The title of interim president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (BOEDC) demands the time and attention of someone willing to assess what kind of business the Bronx has as well as what it needs. While this may be a challenging role for some, Rob Walsh is more than willing to face any issues head-on.
Appointed to the position back on Oct. 26, 2022 by Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, Walsh has spent numerous years working with small businesses and helping them grow. For more than 12 years, Walsh was the commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services, appointed by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg in January 2002.
'It is an honor to have a committed and dedicated public servant like Rob Walsh join our BOEDC team,' said Gibson. 'As we work towards revitalizing The Bronx and executing our blueprint for the borough, it starts with ensuring our local businesses have the necessary tools to generate economic growth and stability to prosper in today's economy. I look forward to working with Mr. Walsh and the team at BOEDC to find creative ways to empower, highlight and recognize our small business community.' And Walsh is no stranger to the Bronx.
When he was commissioner of Small Business Services during the Bloomberg administration, he said he spent a lot of time in the Bronx creating a lot of business improvement districts, workforce programs and business solution centers.
'So it is a borough I love and I'm very familiar with,' he said.
Now tasked with helping to develop Bronx communities and bring more business to the borough, Walsh finds that one of the most exciting parts of the job is witnessing how many opportunities the Bronx offers for economic growth.
With four new Metro-North stations planned for 2027 as well as about a dozen colleges growing and expanding their campuses and more entrepreneurs exploring the waterfront, he finds that the Bronx is one of the fastest growing boroughs in NYC.
And while the northernmost borough offers many opportunities for businesses to grow, Walsh tells the Bronx Times that there is still plenty of work to be done 'in terms of getting capital access, loans and grants to small businesses, (and) mom and pop shops that need it the most.'
He has previously established business districts in the Bronx such as Fordham Road and 161st Street, and is interested in building out BOEDC's capacity to provide more capital access and low-interest loans to small businesses.
'I think that is something that was a signature at Small Business Services, we've built out our business service solution centers and I want to build on that track record,' he said.
Walsh, who graduated from Fordham University and serves as an on-air personality and host of 'Bottom Line for Small Business' on 1010 WINS, wants to ensure 'anchor institutions whether they are educational bedrocks like our colleges and universities or places like Montefiore can, will and are doing more in strengthening their surrounding communities.'
The Bronx, while it holds many opportunities for development, still faces many mixed feelings from residents concerning the influx of new businesses. Walsh told the Bronx Times not only can the borough benefit from businesses relocating to the Bronx, but that there are areas that can fit large and small businesses — pointing to the Kingsbridge Armory and Grand Concourse Post Office as opportune locations for new entrepreneurs looking to start creative businesses.
Another issue that the Bronx faces is unemployment, topping out at 25% during the height of the pandemic — the highest rate in the state. Those numbers have since come down, but unemployment in the Bronx (7.2% in November) remains New York's leader.
Walsh looks to counter this by local job creation and economic development. 'It's so important and it's one of the areas that we have to work hand in hand with the city and the state on workforce development opportunities,' he said.
He cites the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn as an example of economic development that created jobs for the surrounding neighborhoods.
'We have resources here, we have attractions here, we have small businesses, we have restaurants here, we have great parks here,' he said. 'Unfortunately, the perception in some people's eyes is that the Bronx isn't a safe place to be; that's nonsense.'
In his spare time Walsh also teaches at Columbia University as adjunct professor. Though academia has often been criticized for not doing a good enough job of teaching financial literacy, Walsh encourages students to take on activities outside of campus.
'Get involved, where you can have an impact, where you can make a difference, where you can do something that you can end up pointing to that will open your eyes perhaps to a new career or gain a new skill,' he said.
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