Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce: Finding Suitable and Affordable Space for Food Manufacturing in Brooklyn

Carlo A. Scissura, President & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Image Courtesy: Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

Carlo A. Scissura

Brooklyn’s growing sector of small food makers has meant more jobs for the local economy over the past few years. As part of this growth, Brooklyn itself has become a brand for artisanal food makers who have set up in small kitchens and incubator spaces across the borough to make their tasty creations.

The Brooklyn “Food Chain” – starting with food manufacturing and wholesale distribution, and including grocery stores, specialty stores, restaurants, and coffee shops – account for 12.5 percent of the borough’s 472,000 private sector jobs. According to the Brooklyn Chamber’s Winter 2012 Brooklyn Labor Market Review, food accounts for one out of six of the 49,000 businesses in Brooklyn — with nearly 59,000 people employed by 7,800 businesses.

Brooklyn’s food artisans, however, have become a victim of their own success. Many are struggling to grow by trying to hire more employees without having to move part of their business out of Brooklyn. Only when more industrial space is made available to manufacturers can these mom-and-pop businesses blossom and new ones get started.

One of the greatest needs for food manufacturers are co-packing facilities, companies that handle the packaging needs of several small food companies. Any co-packer who sets up shop in Brooklyn needs a place to do so. What our partners in government need to do, on both the City and State level, is make more space available by helping convert existing spaces that are underutilized. The creation of more incubators – like what was done years ago in DUMBO for the budding tech community – will go a long way in helping manufacturers.

The Chamber’s premier food event, Brooklyn Eats, will be held on June 26 at the former Pfizer plant in South Williamsburg. The Chamber aims to rebrand this event from one previously focused on restaurants to one that spotlights artisanal food makers. This will ultimately give them increased exposure to consumers, help create jobs, and continue to make Brooklyn the food capitol of the country. The all-day trade show will include fun events, celebrity chefs, and a kick-off panel. The day will culminate with a foodie extravaganza – all done in unique Brooklyn style!

Crain’s New York Business highlighted the food manufacturing space issue in its March 10 edition. Crain’s reported that nearly two-thirds of the roughly 40 Brooklyn artisanal food makers that Council Member Stephen Levin surveyed last year said they were looking for places to set up larger facilities. Of those, over three-quarters – 77 percent to be exact – were unable to find the space they needed. As a result, many have been forced to move their operations out of state in search of larger and cheaper spaces.

In the meantime, these small businesses share restaurant kitchens in order to make their products. It’s not the best solution, but it is a way to continue working while searching for larger, affordable spaces in Brooklyn. We all know that real estate in New York, be it residential or commercial, comes at a premium. But for these businesses to thrive, we need to ensure that there is space for them right here in Brooklyn where it is also affordable to do business. Just like affordable housing is needed for the middle class, affordable industrial space is needed for entrepreneurs

The vacancy rate citywide for industrial space is about 4 percent. Even though industrial spaces within Brooklyn – such as the former Pfizer factory, the Navy Yard, and Industry City – have been made available over the past few years, there is a need for more real estate to be dedicated to the small food manufacturing community.

The lack of reasonably priced space – and space in general – will ultimately drive these businesses away. That’s something Brooklyn can’t afford.

Carlo A. Scissura is the President & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

For CityLand’s coverage of the Brooklyn Chambers’ recent food manufacturing event, click here.

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