by Denise Purcell

Photo Credit: Edward Reed;

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) hosted the first city-sponsored food manufacturers business expo and networking event on October 24, to connect immigrant entrepreneurs with brokers, buyers and wholesalers. The expo, held at Baruch College’s Newman Conference Center, also marked the launch of a competition for foreign-born entrepreneurs to have a chance to participate in the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s (NASFT) 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.

More than 100 New York City–based food manufacturers attended the expo, which included a trade show of about 20 table-top exhibitors; networking opportunities with buyers, distributors, suppliers and industry experts; and six technical-assistance workshops including Local Sourcing, Energize Your Food/Beverage Business with Funding Today, and How to Prepare for a Trade Show.

With more than 19,000 New Yorkers working in more than 900 food-manufacturing firms, about 70 percent of those working within the industry are foreign-born. “When immigrants come to New York City, they enrich our culture and our communities—but they also build our economy,” Mayor Bloomberg said at the event. “They are the reason that New York has a stronger economy than many cities. Food manufacturing is a growing sector, and today’s expo will further strengthen the connections between the established industry and new start-ups.”

NYC Economic Development Corportation |  Photo Credit: Edward ReedThis expo is the result of both the mayor’s immigrant-entrepreneur initiatives and Speaker Quinn’s FoodWorks program, which supports the city’s food manufacturers. “FoodWorks is a comprehensive look at New York’s food system, and it highlights the importance of food manufacturing in creating jobs and economic growth,” Speaker Quinn said. As part of FoodWorks, the city has worked with agencies to ensure that more food and farm produce are purchased locally. The education system, for example, has repurposed $5 million of its budget to purchase local foods, Speaker Quinn noted.

“This is the first in a series of events the Council is sponsoring that aims to help food-related companies expand. It’s about connecting the dots, from production all the way to retail, in order to help grow the food economy,” she continued.

Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn were joined by presenters Ron Tanner, NASFT vice president, communications, education, government and industry relations, who offered details on the Fancy Food Shows; Dianne Keeler Bruce, president and owner of DKB Sales & Marketing Inc., who discussed the role of brokers in helping food companies to grow; and Lowell Hawthorne, president and CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill, a successful minority-owned food producer with more than 120 outlets in nine states.

NYCEDC president Seth W. Pinsky announced details of the Summer Fancy Food Show competition, which is open to New York City–based immigrant food manufacturers. Four companies will win a booth sponsored by NYCEDC at the Summer Show and will also receive promotional, marketing and technical services to help them refine their display and business plan. Pinsky noted that the competition is planned to be an annual event.

NYCEDC Event | Photo Credit: Edward ReedThe competition is open to expo participants, and to all other New York City immigrant food manufacturers, via an application that will be available on the NYCEDC website. Winners will be determined by a judging panel of representatives from NYCEDC, the City Council, NASFT, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation, Karp Resources and Queens Economic Development Corporation.

Each business will be evaluated on its growth potential, ability to expand its market and suitability for the Summer Fancy Food Show. Applications will be pre-screened by NYCEDC and presented to NASFT for review to ensure eligibility for membership, a requirement for exhibiting. The four winners will be announced in early 2012; for each, NYCEDC will fund and coordinate the design, marketing and promotion of the booth, travel costs to the capitol, and NASFT 2012 member dues.

“Through innovative programs such as the competition being launched today, we are further demonstrating our commitment to this important sector by creating opportunities that will allow small food manufacturers to grow their businesses,” Pinsky said.

To coincide with the expo—which was held on the first annual Food Day, an event devoted to awareness, appreciation and unified action to push for healthy, affordable food produced humanely and sustainably—Mayor Bloomberg announced that the city had launched a new food page on, designed to improve healthful-food access and awareness and improve food system sustainability and infrastructure.

New York City has taken steps over the past year to support and grow its food-manufacturing industry. Two kitchen incubators, the Entrepreneur Space in Long Island City and the Hot Bread Kitchen–operated facility at La Marqueta, were launched in 2011, providing more than 8,000 square feet of low-cost commercial kitchen space where small food manufacturers can start to grow their businesses.

The food-manufacturer business expo is one of three pilot initiatives announced last March by Mayor Bloomberg to support immigrant-owned companies to start, operate and expand their businesses. The other initiatives include a new series of free NYC Business Solutions courses in Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Russian and Haitian Creole, and Competition THRIVE, a business-plan competition designed to address the challenges faced by immigrant entrepreneurs. The initiatives were the result of a year-long series of roundtables with community groups and are part of the city’s agenda to support immigrant communities to grow and create jobs.—Denise Purcell

All photos sourced from Photo Credit: Edward Reed