Doing Business In Brooklyn: Carlo Scissura Interviewed


Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Carlo A. Scissura has been an advocate for the borough his entire career. A lifelong resident, he was born and raised in Bensonhurst, and is an attorney and a former small business owner.

Prior to joining the Chamber, Carlo served both as Chief of Staff and General Counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz for nearly five years. During his tenure, he restructured operations at Borough Hall and served as senior advisor to the Borough President. He focused on driving the Borough’s economic development agenda, working closely with the Mayor’s Office, Council, and Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and served on the Boards of EDC, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and Brooklyn Public Library.

Be‎fore joining the Borough President’s Office, Carlo  served on the staffs of State Senator Vincent Gentile and Assemblyman Peter Abbate. He has headed the 2,100-member Chamber since 2012 and currently lives in Dyker Heights. The following interview took place in the conference room of the Chamber offices on Adams Street.

KCP: Ok. Let’s start with what are your three top initiatives for the Chamber to focus on?

Carlo Scissura: Continuing to ensure the Brooklyn brand is being felt by everybody. That is initiative Number one; whether it’s a tourist coming in, a resident, or a business person. How do we make sure that everything cool about Brooklyn is being felt by businesses in East New York and Central Brooklyn, Bensonhurst and businesses in Sheepshead Bay, and not just in the cool parts of Brooklyn. So that’s really important to me.

Helping manufacturers grow and stay in Brooklyn that would be number two. That’s an important industry that has potential in the borough and we have to keep it moving, and I think the third thing is the whole tourism sector. How do we make sure the whole tourism business hits other parts of Brooklyn and that tourists are not just walking over the bridge or going to one of the big culturals in Brooklyn, but going to the ethnic communities and smaller neighborhoods. So that’s my top three.

So what’s your strategy for getting people to these other neighborhoods?

It’s just continued door to door knocking. Our Chamber on the Go initiative is very helpful to that because it allows us to just travel from neighborhood to neighborhood. We bring our services to communities that don’t have services. Explore Brooklyn, which is our tourism website has gotten great reviews and we continue to expand on that. And then with over 2,000 members, how do we coalesce that huge membership list and make sure that they’re sending customers out there?

I’ve read lately the Chamber partnered up with Airbnb. How is that helping the Chamber expand their reach?

With Airbnb we’ve gotten compliments on it and I’ve gotten people who yelled at me on it, which is fine I’ve been yelled at before. But the whole thing about Airbnb is how do you get people that are staying at an Airbnb host’s house or apartment in Bed-Stuy for example, how do we make sure those visitors are spending their money in Bed-Stuy and not just going downtown or to Manhattan.

I run a business organization. Whatever we can do to get businesses into Brooklyn. Eric (Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams) and I agree on these things, which I think is great. We bring it on Airbnb, Uber and Lyft – what do we call them, ‘disruptive technologies.’ And there’s room for everybody. We have 2.6 million people that live here. There’s room for everybody. There’s enough husiness to go around.

And we entered into a Google partnership last year to help businesses in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods get onto Facebook and Google maps , etcetera, and that’s been very successful.

Where does government and business intersect?

Everywhere. We are so involved in ULURPs for example. As developers and Chamber members want to grow their building we’re part of it. So on land use stuff we’re part of it. We run and manage the Business Solutions Center for SBS (The city’s Department of Small Business Services). There’s a lot of work there for financing and loans , etcetera, etcetera and we do all that. We do lobbying trips to Albany and DC every year, so we’re putting out a legislative agenda both federally and statewide is also critical. And we talk about issues all the time. Me and my staff are at city council meetings giving testimony regularly. We track bills.  There’s a whole bunch of things.

When people think of a Chamber of Commerce they think membership comprised of for-profit businesses, but there’s also in Brooklyn a large non-profit business sector. Can you talk a little about that?

Every spring we run a non-profit business summit, because in Brooklyn some of the biggest employers are hospitals and education, etcetera. The non-profit sector, I would venture to say is the number one industry in Brooklyn because if you loop in culturals, hospitals higher education and everything it’s the largest sector of employment.

Say you had a crystal Ball. Where do you see businesses heading in Brooklyn?

Growing. Really growing. A lot of new industries. I think a better question is what are the challenges?

Ok. What are the challenges?

I’d love to see larger manufacturer spaces at cheaper prices so if you’re a smaller manufacturer and you’re growing in Brooklyn and want to stay in Brooklyn, what can we do to keep you here? Cause its cheaper to go upstate or to Jersey to be honest. So what can we do to keep them here? Would I love to see a major corporations such as GE come to Brooklyn instead of somewhere else? Absolutely. So we’ll see.

One last question. With a lot more mom and pop businesses losing their foothold in the city there is talk about legislating some kind of commercial rent control. What’s your view on that?

I have not put this out to the membership so I’ll tell you this. Carlo personally does not support commercial rent control. I don’t even think its constitutional to say to a landlord that you own this and you can only charge this. I don’t know how you do it. It would open up too many issues. I do think though that we will face an exodus of mom and pop businesses so I would love to see how we can work with landlords and businesses to come to a middle ground so that a business that’s been there is not getting a 50 or 60 percent uptick in rent after their lease is out. We don’t want to see small businesses leave Brooklyn. So there’s got to be some sort of in between. I’m not sure rent regulation is the way to go.