Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.

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  • What to do about the vacant offices that are slowing NYC’s economic recovery

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Traffic volume into Manhattan soared after Labor Day as many companies began requiring employees to be in the office at least three days a week and Wall Street firms, including JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, nixed remote work altogether. Still, many office buildings remain mostly empty.

    Office occupancy in New York City was just 38 percent last week, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks building swipes. That’s a 3.5 percent increase from the last week of August when many white collar workers ditch their business suits for bathing suits down the Shore or out East in the Hamptons.

    “This could be a 10 to 20 year painful process where we have vacant buildings that were once assets to our communities, now, will be liabilities unless we put policies in place that streamline the approval process to convert these buildings and provide economic incentives to help facilitate that,” said Scott Rechler, chairman and chief executive officer of RXR, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    Rechler, who sits on the boards of the New York Federal Reserve and the MTA, points to New York’s recovery from 9/11 when rezoning enabled many office buildings in Lower Manhattan to be converted to apartments.

    “If we can do that, we could take that, you know, 10 to 20 year period and bring it down to a five to 10 year period.”

    The real estate developer said those conversions will allow buildings to be competitive in a post-pandemic environment.

    “Buildings that can provide the highest level of experience and engagement and what we call ‘third spaces’ where people can collaborate and bond and become parts of broader communities will actually thrive. But, buildings that are more commodity-like – class B buildings, class C buildings that aren’t close to public transit – frankly are going to become obsolete,” said Rechler.

    RXR is looking at converting some of their Manhattan office buildings into mixed-use buildings where New Yorkers can work and live, which Rechler calls part of the “post-pandemic playbook” to attract more workers to the city.

    “If you look at our multi-family portfolio – and we have 10,000 units of multi-family – we’re 99 percent occupied,” he said. “I’m optimistic because the people is (sic) the fuel that drives the long-term vitality of this economy and they’ve come back.”

    He told WCBS 880 the next step is for real estate developers, like himself, to create affordable housing to attract more talent to the five boroughs. A lack of housing inventory has led to an increase in home prices and rents. Rents in RXR buildings, Rechler said, are 10-20 percent higher than they were before the pandemic.

    New office buildings now include amenities such as health and wellness spaces to incentivize employees to work in-person.

    The firm is also noticing companies headquartered in Manhattan are opening satellite offices in their buildings on Long Island and New Jersey.

    “Companies want to have spots that are closer to where people live both for affordability and convenience,” Rechler said. “So you see a number of banks, for example, have opened up offices in New Jersey or some of the pharmaceutical companies and the same thing we’re seeing in Nassau County.”

    “That will enable people to live closer to home and have a shorter commute for part of the week or the whole week, depending where they are, but still be able to convene in New York City with all their peers where you can focus on culture building, ideation, collaboration, that you can’t get if everyone’s working independently.”

    Rechler sees the city is transitioning from a Manhattan-centric economy to what he calls a “superstar region,” which he believes will be more sustainable post-pandemic.

    See more on the future of the office on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Kickstarter Pilots 4-Day Workweek, Keeps Employees Remote

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Kickstarter is experimenting with a four-day, 32-hour workweek, which has gained momentum in parts of Europe as the pandemic shined a light on the need for work-life balance.

    The six-month pilot program began in April. Early results are promising, according to the Brooklyn-based crowdsourcing company. It has seen improved efficiencies company-wide.

    “The four-day workweek for us has been an exercise that’s allowed us to really improve all of those sort of dynamics in our business so that employees are more engaged,” said Kickstarter chief strategy officer Jon Leland on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    “When they come to work, they are rested and more focused, they’re all more motivated to get their work done faster,” he said.

    Leland said Kickstarter’s operations have already improved after cutting some of the major time sucks.

    “Meetings are the number one killer of time,” he said. “There’s a lot of aspects of sort of documentation or just dumb processes that have gotten built up over time that people just continue to do that they know doesn’t really matter and isn’t useful.”

    The CSO told WCBS 880 the company has “empowered” middle managers to eliminate redundancies and streamline workflow.

    The four-day workweek comes without any reduction in salaries or benefits. The company has also decided to keep its employees remote because of productivity and to save on rent.

    “From a real estate perspective, because we had to look at this as well, it’s just very expensive to own or lease and run an office setting if you’re not using it five days a week,” said Leland. “It just didn’t make financial sense.”

    Kickstarter will measure the program’s success by revenue and money raised for startups on the platform.

    It has recently seen a bump in new investments in e-commerce and gaming businesses.

    “Tabletop games has (sic) become just a massive part of the Kickstarter ecosystem because I think people want to spend time with each other, also doing things in real life together, and tabletop board games are a great way of doing that. So, we’ve seen that emerge as just a really massive part of our business.”

    Leland said the biggest backing Kickstarter ever hosted on its platform was earlier this year when author Brandon Sanderson raised $41.7 million to publish books he wrote during the pandemic.

    See more on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Travel Consultants in Demand as Business Travelers Return to Skies

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — As business travel begins to pick up, agencies are discovering new post-pandemic expectations.

    “This ‘bleisure’ theme is definitely coming back,” said Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    “Bleisure” is a portmanteau of “business” and “leisure,” which grew in popularity as people enjoyed working remotely from scenic getaways and vacation hotspots.

    “We’ve seen companies want to have culture and community and focus on their core values. And they’re doing it with offsite meetings. They’re doing it with retreats.”

    Valerie Wilson Travel noticed the owners of small and medium-sized businesses were among the first to fly again.

    “(Small business owners) were the first ones to get back on the road, because they wanted to see their customer. They wanted to look them in the eye, shake their hand, thank them for their business,” said Wilson-Buttigieg.

    The Manhattan-based firm employs a team of industry specialists working day and night to cater to corporate clients.

    “We have employees that work on different accounts or different businesses like leisure, corporate, cruises, safaris,” she said. “And then we have independent contractors who run their own business under our umbrella. And as an independent contractor, they certainly could work 24/7, but we do also utilize a 24/7 service.”

    VWT’s corporate and individual clients turn to its advisors for more personalized service, which is at the roots of the business.

    “Knowing that time is the most precious commodity, whether you travel for business or vacation, you want it to be the experience you’re planning,” Wilson-Buttigieg said. “And no differently than having a professional help you on a will or sell a home or do your taxes, the role of the advisor has been elevated.”

    Her mother Valerie Wilson started the company in 1981 after she could not find a travel consultant who would give her trip across Europe the individual attention she desired. Wilson returned home and launched Valerie Wilson Travel.

    Valerie Wilson Travel
    Photo credit Valerie Wilson Travel

    “We’re in the business of serving and we love the travel industry,” said Wilson-Buttigieg.

    Valerie Wilson Travel was acquired by another family-owned business, Frosch International Travel, in April 2021 because the Wilson family did not want to lay off any employees during the height of COVID when its business was down as much as 95%.

    “We were so excited to bring these two powerhouse brands together, but with the goal of saving as many employees, jobs and benefits during this very challenging period, because we knew travel would eventually rebound and we’re going to need them,” the second-generation president said.

    Research suggests 60% of family-owned businesses fail to transition to the second-generation, while third-generation businesses fail nearly 90% of the time. For VWT, the bond between sister co-presidents – Wilson-Buttigieg and Kimberly Wilson Wetty – leading the second-generation appears strong.

    “We try to text each other as sisters and we email each other as colleagues,” said Wilson-Buttigieg.

    See more on this thriving family-owned business and the changes in travel on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Brooklyn Cyclones Rally Around NYC’s Ukrainian Community

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    Executive Produced by Carousso Enterprises, LLC.

    Brooklyn, NY — The New York Mets High-A affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones hosted more than 100 Ukrainian refugees on Sunday’s Eastern European Celebration Day in Coney Island where the club, fans and community members stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian community amid Russia’s war.

    Rachel Luscher reports from Maimonides Park for NY2C’s On The Call.

    NY2C’s On The Call is executive produced by Carousso Enterprises, LLC.

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  • NYC Commemorates End of Slavery with Juneteenth Festival

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    Produced by Carousso Enterprises, LLC and NY2C Corp.

    NEW YORK, NY — Community leaders in New York City are hosting their 13th Juneteenth festival this weekend to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S.

    Now a federal holiday, Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865 to free slaves who remained captive two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

    On the latest episode of What’s Up New York, NY2C celebrates the achievements of Black Americans in the city. The show is produced and written by Carousso Enterprises, LLC.

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