In New York, Tech's Rising Tide Raises All Boats

After Silicon Valley, few cities know the benefits of the tech boom better than New York. "Silicon Alley" is now home to hundreds of tech startups, helping to diversify an economy that for many years was undeniably reliant on Wall Street's might.
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After Silicon Valley, few cities know the benefits of the tech boom better than New York. "Silicon Alley" is now home to hundreds of tech startups, helping to diversify an economy that for many years was undeniably reliant on Wall Street's might. In fact, NYC recently eclipsed Boston as the nation's number two hub for Internet and mobile technologies, with a 29 percent increase in area IT jobs, according to the Center for an Urban Future.

This embrace of tech is no accident. Public and private initiatives alike have encouraged tech growth over the last several years, including WiredNYC (which will grant broadband infrastructure to hundreds of buildings over the next two years) and Cornell's plans, in partnership with Technion (Israel's MIT equivalent), to develop a high-tech campus on Roosevelt Island. This increase in jobs, private financing and public tech infrastructure has played a major role in helping decrease the city's unemployment rate, from 10.4 percent in January 2010 to 8.8 percent in 2012.

For example, the app economy (where companies form to create applications for Apple, Android and Facebook, among other platforms) alone has created an estimated 466,000 jobs. Some of these jobs are part-time gigs for developers looking to supplement their income, and some lead to jackpots (like Ethan Nicholas' "iShoot" app, which earned him more than $1 million in revenue from the iTunes store).

New York City lawmakers know that in order for this local tech boom to continue, they must prepare the city and its people to handle the increased needs of the industry. In an extensive report compiled by Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, a number of massive public works projects were suggested as a means to "foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem and create a pipeline of jobs for working families."

Indeed, one important litmus test for tech as an industry is whether it can support more than just the best educated and financed members of American society. Currently, there is a significant skills gap -- many Americans lack the qualifications required for tech jobs of today and tomorrow. But Stringer's report outlines several approaches that the city can take to spread the wealth, including:

  • Expand computer science curriculum -- covering computer technology, marketing, financial literacy and business -- for NYC public schools.

  • Create a municipal fiber network to increase connectivity around the city.
  • Streamline the Department of Buildings in order to help entrepreneurs get their permits and licenses faster.
  • Embrace crowdsourcing and micro-zoning to keep office and apartment buildings -- and thus, New York -- full of young, energetic entrepreneurs and innovators.
  • This dedication to making New York more tech-friendly doesn't just benefit technology entrepreneurs and aficionados. It will also serve the groundswell of supporting businesses that offer thousands of indirect jobs, including marketing agencies, accounting firms, support teams, lawyers who specialize in tech and many more. Also not included in the overall tech job numbers are the multitudes of freelancers -- developers, writers, etc. -- who often contribute to the genesis of great firms.

    One example of this is the Cutler Group, the public relations firm I founded that specializes in garnering press for tech startups. Many of our clients are based in New York. The Cutler Group has grown rapidly in the last two years, in part because more credence is now given to Silicon Alley-based companies (not to mention the firm's own reputation for results). We also take advantage of the city's fantastic public infrastructure, such as the transportation system and existing coworking office spaces. And if President Stringer's initiatives are adopted, more tech companies and ancillary businesses will be able to follow suit.

    As we can see, the tech boom in New York has, and will continue to have, a major effect on the area economy. From construction jobs to marketing firms and app builders themselves, everyone experiences a boost when an exciting and important industry like tech makes its mark on NYC. And as the city becomes even more tech-friendly, with a skilled tech citizenry to meet job demand, the recession will hopefully become a thing of the past.

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