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The Cody Blog: CW Featured in NY Daily News Article about Post-9/11 NYC

Saturday, September 09, 2006

CW Featured in NY Daily News Article about Post-9/11 NYC

They bet on biz to bounce back

New Yorkers who refused to give up their business dreams after the terror attacks have played a major part in helping the city's economy rebound in dramatic style


When the city's economy was on the ropes, battered by a post-9/11 recession and a bear stampede on Wall Street, some New Yorkers stood fast and gambled on Gotham - and themselves.

Rebuilding their own lives and reinventing the city's staggered economy in the process, they joined the swelling ranks of the self-employed. Five years later, from tourism to technology, from finance to food, they are helping fuel the city's remarkable rebound since 9/11.

"It reflects the dynamic and entrepreneurial character of the New York City economy," said Mitchell Moss, professor of Urban Policy and Planning at NYU's Wagner School.

The number of self-employed workers in the city rose to 719,986 from 554,204 between 2000 and 2004, a jump of 30%, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. While those figures are the latest available, Moss believes the trend has accelerated.

"Between the dot.com collapse, a trend of mergers among big companies and 9/11, you had a lot of extremely talented people looking for work," Moss said. "A lot of them, either by necessity or choice, went into business for themselves."

The new generation of risk takers is finding success and confounding some experts who predicted that the city would never come back economically.

"The vigor with which New York City rebounded surprised a lot of people," said Jason Bram, who researches economic trends in the region for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "What ended up happening was much closer to the best-case scenario than the worst."

It's not just entrepreneurs that have brought the city back. Unemployment is at an 18-year low, putting the number of payroll jobs within 100,000 of the pre-9/11 high of January, 2001.

But a recent Federal Reserve report authored by Bram and fellow Fed researcher James Orr bore out Moss' theory that the burgeoning self-employed sector has a huge and sometimes hidden impact on the local economy. The report suggests a major shift of payroll workers - who count in unemployment figures - to the self-employed ranks, where they do not, could be disguising an even rosier picture.

But James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, said there's another side to the boom in self-employment. Parrott said the best measure of the job market is wages. He says they're falling when adjusted for inflation.

"The 10% drop in the real median wage for college-educated city workers over the past three years reflects a weak labor market," said Parrott, who said his research shows most of the city's self-employed make less than $20,000 a year. "In this environment, people have been turning to self-employment for any income at all."

But city Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Robert Walsh sees the self-employment surge differently.

Walsh believes the trend taps the ideas and passion of some of the city's most talented people. His agency, which supports new businesses, has more than doubled in size since Mayor Bloomberg - the city's most successful small businessman - appointed him.

"You think of where the mayor started - four men in a small office with a coffee pot and a dream," Walsh said. "It worked out very well for him.

"I see people all the time who have a great idea and a passion. They have that fire in the belly to make their dream work, and it is truly fascinating."

Walsh's department has "solution centers" throughout the five boroughs where staffers help aspiring entrepreneurs get started, including support with financing, business planning and finding employees.

Walsh said information services, technology, hospitality and food service are among the growth industries for people starting businesses.

And Moss said there has never been a better time for people to strike out on their own.

"The ability of people to function in small business has been enhanced by information technology," Moss said. "One of the great changes is that people can work from home, from Starbucks, or even from Central Park."

* * *

The hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs driving an increasingly dynamic post 9/11 economy include people from around the world working in all sectors. Here's a look at a few:

Cody Willard

Cody Willard, a Wall Street wonder at 25, lost his job a week before 9/11. Then the terror attacks took his apartment in Battery Park City, prompting a head-clearing, trek across the country. Now 33, Willard runs a booming hedge fund, writes regular columns for the Financial Times and TheStreet.com and appears frequently on TV, touting the opportunities of a renewed tech revolution.

The youngest partner ever at Oppenheimer & Co.'s Lanyi Research, Willard had moved on to a venture capital firm when a receding economy cost him his job Sept. 4, 2001. The New Mexico native had no idea how much worse things would get for him and his adopted city just days later. But he regrouped in Austin, Tex., and returned months later with a dream and a vengeance.

"I knew that this city, harsh and lonely as it can be, was the only place for me to realize my dreams," says Willard, who is finally undergoing therapy for 9/11-induced post traumatic stress disorder. "I belong in New York City, and I always have. It's the capital of the universe and I still strive to fit in - and strive to be different. Which is exactly the point, no?"

Ilir Sela

Ilir Sela, 26, drained his savings to start Nerd Force out of a tiny rented office on Staten Island three years ago. Starting his own business was less a leap of faith than an act of necessity: After graduating from CUNY Staten Island with a computer science degree, nobody else would give him a job.

Nerd Force quickly morphed from web designer to on-the-go IT for small business. Now the company employs 25 and its distinctive yellow Scion minivans are seen all over the Island.

Ironically, the bread and butter of Sela's own business is helping other entrepreneurs. And given the local explosion of small business, he figures his client base is only going to grow.

"Due to 9/11 and the poor job market that followed, a lot of small businesses were born," explained Sela, whose family came here from Albania in 1990. "They were in need of IT support, but they didn't have the budget to do it in-house."

As for Sela, his business may not stay so small: He's already been approached about franchising rights.

Debra Harris

Debra Harris and her husband, John Shepherd, used to watch from their Battery Park City apartment as hordes of tourists visited the World Trade Center prior to 9/11.

Harris, 38, dreamed of offering them the same tour of the birthplace of hip hop culture that she gave friends and relatives who visited her. The couple, displaced for seven months following the attacks, spent much of the time putting together their business plan. Less than a year after the attacks, they launched Hush Tours.

"It's been great to start with a dream and then work hard to make it come true."

Now regular charter buses, hosted by rap legends Kurtis Blow, Kool Herc, Rahiem and Grand Master Caz take tourists from around the world through Harlem and the Bronx, where they see the graffiti wall of fame in Spanish Harlem, the Apollo Theatre, and the numerous city parks where hip hop pioneers paid their dues.

The rollicking bus rides feature a pulsating beat, the chance for tourists to try their hands at rap and Japanese translators.

Next up for Hush Tours: routes through Brooklyn and Queens, which have hip hop roots of their own.

Veronica Leung

August of 2001 was the month Veronica Leung's fledgling restaurant on East Broadway in Chinatown, Dim Sum Go Go, finally turned the corner.

The divorced former housewife's dream was starting to work: tables were full, the kitchen was humming and dinner checks wereat last covering expenses.

"I was really happy, and September - the first 10 days before 9/11 were great," recalled Leung. "I said, "'Veronica, we did it.'"

When the dust of the terrorist attacks cleared, Lower Manhattan and Chinatown were left crippled. Leung's dream nearly died.

"There were days when I thought I would never make it," she said. "There were no customers, and no one would lend money to a new restaurant to help me get by."

Somehow, Leung hung on, betting that when New Yorkers got back on their feet, their appetite for good Chinese food would be as ravenous as ever. Now the 50-something restaurateur's biggest problem is finding tables for hungry customers. The Shanghai-born Leung's battle-tested dream is alive again.

"I'm the bookkeeper, the host, the waitress - you name it," she said. "And I am loving it."


Anonymous maximo zeledon said...

Very cool article, Cody! I had no idea you had such a difficult experience. Most aspects of 9/11 I will never understand because I was simply not there to witness what you did, but I have been in war and I’ve seen death up close…I know what it can do to the mind. You seem to appreciate life and for that very reason you will continue to do well. I suspect you have relied on work too much in order to forget that terrible episode, but I’m glad that you are seeking help. You have substance and you’re not another conformist charlatan like so many other financial bloggers out there. Actually, what that article tells me is that you accepted the worst and opted not to despair. That’s a great lesson.

9/10/2006 09:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cody - What is the name of your hedge fund? Like your commentary but have never seen your fund's name mentioned.

9/11/2006 01:28:00 AM  

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