For this edition of Ask the Expert, we spoke with Elizabeth Lusskin, Executive Vice President of Small Business and Technology Development for Empire State Development (ESD). Lusskin came to ESD following a long career in local and regional economic development, helping businesses grow and succeed. Now she is doing the same statewide.
What is your mission at ESD?
I have a portfolio with five main areas:
- Innovation and Technology (NYSTAR)
- The Life Science Initiative
- The New York Ventures Portfolio
- The Capital Access Portfolio
- The Entrepreneur Development Team
These are five different areas but there are ways in which they overlap. Part of what I’m doing is working to take advantage of those synergies. Then when we interact with a business through any one of these divisions, we’ll understand where we might be able to help them through other divisions and programs.
Tell us about your background and expertise.
When I got here back on June 1, 2022, someone joked that “It’s like we grew you in a lab!”
I had worked in and around neighborhood economic development and small business wearing a variety of different hats—in the nonprofit sector, city government, state government, etc. I also did a stint at NYU Poly, an engineering university, where my portfolio included all the entrepreneurship resources.
For about 8 ½ years before joining ESD, I was running two organizations in Long Island City: The Business Improvement District and the Long Island City Partnership, a Local Development Corporation (LDC) for the westernmost part of Queens. Through the LDC, we were doing direct assistance to small businesses in one of the most productive advanced manufacturing centers in the state. But Long Island City is also home to a number of big businesses, so I was really working across a variety of businesses with their own needs and challenges.
Based on your experience, what are two pieces of advice for businesses?
I’ve noticed that, particularly with manufacturers, even when they are at 100 people and millions in revenue, they often don’t have the administration and finance side of their business staffed as a function. The head of the organization is also the CFO. The problem is that when there are opportunities for funding or other programs no one is there to do the application, to get engaged, to prepare the financials. So, I would say creating infrastructure around the finance and admin side of the business will pay off in the ability to participate in a number of helpful opportunities as well as making you more resilient when challenges come along.
The other thing I would advise manufacturers is to think about adopting technology, robotics, etc., not just as a way to automate your existing processes but to make you flexible for new opportunities and new industries that are emerging.
What should we know about the New York State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI)?
We received an allocation of over $500 million under the federal American Rescue Plan. About three-fifths of that is for credit programs and the rest is for equity programs. The target of this funding is socially and economically disadvantaged individual-owned businesses and very small businesses, but all small businesses are eligible. So, especially as credit is tightening in the private markets, it may be that now is the time to consider some of these resources. There is a widget on the SSBCI website to help you find what is right for you.
Any final words?
The state has a lot to offer. While some challenges facing businesses are due to changing market forces and broader macroeconomic issues, the public sector has resources and we do want to help. It can be confusing. There are a variety of opportunities, tax credits, grants, technical assistance, venture capital, financing access and so on. I would talk to your local New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center first, but also NYSTAR has added “navigators” to work with companies and help direct them to the right resources. We have been doing cross-training to make sure that people in one area of ESD know what the other opportunities within the agency are.
So it is a great time to reach out! Bring us your challenge, and we will hopefully either be able to directly help you or connect you with partners who can.