Web Extra: Extended Interview with Seth Pinsky, President of the NYC Economic Development Corporation

Encore: June 28, 2012

MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman talked to Seth Pinsky about why New York City has become a hotspot for tech start-ups and how the city plans to avoid a tech bubble that bursts like it did in the ’90s.

Since his appointment as president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) four years ago, Seth Pinsky has implemented many programs designed to encourage entrepreneurship and support the growing number of technology companies that call New York City home. The nonprofit NYCEDC helps provide  low-cost work space to start-ups, maintains a fund for investing in city-based tech companies and holds competitions for the best new smart phone applications each year.

Pinsky’s tenure began in February 2008, shortly before the crash of several Wall Street institutions and the start of the worst economic recession in decades. One of his major goals since then has been to diversify the city’s economy beyond the financial realm, thereby insulating it from the boom-and-bust cycle of Wall Street. Pinsky — and Mayor Bloomberg — see the tech sector as an integral part of this plan.

Graph courtesy of the Center for an Urban Future. Source: NYS Department of Labor data from February 2007 to February 2010. *IT jobs are measured by "computer systems design and related services." **Only includes private sector jobs in NYC.

The tech sector in New York City grew 30 percent between 2005 and 2010 and according to a study released in May 2012 by Center for an Urban Future, now accounts for 52,900 jobs. Many of those jobs look different than they did a decade ago, thanks to the growth of what Pinsky termed “dash tech.” Unlike their predecessors, “dash tech” companies don’t create new hardware for general use. Instead, they develop software that is relevant to a specific industry such as fashion, media or finance. This shift in the tech world could give New York City an advantage for attracting start-ups that want to be close to the industries they serve.

“New York is really the center of almost everything that comes to the left side of the dash and increasingly is an important player in the right side of the dash, the technology sector,” Pinsky said.

Examples of some of the "dash tech" industries in New York City. Image courtesy of the Center for an Urban Future.

To that end, the NYCEDC is actively trying to strengthen the connections between these traditional industries and the tech sector. For example, two years ago Pinsky’s team helped create the NYC Media Lab. The program connects private-sector media businesses with technology research that is already happening at the city’s universities. Media companies can also collaborate with researchers to develop projects that address the industry’s needs for things like new animation or search technology.

Well aware of the dot com bubble of the ’90s, New York’s leaders are taking steps to ensure that this time the bubble doesn’t burst.

One of the ways the city is trying to guide stable growth is by investing in what Pinsky calls “anchor institutions,” which would provide a background of stability to the ups and downs of the start-ups. One of the biggest anchors will be the CornellNYC Tech campus for applied sciences on Roosevelt Island. The city plans to invest $100 million dollars in the project.


In 2006 Danny Wen and Shawn Liu co-founded Harvest, a New York City-based company that helps users track time and create invoices. Liu recalls that when they graduated from Cornell in 2000, there weren’t a lot of  tech jobs in New York and they considered looking for jobs at bigger companies, such as Google and Microsoft.

Pinsky compared this development to another watershed moment in the city’s history: the digging of the Eerie Canal. Although that project was heavily criticized by New Yorkers, Pinsky said that the canal allowed New York to beat out competitors and become the East Coast’s premiere city.

“Our feeling is that the investments we’re making today, in these anchor institutions, in things like the Cornell-Technion Campus on Roosevelt Island, is a similar investment…that’s going to lead to a sea change in the city’s economy for many years to come,” Pinsky said.

And where does he see the city’s economy 10 or 15 years from now?

He’s optimistic.

“I think that we’ll have one of the most well-diversified tech economies,” he said. “We will be considered one of the centers of technology in the 21st century with the ability to compete with centers anywhere in the country and for that matter, anywhere in the world.”

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.


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