Partnership for New York City Wants Urban Tech Campuses Across City

5/1/13Follow @jpruth

With the recent release of the NYC Jobs Blueprint, the Partnership for New York City makes it pretty clear it wants the next mayor to embrace the innovation community. In addition to laying out several policy proposals, the Partnership also offered $20 million for the city’s next administration to put towards the establishment of urban technology campuses in every borough. As the Michael Bloomberg-era in city hall draws towards its inevitable end this year, more work remains ahead for New York to cement its place among the nation’s technology hubs.

Kathryn Wylde, CEO and president of the Partnership, says the funding commitment by her organization is a way to encourage the next mayor to maintain the city’s momentum in innovation. “We’re prepared to step up to address what the tech community and creative industries have told us they need,” she says. “That community is looking for flexible space at affordable costs where they can grow a business in New York City without having to worry about signing a 10-year lease or having to move and default on a lease.”

New York’s identity, she says, skews heavily in favor of the corporate world and Wall Street. The local innovation and creative startup community, Wylde says, which includes fashion, new manufacturing, and 3-D printing, wants to attract talent here. “As we reach the end of the Bloomberg mayoralty,” she says, “there’s a lot of concern about whether the trajectory of the city will continue to move in the direction of a more entrepreneurial, new economy or slide back.”

Part of the challenge, says Wylde, is competing with short-term thinking that often goes into political campaigns. “Mike Bloomberg was the first businessman mayor [here] in over 100 years,” she says.

The blueprint cites current issues such as a mismatch between the job market and the skills of people in New York looking for work. Compounding the city’s dilemma are high costs that push middle income households out of New York. Naturally increasing jobs is part of the blueprint, as well as improving education and training workers. More connectivity and accessibility in the city along with affordable and safe living space are also on the list.

The idea for the urban tech campuses, which would offer space for companies as well as safe and affordable housing, came from entrepreneurs, Wylde says. Creating such highly visible places across the five boroughs, she says, would show that New York has a long-term commitment to the entrepreneurial culture and the growth needs of the community. Suggested locations for these campuses include Long Island City opposite the Cornell-Technion engineering campus being built on Roosevelt Island and the downtown Brooklyn tech triangle.

The Partnership wants to see the mayoral candidates focus on the issues that are important to the innovation and creative sectors in the city. “We’ve really got to ramp up job creation,” Wylde says. “New York is only 3 percent of the national tech industry in terms of economic output. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

She sees opportunities for the city to increase its presence in technology by building on its legacy industries such as the financial sector, health, and retail. That diversity could help New York compete, Wylde says, with other hubs that focus more strictly on technology.

Though the city has offered some incentives to attract startups, she believes more must be done to nurture the rise of robust companies. “We are not competing successfully with Silicon Valley and Austin when it comes to growing companies and scaling up here,” she says. “We’ve had no net increase over the last decade in the city with the number of companies with more than 50 employees.”

The blueprint, pulled together from eight months of research and interviews with business leaders and other stakeholders, points out macro areas the Partnership hopes to see the next administration tackle. This follows a study released in March by the Partnership and risk management services company Aon about the tech talent crunch in New York.

If action is not taken to sustain growth among startups, Wylde says, the city risks losing these companies and jobs. The Partnership is also working to get the entrepreneurial community more politically active. “All these initiatives take a long-term vision,” she says. “They are not immediate solutions to top-of-mind problems. They are really about investing in the future.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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