Photo Courtesy of the State Comptroller’s Office
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, flanked here by Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska (l. to r.), State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr., Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, Assemblywoman Michele Titus, and City Councilman Donovan Richards, said the Rockaways have experienced record job growth and business sales over the last five years.
By Forum Staff
The Rockaways is on the rise, according to a recently released report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli that details how the peninsula has experienced record job growth and business sales since Superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012.
“Five years later, the population has recovered, employment has set a new record and sales at local businesses have reached record levels. The boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean, which was destroyed during the storm, has been rebuilt and attracts millions of visitors annually,” DiNapoli and Deputy Comptroller Ken Bleiwas wrote in “An Economic Snapshot of the Rockaways.”
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said, “When Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaways, I vowed to do everything in my power to help those communities rebuild. Nearly six years later, the peninsula has made a remarkable recovery. For decades, the residents of Rockaway were underrepresented and lacked a voice at City Hall, but today – our future is brighter than ever before. Historic investments have been on every corner of the peninsula, allowing this community to thrive. While there is still work to be done, our progress and resiliency is inspiring.”
Findings of DiNapoli’s eight-page analysis include:
Private sector employment declined by 11 percent between 2011 and 2013, but recovered quickly, setting a new record of 14,900 jobs in 2016, 400 more jobs than the prior record in 2011. Job growth remained strong during the first half of 2017, rising by 4.6 percent (twice the citywide rate).
Health care was the largest employer in the Rockaways, accounting for 39 percent of all private sector jobs. More than half of the jobs gained between 2013 and 2016 were concentrated in health care, restaurants and bars, and personal services (e.g., hair and nail salons).
Business sales dipped in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, but reached $149 million in 2016, the highest level ever and exceeding the pre-storm level by 35 percent. In 2016, there were 1,215 businesses in the Rockaways, 11 percent more than before Sandy. Most businesses are small (81 percent had fewer than 10 employees; two-thirds had fewer than five employees).
The Rockaways is made up of 10 communities, each with their own economic and social identity, the comptroller noted in the report. Overall population growth was the second-fastest among the city’s 55 U.S. Census-defined neighborhoods between 2000 and 2012, rising by 20 percent (five-times faster than the citywide rate), to reach a record 128,400. While the population fell by 16 percent in the two years following Sandy, it has nearly recovered, reaching 127,400 in 2016.
Transportation is still a major issue for residents because 90 percent work outside of the Rockaways and face the longest commute among the 55 neighborhoods in the city (averaging 52 minutes). The new NYC Ferry service and Select Bus route were added, but subway service remains unreliable. The toll on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge (New York City’s only intra-borough toll bridge) places a unique burden on residents and businesses because it makes it more expensive for visitors to enter the Rockaways.
Another community concern is limited access to health care facilities after the Peninsula Hospital Center closed in 2012. St. John’s Episcopal Hospital is now the only full-service acute care hospital in the area. Emergency room visits at St. John’s increased by 40 percent between 2011 and 2015, DiNapoli noted.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said the resurgence of the Rockaways truly reflects “the dedication and resiliency of the people. Residents are increasingly active in communities throughout the peninsula and some businesses are growing at levels higher than before the storm, but more still needs to be done. Too many homeowners are having difficulties with the rebuilding process, and transportation to and from the peninsula can be arduous for residents. Even with these hardships, the future for the Rockaways is a bright one, and even brighter if we work together. I look forward to working with all to make sure the needs of Rockaway residents are met.”
DiNapoli also pointed out that while the population has nearly returned to the pre-storm level, too many homeowners are still in the process of rebuilding, and the peninsula remains vulnerable to flooding.
“Though we might still have some challenges, lack of transit options and unnecessary tolls, the Rockaway Peninsula is like none other in the world. I was raised here and I’m raising my family here,” said Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Howard Beach). “We love the vibrant diversity in our community that draws new people here. That’s why this community is growing; why people who came to rebuild after Sandy are staying for the long haul.”