Hochul, who chairs Governor Andrew Cuomo’s regional economic development council, said she has been in Queens every week for months now.
“I so much enjoy coming to Queens because I love the diversity,” she said. “The people have been so welcoming.”
She spoke about how the state has recovered from economic stagnation, boarded-up storefronts and the outward migration of people and jobs. Putting Queens near the top of the list of places people are now moving to instead of from, Hochul called the economic transformation a “renaissance.”
“You only need to look at statistics and see how far we’ve come from when he took office in January 2011 to where we are today,” she said of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Hochul touted the drop in state unemployment and said that it didn’t just happen by itself, or in neighboring states.
“If you look at our budget situation in the State of New York, our governor inherited a $10 billion deficit,” she said. “Today we have a $5 billion surplus. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, none can claim that.”
She said it happened with a lot of tough decisions. Part of the economic rebound was the governor pushing both parties in the state legislature to cooperate, as well as bringing together upstate and downstate New York.
The effect of the Cuomo administration’s work, Hochul said, is sending a signal to the country that New York is open for business. She added that the governor has been heavily focused on changing the state’s previous anti-business and high-tax reputation.
“He is laser focused on reducing taxes,” she said, “and bringing back new businesses primarily through the regional economic development councils.”
And those new businesses include tech companies. Hochul said entrepreneurs who would have left for Silicon Valley in the past are now setting up shop in New York.
“People who come up with an innovative idea in technology can go anywhere in the country, so the fact that they’re staying here, investing, incubating ideas in a smaller setting and then taking those products to market, that is a great phenomenon,” she said. “Embrace it.”
Hochul pivoted her speech to talk about the role women play in starting businesses and contributing to the economy.
She told the story of when her mother wanted to start a flower shop, right after Hochul had received her law degree. One of the many things she did was join the local chamber of commerce for support.
“We benefitted tremendously from the networking and the synergy that’s created when people try to support each other in the community,” she said.
Not only was Hochul’s mother an entrepreneur, but her sister is too.
“I have an appreciation for what it’s like to be a woman in business,” she said. “That’s why [the governor] has made the minority and women-owned business program so incredibly strong.”
New York State has set a goal of awarding 30 percent of state contracts to women and minority-owned businesses, or MWBEs. Hochul said that’s the highest percentage in the country.
She said although the program has been successful so far – many people share with her that the program has given their companies a chance to succeed – there are still many barriers and challenges.
“In our state, we have about 750,000 women-owned business, which sounds good, but it’s nowhere where it should be,” Hochul said.
Another example she pointed to was the amount of “women in the boardroom.” Although the percentage has gone up from an abysmal 8 percent to 16 percent now, Hochul said more needs to be done.
“I think at that rate, they said it would be 85 years before we have parity,” she said. “I don’t plan on waiting 85 years.”
She said not only should more women be involved, but they should be paid equally as men, not 79 cents on the dollar. Hochul said the state should have more policies to support women who want to balance a family and start a business or work outside of home.
One policy she focused on was paid family leave, which Cuomo is pushing for across the state. She called it a high priority for the governor, who is advocating for a policy without adding additional burdens to employers.
“The governor wants 12 weeks of paid family leave and part of the negotiation is individuals who want us to have employers pay for that,” Hochul said. “The governor does not believe that that’s an expense that the employers of New York State should bear.”
Under Cuomo’s paid family leave policy, Hochul said, employees would be able to pay into an insurance fund that is set aside for when they need to take a leave of absence to care for a newborn baby or an elderly member of their family.
“They should be there with their newborn, an adopted baby, or on the other end of life,” she said. “They need to be holding the hands of their parents as they take their final breath. That’s what a civilized society does.”