QCC Building Awards celebrates borough’s best

The Queens Chamber of Commerce hosted its 110th annual Building Awards and Gala at the TWA Hotel in JFK airport last week, recognizing various development projects throughout the borough for achievements in construction, restoration, interior design, and more.
“I have the best job in the world, it really is my calling,” said chamber president and CEO Thomas Grech. “As a membership organization, 2020 was a terrible year. However, it was our board and our members who stepped up during that difficult time.”
Grech thanked a number of elected officials who helped secure relief money at the federal, local, and city level.
“As we move through the pandemic, private public partnerships will continue to be extremely crucial,” Borough President Donovan Richards said. “There are those who said we should go back to normal after the pandemic, but we know normal was never good enough for Queens county.”
Both Grech and Richards acknowledged the federal infrastructure bill currently stalled in the Senate, expressing hope the bill will pass and fund construction and repair projects for the borough’s roads, trains, and airports.
Carlo Scissura, head of the New York Building Congress, offered the keynote address at this year’s gala. Although he is a native Brooklyn, Scissura discussed Queens’ history of dreaming big and encouraged the borough’s public and private leaders to continue that tradition.
“You have everything in Queens, and you have a future that I think the people in the city and the state need to learn from,” Scissura said. “When people say New York is the center of the world, it’s because of a borough like Queens.
“Think about the vision people have in Queens,” he continued. “One-hundred years ago, Jackson Heights was fields and now it’s home to amazing apartment complexes. We transformed a valley of ashes into a park that hosted two World’s Fairs. Just look at the building we are in right now. It was the pinnacle of the aviation age and made you feel like a king or queen. All of this was built right here in Queens.”
In addition to the keynote address, a number of guest speakers helped distribute awards to the night’s recipients, including Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato and representatives from Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, the gala’s platinum sponsor.
This year’s gala event sold beyond capacity, another sign of recovery as Queens continues to build and grow after the pandemic.
“It’s great to see everyone in person,” said Thomas Santucci, chair of the Chamber’s board. “Nothing beats an event like this.”

New virtual tech training in Queens

Workforce development company Per Scholas has been offering free IT, cybersecurity, and software engineering training at its locations in Brooklyn and the Bronx for over a decade. However, a new technology is allowing the organization to expand throughout New York in a creative way.
Per Scholas’ Satellite Classroom program utilizes cloud-based technology to equip pre-existing facilities with the tools necessary to teach technological skills.
Rather than having to completely equip a new location with millions of dollars worth of equipment, Per Scholas is partnering with local organizations and using the satellite program to quickly expand its reach throughout the city.
Commonpoint Queens has partnered with Per Scholas to transform a portion of its Elmhurst site into a new classroom.
Speaking at an event in Per Scholas’ Brooklyn location at 630 Flushing Avenue, Commonpoint Queens CEO Danielle Ellman explained how the new technology will help people pursue new careers while minimizing travel time.
“At Commonpoint, we’ve been addressing unemployment and underemployment for over ten years with training and workforce development programs,” Ellman said. “By removing the barrier of transportation, we can make it much easier for people to learn these skills.”
Commonpoint Queens was chosen for a number of reasons, chief among them being the massive effect the coronavirus pandemic had in Elmhurst.
“Elmhurst was the epicenter of the pandemic, and there was an unemployment percentage of 22 percent at one point,” Ellman said. “Much of the job loss in our borough were jobs that had no chance of returning, like restaurants or businesses closing down.
“That made us want to focus on career development,” she added. “We don’t want people to feel like their dreams need to be deferred. Instead, we want people to feel like they have options.”
In addition to Elmhurst, Per Scholas is currently in the process of opening satellite classrooms in Staten Island and Manhattan. The company will also continue to operate its own locations in Brooklyn and the Bronx, which together have graduated and employed over 500 students since their creation.
“I never thought tech would be an option for me,” said alumni Matt Bogata. “I had been working in hospitality since I was 15, first at restaurants and then at bars. I was furloughed from my job at the beginning of the pandemic, but that’s when I found this program. Fast forward five months and now I am working as a tech specialist at a law firm.”
Per Scholas is supported by a number of major corporate sponsors, including Amazon and Barclays. During the event, representatives from both companies spoke about the need for an equitable return to the workplace following the pandemic.
“Barclays is a bank, but in our 331-year history we have learned that when societies succeed, banks succeed,” said Richarrd Haworth, Barclays CEO for the Americas. “Investing in the ability of people to reach their potential is the best thing we can do to foster growth for everyone in the communities we serve.”
Borough President Eric Adams delivered the event’s keynote address, discussing the role technology has played in his own personal development.
“Often when we think about technology, we think it’s something that’s out of reach,” Adams said. “I studied computer science and then became part of the original small team of programmers that worked on the early versions of Compstat for the city.
“There was a 356 percent increase in startups in Brooklyn over the past five years,” he added. “When kids from Brownsville and other neighborhoods enlist in this program, they will be able to mix their new knowledge with their life experience. ”
Adams called on the corporate sponsors in the room to maintain their commitment to serving young people in the city.
“We have to send a message to tech companies that we cannot let the best talent sit on the bench,” Adams said. “A company shouldn’t be able to grow while the opportunities for young people are decreasing.”

Queens Comes Back: QDEC hosts block party


By Evan Triantafilidis


Over 40 vendors and 1,000 people gathered in an outdoor backlot of Kaufman Astoria Studios for the Queens Comes Back event this past weekend. The event was hosted by the Queens Economic Development Corporation.

QEDC executive director Seth Bornstein said it was gratifying to see people come together and support local businesses, especially after the last 18 months.

“When I look at this crowd, it represents the borough,” he said. “The vendors, the people here, there’s no majority and no minority.”

Bornstein said he wanted to give back, both to local businesses and to the public, resulting in the event not charging vendors a fee and no charge to the public to enter.

From plant-based and vegan cakes by Pudding Pan Desserts to Romanian sweets from Twister Cake Bakery, sweet tooths were left satisfied as lines formed outside each vendor booth throughout the day. Spanish cuisine from Sala Astoria was served and washed down with cocktails by QNSY Sparkling Cocktails.

“As an entrepreneur, it was an exciting and energizing networking opportunity,” said Tara Merdjanoff, co-founder of QNSY Sparkling Cocktails.

Performances were held throughout the day featuring Gotham Dance Theater, Chieh Hsiung, Manhatitlan Mexican Folkloric Dance Group and Greek American Folklore Society.

The original Queens Taste event is usually held annually on the first Monday of May, said Rob MacKay, director of public relations for QEDC. In past years, places like the New York’s Hall of Science and Citi Field hosted the indoor event.

MacKay said this year’s outdoor event exceeded his expectations.

“We’ve been through a lot as an agency that helps small businesses and they’ve been through a lot, but I feel like a lot of people have stabilized and found out ways to work around stuff,” said MacKay. “It’s a morale booster to show we’re going to make it.”

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