $200 million component, four regions will be granted $40 million in tax credits and funding each. The other six regions will be granted the balance of the $200 million. The other $800 million constitutes a separate pool of funding for very specialized projects.
Mount Vernon Today: What are the deadlines established for each Regional Council to produce their plans?
Robin Douglas: The upcoming deadline is November 14th. After that, the turnaround in reviewing the plans will happen quickly. Those decisions have to be determined by December 31st. After the end of the year, the Councils will proceed to work on the plans for 2012 to 2013.
Mount Vernon Today: To what extent will there be a focus on small-business and minority-business expansion?
Robin Douglas: If a community is using the demographics and metrics of their disenfranchised populations in their applications, there is written language in the funding packages that requires certain MWBE goals. Historically, there has not been monitoring in the state – outside of New York City – of compliance with MWBE goals. Under the new law and with new monitoring procedures, we hope that will change.
Mount Vernon Today: What advice would you give to the next mayor of Mount Vernon and the new city council regarding mobilizing to compete in this new funding initiative?
Robin Douglas: I think they should be mindful of the new procedures for capital projects. Communities that do not adjust will be left behind. They should be mindful that everything now is about job creation. I'm also hopeful that Richard Thomas and Deborah Reynolds will bring new energy and new ideas to the city council.
Mount Vernon Today: What do you see as the significance of your appointment to this elite decision-making body?
Robin Douglas: I don't let up on the MWBE agenda. The governor says he wants to see a 20% participation rate on the part of MWBE businesses. So I will continue to make my voice heard.
Mount Vernon Today: Robin, thank you for sharing these insights with our readers.
Lamont Blackstone is an award-winning commercial real estate consultant and a past dean of ICSC’s University of Shopping Centers sponsored by the 55,000-member global trade association. He is principal of G. L. Blackstone & Associates LLC which also provides telecom and energy expense solutions to small businesses, non-profit organizations and commercial property owners. He can be reached at (914) 663-0498 or
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 12:50
Call it a fine example of regional cooperation or, in the aftermath of the nation’s financial crisis, a rare instance of a lender announcing its interest to make loans. But on June 29, 2011, Madeline Marquez, executive director of the Bronx, NY-based Business Initiative Corporation of New York (BIC), discussed her organization’s small business financing mission to a room full of listeners; the venue was Club 159 in downtown Mount Vernon. The luncheon presentation was held during the annual Mount Vernon Business Expo sponsored by the Clinton Young administration and the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce. Officials in attendance included Mayor Young, County Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins, Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce president Frank Fraley, mayoral chief of staff Yolanda Robinson, and Dept. of Planning and Development commissioner Jeff Williams, who also assisted in organizing the event.
Although BIC was originally launched to serve the Bronx, Ms. Marquez explained that its small business lending mandate was expanded to include Westchester County and other locales in the state. Formerly known as Bronx Initiative Corp., BIC is a U.S. Small Business Administration certified lender sponsored by the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. Its lending initiatives are focused on helping small businesses finance the acquisition of fixed assets for use in their operations. When combined with the advocacy efforts of the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Westchester and Rockland Counties, Mount Vernon’s small businesses, as well as its black-owned businesses, will now have at least two spokespersons to champion their interests at the SBA.
Ms. Marquez prodded the audience during her luncheon comments to think seriously and thoughtfully about crafting a good business plan. And echoing the advice often given by financial planners and retirement planning professionals when counseling households, Ms. Marquez suggested, “….We plan more for our vacations than we do for our businesses and efforts to obtain financing.” So we should be reminded of the classic proverb that teaches: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” And I suggest that’s true whether we are saving for our retirement or doubling the sales capacity of a business. However, she did add that a business plan is really a guide for the entrepreneur who authors it and should not be thought of as just some document (translated: necessary evil) required by lenders.
Ms. Marquez, whose efforts have led to the creation of 1,242 new jobs and the retention of another 1,405 jobs throughout the state, also expressed the importance of having a succession plan for your business; i.e., a game plan providing for a smooth transition in the event of the death of a sole owner or major partner. Regarding this dreaded issue, the pioneering banker stated, “As a lender, we worry about that all the time, and key person life insurance is a key thing we look for.” Expect that the face amount of the life insurance policy would need to cover the amount of the loan. However, business owners should be aware that there are relatively inexpensive means of obtaining such protection and mitigating this concern of lenders.
The financier also discussed BIC’s loan programs – specifically the SBA 504 Loan Program which has maximum lending limits of $5 million for ventures in economically deprived areas and $5.5 million for manufacturers and energy loans. Energy finance has become a priority for SBA, and such loans could be used to implement a lighting retrofit of a warehouse or factory – provided the projected energy savings can be adequately quantified. SBA’s interest in energy efficiency improvements may be attributable to the 30% share of average building operating costs represented by energy expenses – any significant reduction in that line item expense will automatically drift to the owner’s bottom line. BIC effectively partners with conventional banks in making its loans: BIC covers 40% of the project costs, a third-party bank covers 50% of the costs, and the remaining 10% comes from the small business owner. Business owners will be pleased to know that this program’s features allow for the waiver of mortgage recording taxes and a minimum down payment or required equity investment of only 10% of project costs. Contrast this with financing terms demanded by conventional lenders: In this post-financial crisis era, conventional bankers typically mandate 25% and higher equity contributions – assuming, of course, they are even interested in making small business loans without sharing the risk with an entity such as BIC.
For more information, call The Business Initiative Corporation of New York at (718) 590-3980.
Lamont Blackstone is an award-winning commercial real estate consultant and a past dean of ICSC’s University of Shopping Centers sponsored by the 55,000-member global trade association. He is principal of G. L. Blackstone & Associates LLC which also provides telecom solutions and energy services to small businesses, retailers and commercial property owners. He can be reached at
Six million pounds of clothes removed from landfills can offset emissions from 3,500 cars within a year; save enough water to fill 205 thousand swimming pools; avoid over 1 million pounds of pesticides and reduce the use of fertilizer for cotton growth.
A new textile collection company, aimed at recycling and reusing used clothes and shoes from landfills and local residents, planted its offices at 18 Sargent Place in Mount Vernon. The company, named US Again moved to Mount Vernon, utilizing the Mount Vernon location as a central location for its surrounding offices in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area. Regional Manager Ted Fisher adds that the Mount Vernon office has collected 1 million pounds alone.
A miniature New York City skyline takes shape with each garment, shoe, and bag hauled in by workers into the local warehouse. Unloaded from large trucks, clothing is sorted, bagged and piled into a compressor to form 5-foot three-dimensional cubes.
With over seven thousand locations in 15 states, locals can find green clothing drop bins around residential areas, schools, local businesses, shopping and community centers, and houses of worship. Once collected, garments are sold local and internationally to 80% of the world’s population in need of basic clothing supplies.
Shipping between 700 and one million pounds of clothing per month, Fisher noted, “Each of our clothing drop bins generates revenue, educates residents and schools on recycling, and local businesses and increase their green portfolio while lowering their carbon footprint.”
By Theo Hackney
Electrolux Professional was the title sponsor in celebrating Diversity at the BCA Global’s (formerly the Black Culinary Alliance) 18th Annual Gala and Cultural Awareness Salute.
The black-tie event focused on increasing diversity, awareness, and advancement in the industry, including special presentations by Electrolux and others like the Food Network and the South African Consulate. The event honored internationally recognized Chef Charlie Trotter as the first Chef to sponsor the event. Hobart, Marriott, Restaurant Associates-Compass, Sodexo, Beam Global, Tyson Foods and Irinox were among the list of supporters. Several guests were honored for their status as industry leaders and role models, including Bernard Carmouche, Culinary Director of Chef Emeril’s Homebase and Corporate Headquarters, South African Restaurateur Mark Moodley and Jamaican Chef Anthony Miller.
This year over 350 people attended the event and 150 students volunteered, prompting BCA Global President, Alex Askew to comment, “This year’s gala, was the fastest selling event in 18 years.” He also noted, “I believe that partnering with Electrolux, with its strong brand based on product quality and talented people, will enable us to be a part of building culinary careers in non-traditional paths such as food design and equipment.”
Mark Whalen, SVP Global Chains for Electrolux and presenter at the event, comments further, “Our support of BCA Global affords us the opportunity to ‘walk the talk’ in reinforcing our fundamental commitment to respect and diversity. I believe we can make the industry stronger by recruiting from the BCA Global’s membership ranks and at the same time offer some very deserving young and talented people a career opportunity.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 August 2011 14:22
Representing world class artists from all turns of the globe including Germany, Uzbekistan, Russia, and South America, Kenneth Wentworth holds a library of classical music tracks enclosed in shelves and cardboard boxes inside his musical headquarters located at 10 Fiske Place in Mount Vernon. Tunes include music by pianists, violinists, orchestral soloists, chamber ensembles, and conductors. Whether it’s through classical music or other performing arts, Kenneth Wentworth has always had an eye for talent. Along with his business partner and daughter, Martha Woods, Wentworth manages the Jonathan Wentworth Associates, Ltd agency focusing on artist development and talent booking.
“It’s our way of functioning on a rewarding level,” says Wentworth jokingly of working with his daughter. Like father like daughter, both enjoy typing on the keyboards as if crafting the art of piano puppetry. Not only because of his passion for the piano, Wentworth entered the music business to help fleeing musicians break away from their native land in the Soviet Union, “They felt decadent.”
Nowadays, his musical management roster stretches across ocean lines with more than 40 talented artists from around the globe including groups and solos such as Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti. Kuerti has performed at both the Boston and Detroit Symphonies, encountering rave reviews like the one from the Toronto Globe & Mail, which simply stated, “Suddenly we were in the unmistakable presence of greatness.”
Wentworth Associates also offers multi-disciplinary programs including “Mystic & The Muse Cooperative Writing Project” from Ensemble Galilei, and the auditorium program “Catgut & Horsehair: A Tour of Europe” from Chatham Baroque.
Before taking on talent management, Wentworth looked for future stars in the classroom. As chairman of the music department at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, Wentworth taught classical music composition at the college level. “Music has always been an inspiration. There are so many young people looking to get into the music business, it’s admirable,” says Wentworth, himself a violin aficionado and an alumni of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.
Living on the outskirts of Mount Vernon in the late 1960s, he aimed his efforts to prepare minority students for post high school academics. Heavily influenced by his interest in politics, Wentworth initiated a college preparation program at Sarah Lawrence College much like Upward Bound, a federally funded educational program designed to uplift society’s minority youth. Upward Bound was derived from President Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965. Wentworth guided 7th and 8th graders through an annual 8-week intense education program from the time they entered high school until graduation. “These were potentially very good students that were probably not going to make it to high school,” he noted.
Wentworth continues, “1969 was a turning point,” he explained of the bigger project designed to help students succeed. With the help of SUNY Purchase, Sarah Lawrence and Manhattanville College, Wentworth developed a second educational opportunity program called the Cooperative College Center, once located in downtown Mount Vernon; this time with a street college concept including a 10-week course to test high school graduates on a collegiate level. “Instead of writing an application and essay, literary courses and reading skills became the basis of the curriculum as a way to support teens move on to a four-year college.”
These days, managing young adults and senior classical artists is much like any other industry. Wentworth is looking to grow and strengthen his company by venturing outside of Europe and South America, and stretch to new lands like Korea and China where, he says, classical music is at its peak. He adds with more young students interested in the classics, competition is stiff and to survive as a successful agency, concerts have to be booked one or two years in advance.