Jonnel Doris (293121)
Credit: NYC Department of Small Business Services

There are more than 220,000 small businesses in New York City, and it’s no surprise they’re taking a direct hit as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a hold on the economy.

As business owners seek help on how to bounce back, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced the appointment of Jonnel Doris to serve as the commissioner of the city’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS). Doris previously served as senior advisor and director of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises (M/WBEs). He also worked as Chief Diversity Officer in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Storm Recovery

Doris will go before the City Council on Wednesday to testify during the Executive Budget Hearing.

“I am honored to accept this appointment and thank the mayor for his support and leadership on the City’s M/WBE Program,” Doris said when de Blasio announced his appointment on May 11. “I am also very proud of the accomplishments of the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs and the 9,000 NYC M/WBEs themselves. Along with the support of M/WBE advocates we have exceeded all of our major goals ahead of schedule and look forward to the continued success under the leadership of this administration.”

Doris takes over as commissioner for SBS from Gregg Bishop, who was recently appointed as senior advisor for Small Business COVID-19 Recovery.

“Small businesses are the core of New York City’s economy,” said de Blasio. “Gregg and Jonnel will help ensure that we put small businesses at the center of our recovery efforts, because when our small businesses come back stronger, our communities and neighborhoods will come back stronger too.”

In a recent interview​, Doris said that getting small businesses reopened won’t be easy, but with the various resources available and the help of community partners, SBS can reach its goal of saving many neighborhood restaurants, mom and pop shops, and other small businesses.

“I’ve been doing this work for some time, but just in a different capacity,” he said. “This is just a continuation of the work I’ve been doing for the last decade and I’m excited about another opportunity to help small businesses in our city.”

Melba Wilson, the owner of Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem, said Doris’ experience speaks for itself and he’s poised to get the city’s small businesses open again.

“Mr. Doris is experienced and uniquely qualified to lead SBS,” Wilson said. “His tenure at the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and as Special Advisory to the Mayor for MWBE initiatives will contribute to his continued success. Mr. Doris has proven his ability to focus on solutions and as a small business owner, I look forward to working with Mr. Doris as we rebuild the economy especially in minority communities throughout New York City”.

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation President and CEO Colvin Grannum told the AmNews that all efforts must be made to promote economic equity across all sectors of business and employment as the city reopens and that Doris is the right person to be part of the city’s emergence from the COVID-19 crisis.

“Mayor de Blasio’s appointment of Jonnell Doris as Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services demonstrates a renewal of the City’s commitment to advance economic equity,” Grannum said. “Commissioner Doris is a proven champion of small businesses generally, and women and minority-owned businesses in particular. We also anticipate that Commissioner Doris will ensure that SBS leads city-wide efforts to ensure that workers and job seekers from minority communities like Central Brooklyn are reintegrated into the City’s recovery as employers reconstitute their operations.”

Making sure small businesses get their share of federal dollars earmarked to keep them open is a priority for SBS. Earlier this month, the U.S. Small Business Administration released $500 billion in loans for small businesses across the country for the Paycheck Protection Program. SBS advocated that the loan money go to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) so small business owners would not have to go to banks.

“Our CDFIs have been working day in and day out with micro and small community businesses to help them grow and thrive,” said Doris. “Banks were taking a specific type of customer. All of that changed when we introduced CDFIs in the picture. CDFIs have a vested interest in reaching the businesses that we are concerned about.”

SBS also advocated for adjustments to conditions for federal loans that cater to the specific needs of New York City. Adjustments include increasing the cap that loan money can be used for overhead expenses, like rent and utilities, from 25% to 50% and expanding the eight-week requirement to rehire employees.

Congress recently passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. If passed by the U.S. Senate, CDFIs would receive more funding for loans from the HEROES Act.

CDFIs and PPP aren’t the only places where business owners can get loans. SBS has over 40 lenders and several philanthropic resources they work with.

“We know what the requirements are and we match the businesses to where those resources are,” Doris said.

COVID-19 has led to mass closures of small businesses and some have been forced to permanently close. Doris wants business owners to know that the city is offering help to those who need to navigate the various economic support that’s available.

“Our message to small businesses who are looking to get back on track is that we hear you,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to understand, as we develop our program for recovery and as the city listens to our health care providers, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can not have a boomerang effect.”

Steps are already being taken for small businesses to not only reopen safely but also do business in a post-coronavirus society. While the city has yet to give specific dates on when the city will reopen, work is already underway to make sure small businesses are ready.

De Blasio recently assembled the Small Business Sector Advisory Council, which includes over 30 small business owners and experts. The Council is one of the four Advisory Councils aimed at restarting the city’s economy.

SBS has been conducting webinar training for technical assistance and support for small businesses to learn the best practices on staying afloat and how to operate in the future.

“Mayor de Blasio wants to save as many businesses as possible and make sure that we can come back and get back to normal over time,” Doris said. “We have to make sure our small businesses can thrive and grow and reach their full potential. That’s our mission at SBS and that’s what I intend to do.”