If you were in New York City on Wednesday morning, you might have been on your way to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, shopping at Macy’s or just enjoying a coffee at one of the many Starbucks. Or, like me, you might have had the true delight of having breakfast at the 2015 Age Smart Employer Awards, with the indefatigable and charismatic Ruth Finkelstein presiding.
Eight years after the launch of the Age-Friendly program in New York, we now have the full engagement of businesses in the city thanks to a joint initiative of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, the New York Academy of Medicine, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which provided the funding.
New York City is home to corporations from BlackRock to Pfizer that are among the global leaders helping to create healthier and more active aging for the one billion of us over age 60. But on Wednesday you would have been inspired not by Larry Fink or Ian Read, CEOs of these global institutions, but by people like Jay Parker, a third generation deli owner from Queens, who, upon receiving the award, said, “I don’t see the fuss [about employing older New Yorkers] … it’s just smart!” The deli’s retention of older employees through nimble restructuring and reassigning jobs keeps the restaurant competitive and successful. And the deli’s retirement savings plan, unusual in the food industry, helps keep employees with them as they age.
Attendees came from across the five boroughs to celebrate New York’s aging population in ways that are natural because it’s just good business. For example, Amy’s Bread operates three retail cafes in Manhattan, distributes to over 250 wholesale customers and operates a mentoring program in which its older workers train its younger ones. Putting older and younger workers together is just part of their culture as they deliver great products for New Yorkers. No big deal -- or is it?
The theme at the meeting was clear: Successful businesses in today’s economy can be successful only if they are open and flexible for all employees, including older workers. As Scott Stringer, New York City Controller, said at the breakfast, “flexible [work] is the new way to grow [our] New York economy.” Stringer was reflecting the reality of a city where older adults outnumber school-age children; where in just over 10 years 20 percent of the city will be over age 60; and where there is a huge and growing economic dividend in the market aimed at older citizens. Stringer let us know that we are virtually ageless if we have our health, a condition which is all the more likely if we keep active, engaged and working.
What a great way to start the morning!