As our cities become more dynamic, the growth of an inclusive innovation ecosystem is essential to ensuring that all residents are able to access a better economic future.
In cities across the country, innovation ecosystems are coalescing in places with large employment bases, strong institutional anchors, and diverse mix of uses that prioritize a high quality of life.
New York City is home to several of these clusters – including Flatiron, Lower Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, and Long Island City. Across the city, over 322,000 people are directly enabling, producing, and facilitating the technologies that drive the industries at the city’s core – advertising, media, finance, fashion.
HR&A worked with the Queens Borough President’s Office to develop a roadmap for growing in inclusive innovation ecosystem in Western Queens.
With this plan, Western Queens, which employs 8,400 people, is well-positioned to transform into a full-fledged tech district. By commissioning a strategic plan, the Borough President aimed to keep Western Queens competitive while ensuring that the growth of the local innovation ecosystem could generate meaningful economic mobility for all local residents, including the 20% who live below the poverty line today.
In developing strategic recommendations for Western Queens, HR&A utilized a planning framework structured around People, Place and Programs to support inclusive growth of the local innovation ecosystem. The framework focuses on providing educational and employment opportunities, creating tech-friendly places, and promoting programs and incentives that make tech-supportive investments and job creation possible.An imperative for growing any successful place is to ensure that people can learn, create and innovate. In Western Queens, this means working with educational institutions and existing tech employers to create a stronger pipeline for connecting disadvantaged residents to tech training and jobs in a sector that is ripe for growth.
Communities looking to grow their tech ecosystems should also consider making place-based investments to create a physical environment that promotes and supports growth. Indeed, a successful tech district must be attractive to tech talent, employers, and residents. Density of activity is essential for generating interest among companies, as it encourages the informal, serendipitous connections that are the linchpin of collaboration and innovation. Additionally, tech companies, drawn to places by presence of talent, also seek affordable office and production spaces with digital connectivity. In Western Queens, we recommended strategic place-based investments designed to leverage existing concentrations of tech ecosystem assets – education institutions, production zones, and buildings desired by tech companies.
Finally, the development of tech-supportive programs is essential to support an innovation district. A district’s organizational infrastructure, tailored to address the area’s specific opportunities and challenges, represents the connective tissue that makes a district more than just a place. With its wealth of tech talent and existing tech activity, Western Queens would benefit from strategic actions and activities to help differentiate it from other New York City tech districts and better engage the community to build a more robust homegrown tech workforce.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Our work with Western Queens resulted in a plan with 21 specific actions to grow an inclusive innovation economy in Western Queens. As a first step, HR&A’s Roadmap recommended that a group of key stakeholders form a Western Queens Tech Council charged with creating a strong, tech-focused brand for the neighborhood, and coordinating events, networks, and resources to increase the district’s visibility and attractiveness to the tech ecosystem. The Council, whose creation was announced on June 28, 2018, will strategize to create and tech-supportive incentives tied to performance metrics to ensure that the growth of Western Queens tech economy directly funds local, high-mobility jobs and workforce development efforts.
As the area’s leaders come together to grow the local tech ecosystem, they must do so with an eye towards ensuring that the 20 percent of local residents who live below the poverty line are given every possible opportunity to participate in and benefit from this growth. Implemented holistically, the strategic initiatives in the roadmap can meaningfully shape Western Queens’ growth and secure its future as one of New York City’s most desirable tech districts.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can attract tech investment to your city -reach out to our urban tech practice leads Kate Wittels, Danny Fuchs and Bob Geolas.