After New York City found itself chief among America’s regions hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, many predicted a painful future for the Big Apple. Every moving truck, it seemed, was an ominous portent for the city of 8 million-plus. If these stories were to be believed, the days of austerity, social decay, and FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD were looming just around the corner of 42nd and Broadway.
Now, over a year after the pandemic’s outset, New York is proving doubters wrong yet again. As restaurants, theaters, baseball stadiums and more inch closer to business as usual, NYC’s business sector is witnessing some surprising outcomes of its own. Predictions of commercial doom have given way to a technological boom, and even the titans of Silicon Valley are migrating eastward when doing business in 2021.
Long Time Coming
Of course, this movement didn’t just start today. New York’s pre-pandemic rejection of a gargantuan Amazon campus drew thousands of headlines in 2019, but less reported-upon at the time was the tech megalith’s subsequent increase of office space in the area. It seems there were few hard feelings as Bezos’ megacompany leased 359,000 new square feet in Midtown Manhattan, enough to place 2,000 new jobs in the heart of the city.
Facebook, Google, and Apple (the rest of the “Big 4” tech titans) have all also increased their NYC footprint in the last few years, building out a presence in the cultural capital of the country that’s been impossible to ignore. But it’s not only these major movers that are driving the city’s tech importance.
As tech positions occupied the largest segment of job listings in the city, these open jobs were offered in a diverse number of industries, some well outside the purview of Amazon and its prominent peers. Startups, the engines of tech innovation, are on the rise in the city as well: one estimate places the worth of NYC’s startup ecosystem at $147 billion, with new valuations and acquisitions happening daily.
A Few Reasons
So, why has NYC so quickly been saved from the brink of disaster? Journalistic exaggerations aside, this is a logical outcome of a few different factors. Maybe most importantly is in the DNA of the city itself. The existing baseline of talent, money, and a ravenous appetite for growth has kept New York City an international destination for well over a century, so it’s not the biggest surprise that the national economy’s most prominent growth sector has found a welcoming home here.
There’s also the fact that tech is on the rise everywhere, so it stands to grow more in the biggest commercial centers. From the Garment District to Wall Street, it’s hard to find a business of any size that hasn’t expanded its tech presence since the outset of COVID. The fact that there was already a large business community here meant that as more companies found themselves in need of software developers, engineers, and other tech-savvy positions, they weren’t eager to move cross-country in order to do so.
Another factor is the nature of the products on offer. While it’s true that COVID shifted many in NYC to at-home work and left their offices empty, this phenomenon certainly wasn’t limited to Manhattan careerists. As people nationwide relied more closely on tech tools to conduct their professional and personal lives in the midst of social distancing, the companies that make those tools were able to grow accordingly. With New York’s cultural clout and gargantuan talent pool, it was only natural that such growth would find solid footing here.
There’s reason to be optimistic about the future, too. The city-run Economic Development Corporation, in partnership with coding education giant Fullstack Academy, is offering free immersive educational programs for New Yorkers looking to ride this wave to a lucrative career. With a special focus on recruiting from communities underrepresented in Silicon Valley, the program offers a full course of training along with job placement in NYC’s tech sphere.
Groups like NYC Tech Talent Pipeline are also doing the work to ensure low-income and minority New Yorkers won’t miss out on this atmosphere of opportunity as well. It’s no exaggeration to say that the web developers of tomorrow’s NYC are being fostered not only in top colleges, but blue-collar neighborhoods in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond.
While COVID certainly left a lasting mark on NYC, this city has proven time and again that it can overcome almost any challenge — not only to make it through, but to create a brighter future. For a population that’s weathered change for well over 300 years, it’ll take more than a pandemic to keep New York from the forefront of business innovation.