Those figures were part of a new economic report released by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that take a closer look at the neighborhood.
“It is no surprise that immigrants are an important demographic in this community,” DiNapoli said while discussing details of the report at Lexington School for the Deaf in East Elmhurst on October 24. “Many immigrants open their own businesses and certainly contribute greatly to the local economy.”
Between 2009 and 2018, Jackson Heights welcomed 660 new businesses. In turn, unemployment rates fell from a peak of 10.3 percent in 2010 to 4.2 percent in 2017. The report indicates that many of these jobs come from small businesses in the area, 88 percent of which staff fewer than 10 employees.
“You could own a business anywhere,” said Queens Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Grech told the crowd. “But you’re doing it in Queens and you’re doing it in Jackson Heights. You are our backbone.”
In 2018, retail trade was the largest employment sector for Jackson Heights, representing 22 percent of the area’s private sector jobs. Leisure and hospitality came in second at 16 percent, most of which were in the restaurant industry.
In fact, the neighborhood gained more than 100 new restaurants over a nine-year span, a greater increase than was seen for any other type of business.
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, a DREAMer whose family fled violence in Colombia when she was nine, explained that businesses serving familiar cuisines remind immigrants “about the good things, not the bad things, they left behind.”
“If you have ever walked around 37th Avenue, you will literally walk across different countries, different continents,” she said. “This hodgepodge of amazing food that reminds all of us of where we were born and where we can get to.”
Alejandro Osorio’s mother was a judge in Medellín before leaving Colombia to escape the escalating drug war. To feed her family, she began selling arepas from a street cart under the 7 train to the crowds leaving the nightclubs. The Arepa Lady eventually blossomed into a popular storefront.
"What's funny is my mom being undocumented, it was easier for her to run her own business and make her own schedule so that she was able to take care of her children," said Osorio, who now runs Arepa Lady. "We're doing great, and I hope that we keep doing great."
Though the economic snapshot spotlights the strengths of Jackson Heights, the report also illustrates some difficulties still facing the community. Among these are a need for affordable housing and overcrowding in schools.
With rents in the area increasing nearly three times faster than household incomes, close to two-thirds of households devoted at least 30 percent of their earnings to rent.
In terms of education, the snapshot found 17 of the 19 traditional elementary and middle schools in the community were operating beyond capacity in 2018. Seven schools were running at more than 125 percent, and four other at more than 145 percent.