CONEY ISLAND — Kathryn Wylde has accomplished a great deal during her tenure as president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, the city’s leading business organization. She’s actively advanced the partnership’s mission to work with government, labor and the civic sector to build a stronger New York, with a focus on education, infrastructure and the economy.
Wylde was recently the keynote speaker at the 2019 Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting & Trade Show on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Gargiulo’s Restaurant in Coney Island. She applauded the borough’s growth but warned that things could change very quickly.
Wylde was introduced by Samara Karasyk, the chamber’s senior vice president and chief policy officer, who noted that Wylde was well-known for her leadership representing the city’s business community and employers.
Wylde opened up her talk by explaining that she had moved to Brooklyn in 1968, “and almost overnight I witnessed the total abandonment of the industrial waterfront.” She listed businesses that were gone within five years including American Machine and Foundry, Bethlehem Steel, Revere Sugar and Domino Sugar.
“During the ‘70s, we lost more than 400,000 residents of Brooklyn in 10 years because they were following the jobs out to the suburbs or they were simply leaving apartments that were being abandoned,” said Wylde. “People that have been here a short period of time don’t remember this but it was very fast and it took more than 40 years for the borough to recover,” she added.
Prior to taking over the partnership presidency in 2001, Wylde was the founding CEO of the partnership’s housing and investment fund affiliates. She was responsible for developing and managing affordable housing and economic development programs that contributed to the renaissance of rundown urban neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and the city’s other boroughs.
The Brooklyn renaissance continued throughout the ‘80s according to Wylde, with business improvement districts that were organized during that decade “to revive the commercial strips.” She pointed to several important projects that factored into the revival including Metro Tech, the Marriott Hotel, the Atlantic Center and King’s Plaza.
Wylde said that for the past 30 years, Brooklyn was what she called a “bedroom community for the bustling, growing service economy in Wall Street in Manhattan.”
She also noted that “Brooklyn’s largest employers during most of the last half century were our hospitals, educational institutions, utilities, banks and family-owned manufacturing and small retail businesses.”
She said that it was only during the last decade that we’ve seen the results of the “tremendous community building that the chamber was very much a part of.” She emphasized that some people may not realize how quickly the borough suffered the demise of businesses and how long it took to build back what she called a thriving Brooklyn community.
She called Brooklyn the city’s most important source of new jobs, growing jobs three times faster than any other borough. “Our long derelict waterfront has become a magnet for businesses and average wages in the borough have gone up 30 percent,” said Wylde. “And more housing units have been built in Brooklyn than in any other borough over the last decade.”
She pointed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Industry City, Steiner Studios, the Barclays Center and Coney Island as prime examples of the borough’s growth and regeneration as a global hub. She singled out former Borough President Marty Markowitz as a major reason for the growth, for being a booster, supporter and driver for what the borough has to offer.
Wylde said that the past 50 years of history are an important reminder of how important it is to build strong partnerships between businesses, communities and government.
She emphasized that in order to keep growing, we cannot be led off-track by fear of gentrification, warning, “If this negative climate persists, if we cut off private investment and stymie development, this city simply will not have the tax base it requires to remain viable and it can go back,” she added.