NEW YORK — City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a Democratic candidate for New York mayor, said he would consider more zoning and tax incentives to retain garment-manufacturing jobs if he is elected.
Miller, who on Thursday night helped to mark the 20th anniversary of the Garment Industry Development Corp. at the Westside Loft in Manhattan, said in an interview he opposed pressure by Garment District landlords to lift the special zoning restriction that requires half the space in side-street buildings in the district to be set aside for industrial use.
“I’m very much for preserving what we have and expanding it, not weakening it,” he said.
Although industry executives said Miller has offered few new proposals for retaining industry jobs during his council tenure, he has played a crucial role in recent years in securing city funding that represents about one-third of GIDC’s annual $1.5 million budget.
The council has put up $1.5 million to help launch the GIDC’s New York Fashion Space project, which aims to build an incubator building to encourage new designers and apparel companies to start up, said Sarah Crean, GIDC’s executive director.
“The apparel industry is precisely the kind of industry that we need to preserve and expand in this city, because it provides entry-level jobs with decent wages that give people an opportunity to provide for their families and also emphasizes the creativity and the excitement that makes New Yorkers special,’’ Miller said during a speech to the organization. “It’s important for a mayor and a leader of our city to promote the notion that manufacturing, in particular the garment industry, is not dead in this city. In fact, the job losses have really leveled off, and there’s an opportunity to turn it around.”
New York’s apparel manufacturers last year employed 31,700 workers, a 6.5 percent decline from 33,900 at the end of 2003 and one-third of the 90,300 workers the industry employed in 1990, according to state Department of Labor figures.
Miller praised the work of the GIDC, which is sponsored by the city government, the UNITE-HERE union and representatives of the industry, and works on programs to retain industrial jobs and train workers.
Some of the 300 industry executives, union officials and real estate executives who turned out for the event said the base of primarily high-end apparel manufacturing remaining in the city has a compelling reason to be here.
Michael Groveman, chief executive officer of Bill Blass Ltd., said his company still makes all of its woven designer garments in New York, though knits are now produced elsewhere.
“It’s very important to have the ability to walk down the block and check up on things,” he said, noting that much of his company’s apparel is high-end, one-of-a-kind items.
John Lam, chairman of Lam’s Group, a Chinatown contractor, said his workforce has dropped to 700 from its peak of 3,000. But he said as long as major designers maintain a presence in the city, there will be demand for local contractors.