The surest path for New York City to thrive in tech is right in front of it, and Silicon Valley can't come close to matching it
- James Patchett is the president and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
- In this op-ed, he calls Amazon's decision to withdraw its plan to build a new Queens headquarters 'disappointing' for New Yorkers.
- The city has 'no choice' but to keep working to become the country's most dynamic innovation hub.
- New York needs to continue differentiating itself from Silicon Valley by leaning into its greatest asset: diversity.
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This past Valentine's Day, Amazon stunned New York City by announcing it was withdrawing its plan to build its new Queens headquarters. The company's 14-month long search for a new home, which spanned all of North America and attracted wall-to-wall media coverage, ended unceremoniously that morning when it announced it would take its 40,000 jobs elsewhere.
This loss for New Yorkers is disappointing. This was the single biggest job creation opportunity in New York State history, projected to deliver close to $30 billion in tax revenue over the next quarter century, fortify the city's economy, and given tens of thousands of people new pathways to the middle class. New Yorkers were excited about these career ladders; a Siena poll published two days before the company backed out showed that 58 percent of New York voters approved of Amazon's headquarters, with the margin even wider in communities of color.
With the dust settling from Amazon's abrupt change of plans, New York is now taking stock of the current economic state of play. We are reorienting ourselves and asking hard questions. Are we going to be a city where tech companies can successfully grow? Where innovations are born? Where prosperity can be shared across all economic strata and backgrounds?
The answers to all these questions have to be "yes."
New York has no choice but to keep working to become the country's most dynamic innovation hub. The way we will do this is by embracing growth, debunking rumors that thwart progress, and seizing the power of our diverse population to build a model inclusive economy.
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New York's successful Amazon bid proves the city's tech star is rising. Our unparalleled talent pool boasts of 2.3 million residents with a bachelor's degree or higher. We are a proud bastion of diversity and are home to 3.3 million immigrants, a population larger than Chicago's. And, after decades of fits and starts, we are ranked the number one tech city in the world. Moreover, the bid showed the city is committed to building a new commercial hub in Long Island City and that our leadership can execute bold ideas on seemingly impossible timelines.
But all this won't matter if innovation companies feel as though their growth will be stifled here. We as a city need to continue to support expansions that generate good-paying jobs, whether it's Google spending more than $1 billion to build a new campus on the Far West Side or Zola's headcount tripling since 2017.
This also means the majority of New Yorkers who support such expansions must stand up and speak out when there is a lack of honest dialogue about the facts, as was the case during the Amazon process. We continue to see the effects of the misinformation campaign today as people share ideas on how to spend the $3 billion in subsidies Amazon was slated to receive. This was the estimated discount on the $30 billion of new tax revenue the city and state stood to collect. The next time an unprecedented economic opportunity arises, we will work even harder to ensure every New Yorker understands the nuances of the opportunity.
Perhaps most importantly, New York needs to continue differentiating itself from Silicon Valley by leaning into our greatest asset: our diversity.
While the tech industry has been excoriated for its homogeneity, New York's ecosystem is doing far better than its peer cities. Nearly 50 percent of tech workers are foreign born and roughly 40 percent of industry jobs are held by women.
But we need to continue raising the bar. At a time when 44 percent of these roles don't require a college degree, there is no good reason why tech jobs shouldn't be widely accessible. Now more than ever, we must connect New Yorkers with the skills they need to participate in the 21st century economy.
Back in 2017, no one thought New York had a shot of landing the new Amazon headquarters. Not only did we prove them wrong, but we finally proved New York is a formidable player in the tech space. And I believe history will show that the city emerged from this moment with even more tech companies, more innovations, and more prosperity for all New Yorkers.
James Patchett is the President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
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