a diverse business
By Jim Roberts
“Diversity” isn’t a clever marketing slogan in the Peekskill-Cortlandt business community. It’s the past, the present – and the future – of the region’s economy. The energy and entrepreneurship that a vibrant, diverse community generates draws its strength from the wide variety of people who bring their cultures and unique talents.
“Diversity is definitely a strength for our business community,” said Peekskill Mayor Vivian McKenzie. “We have all these diverse businesses here - it’s just a matter of giving them a face in a city. “As we move forward, and new businesses are created, all of us – the Business Improvement District, the Chamber, City Hall and our economic development specialist - are devoted to hitting the pavement, knocking on doors, getting everyone involved and working together.”
In the changing economy of the 2020s, new challenges are emerging and opportunities will arise for communities that can draw on the talents of a cross-section of people from all backgrounds. “ HVGCC’s Board of Directors noted that “Business forms the intersection where everyone from all walks of life and cultures meet to earn a living for their families and find fulfilling work. Serving our members, the community at large and bringing everyone to the table.”
Diversity is the main component of Peekskill today. The population breaks down to 43.9% Hispanic, 30.4% White, 18.5% African-American, and the balance other races. Peekskill’s total population grew by 1,848 to 25,431 over ten years according to the 2020 census, a rate of 7.8%. All the growth came from the increase in the Hispanic population. In Cortlandt, the shift in demographics is even more dramatic, while the town’s population grew by 2% in the ten-year period to 31,916, the Hispanic population increased by 66.9% to 6,753 in 2020 from 4,406 in 2010. The growth of the Hispanic population in the Peekskill-Cortlandt area is a driving economic force.
The Peekskill NAACP website contains links to many of the businesses that are owned and operated by African Americans in Peekskill. “As the president of the NAACP of Peekskill, I find we have a small city with a rich diversity,” said Valerie Eaton. “But when we talk about trying to get more businesses of color being included and having a seat at the table, it’s difficult. Some people, I think, have lost hope. On the other side of the coin, nationally, I hear more talk about it, so hopefully action will follow”, Eaton said.
One goal of HVGCC and Councilman Fernandez is to help strengthen the bonds among the different communities. “Right now we do have two different business communities,” Fernandez said. “One of the first barriers is the language, it’s communication. Some of the Hispanic business owners in the community come here to work hard, and they open a business.” They don’t necessarily see the value of joining an organizations like the Chamber, and may think I’m running a business to make a profit and how will this help me? “We need to evaluate how we are welcoming these businesses to the City, the Chamber or other organizations”, Fernandez said.
The next generation of area residents in the schools now reflect the diversity of the Peekskill-Cortlandt region. Education of our diverse student population is a key to the future of business in the Peekskill-Cortlandt region. “Peekskill will continue to be a very diverse community,” Mayor McKenzie said. “We now see some of the children who went off to college coming back to the community and becoming our doctors, our lawyers and business owners. I think you’ll see a real growth of young professionals from the Hispanic community.”