As businesses in downtown Albany struggle, city looks to future of working from home

13 Investigates continues its look at the future of business in downtown Albany.

On Wednesday, 13 Investigates told the story of an Albany man whose three-generation family business, Emil’s Newsroom Convenience Store, may fall victim to the disappearance of the downtown workforce.

The COVID-related mass exodus of government employees and private sector workers and the work-from-home trend has dealt a severe blow to businesses in downtown Albany and town centers across the United States

City officials say they don’t know what the future of downtown Albany businesses will look like.

“I think the jury is still out,” said Mayor Kathy Sheehan (D – Albany).

Many lights are out in office buildings in downtown Albany. Mayor Sheehan admits she still doesn’t know how downtown Albany will emerge.

“We were looking at potentially doing a marketing campaign for our downtown office spaces, and we kind of took a step back from that to say, maybe we better invest in a study around , what is the future of this office space, who is going to occupy it and what is the future of work,” she said.

As for the full occupation of the city center and whether the city hopes to return to it, the mayor said: “I think we really have to give more time.”

“So I expect the pendulum to keep swinging back in person, but where that pendulum stops I think is still a big unknown,” she said.

Mayor Sheehan acknowledges the frustration of businesses wanting to see things happen faster, with more certainty. But she says it’s also a tough time for the city, because there’s no crystal ball.

“It’s really important that we understand what we should expect in five and 10 years, so that we can make investments now to prevent buildings from sitting empty for long periods of time,” Sheehan said, noting how how difficult it is to plan. for the future right now.

She said state employees might have to report to the office to some degree after Labor Day, but she still didn’t know if that would happen.

Timothy Harper of Skidmore College says that right now private companies and the state have no choice but to be flexible and allow working from home.

“What’s happening is that employees have a lot more influence than they’ve had in recent years, and so that means they have more power to make decisions about their jobs,” he said. said Harper, associate professor of business and management.

He explained that downtown businesses are feeling the effects of a tight labor market and a labor shortage.

“Right now, employees have options. I think the balance will really be challenged when employers say come back in person,” he said.

“Do you think we are still in this pandemic exit phase where we do not yet know [whether workers will come back]13 Inquiry Stella Porter asked.

“I think it will be difficult for us to go back. So I think it’s going to be a mix,” Harper said.

Harper says Albany is not alone. Town centers across the country will need to pivot, start offering good quality coworking space and internet where people will want to linger and get their work done.

“Businesses, especially downtown businesses, have to say, ‘Is there a way for us to attract people we’ve never attracted?’ “, he explained.

“Remember when we had the pandemic and most cities and towns allowed restaurants to expand their outdoor spaces using sidewalks? So it was a great innovation. Someone woke up and said, “hey, we can increase our income by using the sidewalk and having this outdoor venue,” and so that’s the kind of thinking that needs to happen.

Ironically, he says, people who work from home crave time with others while they work.

“People crave social interaction, don’t they? When they’re not in the workplace, they still want that social interaction. So can we build this social interaction combined with technology that produces productivity? Harper said.

Mayor Sheehan says the city has money it can use to help companies adjust their models. Part of that could come from the $1.5 million still available in pandemic recovery funds.

Maria D. Ervin