In a swank hotel in the garment district, city leaders and academics speaking on New York: Tech City drew a large audience to an 8 a.m. breakfast panel on Wednesday. The panel focused on CornellNYC Tech, the applied sciences campus to be built on Roosevelt Island, the city’s efforts to address access issues and engage New Yorkers in technology, and how technological innovation in the city will advance the many industries New York is known for.
“The future of our city depends on our being a leader in innovation. And to be a leader in innovation we have to be a leader in technology,” said Seth Pinsky, a panelist and the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Pinsky’s fellow panelists were Rachel Sterne, Chief Digital Officer for the city; Daniel Huttenlocher, Dean of Computing and Information Science at Cornell and Vice Provost and Dean of CornellNYC Tech and Professor Craig Gotsman, Deputy Senior Vice President of the Technion University in Israel and a founding director at CornellNYC Tech.
At the heart of the matter is just what does a tech city look like, and who are the players?
Increasing the number of people who participate in the growing tech sector is a major goal of the city. It’s why CornellNYC Tech received $100 million in city funding to build on city-owned land. And it’s why Sterne was hired one year ago to create the city’s “Digital Road Map,” which aims to increase access to technology and city data, and create transparency through it.
“The goal is to make sure this tech moment is touching all New Yorkers,” said Sterne. “Where New Yorkers live online, the city wants to be there.”
Through federal stimulus funding awarded in 2010, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) will provide 18,000 under-served 6th grade public school students and their families with education about digital tools and affordable internet service, and 40,000 public school household members with free home computers. Sterne’s office is also in talks with tech companies about taking on summer employees through the annual Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides full-time paid employment to young people ages 16-24. This year, 30,000 people will get jobs.
Sterne said programs like these are a “huge driver for economic development and equality across the board.”
Access is an issue that the city is dealing with on a logistical level, too. Broadband, sophisticated communications wiring that brings information at a greater rate and a faster speed if the channels are outfitted for it, is available in most residential areas, but is lacking in industrial sections of New York City and in poorer neighborhoods. Pinsky said Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Bob Steel were “working to address” the problem and would be tackling it in the coming weeks.
Innovation in technology is not just about companies like Etsy and Tumblr. Though those businesses are the leaders in the field, what’s more crucial is understanding the intersection of technology and the rest of the city’s economy.
“Tech undergirds all industries that New York needs to be competitive in. Every industry in New York City and every job in New York City is going to be impacted by technology,” said Pinsky. “Going forward we have to think of technology as the economy.”
Indeed, New York City’s place as the hub for many industries — from finance to publishing to fashion — makes it the ideal place for technology to grow and prosper. Cornell’s Huttenlocher said the campus on Roosevelt Island will teach its graduate students not just the technical skills needed to get jobs within connective media, health sciences and the built environment, but will also immerse them in the various industries during their studies. Each student (50 are expected to start in September 2013) will be paired with a mentor working in tech in the city.
CornellNYC Tech has also pledged to extend its educational opportunities to 200 teachers and 10,000 city public school students.
Huttenlocher said that expertise paired with knowledge of how to apply it was necessary to develop the technologies of the future, and that the biggest challenge facing New York right now is the lack of a “critical mass.”
Once reached, the sector becomes “self-sustaining,” he said, adding that once the web of tech workers is wide enough, when a start-up fails, which happens most of the time, there will be other start-ups for developers and employees to land at.
“New York has long been big companies and Mom and Pops, not middle sized companies with very high risk,” he said. “High risk businesses are very important.”
For more technology news, watch “MetroFocus: The Tech Economy,” airing on THIRTEEN on June 30 at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and July 12 at 8:30 p.m.; on WLIW at 5:30 a.m. on June 30; on NJTV on July 1 at 5:30 a.m. and July 2 at 4:30 a.m.