The growth of the Downtown Brooklyn business district owes much to the traditional “FIRE” industries (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate), as well as to the government offices that set up shop here in the 1980s and 1990s. Together, these energetic companies helped transform Downtown Brooklyn into New York City’s third largest business district – and a vibrant destination to live, shop, and experience culture. Today, a recent increase in technology and creative firms throughout Downtown signals a gradual shift from a back-end office district to a thriving, front-end multi-use area.
Companies such as downtown’s MakerBot, an innovative firm that makes 3D printers for mass consumption; Etsy.com, a pioneer in the online marketplace for handmade goods in DUMBO; and Duggal, a leader in solar wind street lamps in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, are increasingly becoming the backbone of Brooklyn’s economic base. For the first time in decades, companies that would have previously located their front office in Manhattan are choosing to start and grow in Brooklyn due to its value-oriented and flexible office spaces, unique neighborhoods, and ‘Brooklyn’ lifestyle.
In fact, a recent economic impact analysis conducted here at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership shows there is great potential to grow in this area that we call the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Currently, the sector employs 9,628 people and generates $3.1 billion of economic output. In three years, those numbers are expected to double. But in order to ensure this growth is strategic, we must better understand the challenges and opportunities facing us.
While tech has cropped up in three discreet areas in the Tech Triangle, they remain disconnected by uninviting streetscapes, underused open spaces, underwhelming pedestrian experiences, and a lack of public transit that connects them. Furthermore, while Downtown Brooklyn has made tremendous strides over the past few years, it continues to have a high office vacancy rate of 10%, compared to that of DUMBO and the Navy Yard, which are literally running out of space. By better connecting these places, the tech sector will have more options for expanding its footprint, creating new jobs and spillover benefits.
Second, Downtown Brooklyn has three major public housing developments that historically have had some of the highest unemployment rates in the city. By fostering better connections between the community and this growing sector, there are many opportunities to create training and placement programs for new types of manufacturing and entry-level technology jobs. And despite the 57,000 college students and numerous high schools in the area, many technology companies are reporting a shortage of qualified employees to fill demand. By linking educational institutions to this vital sector, we will create a pipeline for new ideas and jobs in Brooklyn.
Finally, wireless internet has become a critical resource for virtually every student and tech professional, particularly in the start-up phase of their business. In order for this area to continue to attract new companies and remain a center of innovation, a free seamless wireless internet network that connects these three areas is needed.
To help foster strategic growth of the Tech Triangle, the three major economic development entities in the region – the DUMBO Improvement District, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership – formed the Tech Triangle Task Force late last year. Next month, we plan to release a request for proposals seeking the development of a strategic plan that would help grow the tech sector, focusing especially on place-making strategies, land use regulations, transportation and infrastructure issues, and real estate and workforce development policies – a significant step in our efforts to make Downtown Brooklyn an international leader in the digital economy for decades to come.
Tucker Reed is the President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a non-profit local development corporation that serves as the primary champion for Downtown Brooklyn as a world-class business, educational, and cultural destination. For more on the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, visit: www.brooklyntechtriangle.com.