New York Wears Digital Heart on Its Sleeve, Talks Up Tech Job Growth

4/8/14Follow @jpruth

This spring, New York seems to want to prove it is a not-so-secret garden for technology.

A study released last week paints a picture of a city with a chance to grow more rapidly—if it works harder at embracing technology.

Several organizations—Google, the New York Tech Meetup, the Association for a Better New York, Citi, and HR&A Advisors— with skin in the game commissioned the analysis of the city’s tech ecosystem. The study states that the local technology scene employs 291,000 people and provides $50 billion in annual compensation.

To put the numbers in perspective, the study asserts that Silicon Valley, which includes San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, has some 347,000 tech jobs in its tech ecosystem. San Francisco, which includes San Francisco County, has 79,000 tech jobs, according to the study.

The report also shows that technology is spreading into many aspects of the economy. For instance, financial institutions such as Citi employ Web developers. Meanwhile, online marketplace Etsy in Brooklyn employs sales representatives. Some 150,000 of the city’s technology jobs are with non-tech companies. Furthermore, the study asserts New York’s tech sector indirectly created another 250,000 jobs here. The city gets its slice of the action, the study says, with more than $5.6 billion in annual tax revenue generated by the local tech scene.

The time has come, says Jessica Lawrence, executive director of the New York Tech Meetup (NYTM), to regard technology in New York as part of an ecosystem rather than an independent pillar. This evolution can be seen among the audience at the monthly NYTM gatherings, she says, where developers from companies such as Hertz turn up. “You don’t necessarily think of Hertz as a tech company, they’re a car rental company,” Lawrence says. “We’re seeing more tech jobs in non-tech companies.”

The study is one of several recent reports that seek to illustrate the way technology has spread its roots across New York. As large companies add more tech jobs to their ranks, alongside startups that innovate from scratch, they strengthen the tech ecosystem, Lawrence says.

In order for more New Yorkers to be part of the still-flowering innovation scene, she says, education needs to make technology literacy more integral. Some local education startups, such as Skillcrush, already offer training in digital skills for people outside the tech scene.

“We need to support such programs and make sure more exist,” Lawrence says. She would like to see tech training woven more thoroughly into full education systems. “Computer science and technology literacy are not well integrated,” she says. “There’s not great curriculum being provided to kids, especially at a young age.”

The study supports the notion that seeking jobs in technology is not just for people with advanced education. By its assessment, 44 percent of the jobs in the city’s overall tech ecosystem do not require a bachelor’s degree. Lawrence says NYTM wants to use the results of the study to help drive policy discussions on more efforts in education as well as looking at real estate, infrastructure, and other needs for the innovation scene. That includes access to broadband connectivity for the entire community, not just businesses, to thrive.

The results of the study, Lawrence says, may also carry weight with people beyond New York who are looking for a place to plug into a technology scene. The study says the city’s tech ecosystem added 45,000 jobs, an 18 percent increase, from 2003 to 2013. That outpaced the overall national job growth rate of 4 percent for the same period.

The depth of the financial, retail, fashion, advertising, publishing, and healthcare industries here, Lawrence says, has helped the tech ecosystem grow. Other cities may likewise see technology cross-pollinating with their local industries, she says, and that needs to become part of workforce development. “Tech is no longer something we can pigeonhole into one silo,” Lawrence says. “It is very clear now that everyone needs to be technologically literate.”

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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