I’ve been around long enough to remember the dotcom boom. In fact, I worked at a telecom startup during that time. It was another era where startup culture began spreading around the country. Chicago talked about its Silicon Prairie. New York had Silicon Alley. But when the crash hit, all of those got wiped out except the Bay Area, Boston, and Seattle.
Mike Bloomberg came into the New York City mayor’s office in the wake of that collapse. He could have been forgiven for thinking that tech was an ephemeral business New York should think twice about getting back into. But to his credit he pushed hard to diversify the city away from employment dependency on finance and made tech a big piece of that.
Bloomberg was not only a big booster of the tech industry, he saw that the city was weak as a producer of elite tech talent. It was great at attracting talent, but he felt that New York needed a tech focused university locally. So he spearheaded the creation of what is now Cornell Tech, whose initial campus is already open on Roosevelt Island.
Today there are many thousands of tech jobs in NYC – 7,000 at Google alone, 5,000+ at Facebook, etc. And now Amazon is going to be putting a major campus in Long Island City, which is conveniently just across the East River from Cornell Tech.
While Cornell Tech many not have itself played a material role in Amazon choosing NYC, that choice does help vindicate Bloomberg’s strategic vision in pushing things like it. He not only said, “Let’s get into tech.” He started building real institutions to make it happen. Lots of cities built co-working spaces or held community building meet-ups. How many went and recruited an Ivy League university to built a tech graduate campus? None as far as I know.
Mike Bloomberg would be very justified in taking a victory lap for what is being achieved in New York. Now the question will be what happens when NYC has to come face to face with the next tech bust, whenever that might be. That’s when we’ll really find out what the city’s tech industry is made of.
Cover image credit: Jean-Christophe Benoist CC BY 3.0