On Monday, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio greeted a room full of reporters as part of the keynote address for Internet Week, a four-day event held in Manhattan that will feature talks given by industry leaders. In it, de Blasio would go on to broadly outline his administration’s plans for the tech sector and stump for why the city is fertile ground for top-tier talent.
“If a similar gathering were held Silicon Valley,” de Blasio quipped, “people would have to drive long distances.”
According to some estimates, technology is New York’s fastest-growing industry, with a blossoming ecosystem currently supporting 291,000 jobs. The mayor’s predecessor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, endeared himself to New York’s burgeoning tech community by positioning himself as a “pro-business entrepreneur-turned-politician”–a friend within the confines of City Hall. One can assume that industry leaders were watching de Blasio’s keynote with some degree of interest.
“I have to give credit where credit is due,” said de Blasio. “Bloomberg did a fine job of setting the table.” The mayor then laid out his vision for a vibrant, “inclusive” five-borough industry, drawing analogs between public service and tech. (Good public servants are “disruptive,” he said.) During the charm offensive, de Blasio said that attracting new talent to the city is key (and can be aided by comprehensive immigration reform, which might entail allowing foreign-born entrepreneurs to obtain visas after completing school). He also announced initiatives to foster “homegrown talent.”
The big plan entailed the creation of the “NYC Tech Talent Pipeline,” an initiative de Blasio said will be dedicated to creating “high-quality jobs” for New Yorkers up and down the tech ecosystem chain. He didn’t provide many details, but the $10 million plan will be backed by JP Morgan Chase, among other banking giants.
Mayor de Blasio also hinted at his plans for widespread connectivity, saying that a “vibrant democracy” runs through “universal, high-speed broadband access.” Of note was a plan to blanket 95 blocks of Harlem in free Wi-Fi, in addition to a plan to transform the city’s unused subway pay phones into wireless stations.
New York-based techies have raised concerns about de Blasio’s willingness to play nice with the sector, running for the mayorship on what was largely an anti-Bloomberg platform. “Although it might sound silly,” reported my colleague Neal Ungerleider earlier this year, “there is a strong contingent of rich and influential Silicon Alley techies who feel they have not received enough handshakes.”
Midway through his speech, de Blasio noted that what sets New York apart from its constituents is its ability to reinvent itself again and again, from shipping to manufacturing to finance. Technology, he said, was destined to become New York’s big industry. The city has a “knack for embracing change,” said de Blasio. “We think, bluntly, we’ve only just begun.”