What Bill DeBlasio can do for NYC Tech: It's not what you think

I find the Mike Bloomberg NYC tech legacy story really fascinating.  

I mean, it makes sense, right?  Tech entrepreneur mayor presides over NYC tech during an explosion in company creation, job growth and venture funding.

Plus, we started all these tech schools, creating all these engineers, right?

Only, that's not quite the way it happened.

Don't get me wrong, I'm THRILLED that we're going to have some new engineering campuses in NYC and that will pay dividends to the NYC tech community for years to come--only, we only just started educating students in a small starter version of the Cornell program.  The multifold growth we've had in the startup engineering base of NYC happened before we even decided to build these companies. 

In fact, much of the groundwork of the NYC tech community's growth came before the late 2008 economic crash--when the city started paying attention to the tech community as the economic savior poster child.  

In many respects, what the Bloomberg Administration did *directly* for tech in NYC was to shine a light on a transformation that was already happening.  Education initiatives did not create the community.  There was no major city broadband initiative that created this ecosystem.  City money didn't spur on the massive venture capital investments that have been made by the private sector.  Spaces like General Assembly were basically funded with private dollars, and would have happened whether the city gave them a grant or not (See WeWork).  

*Indirectly* however, what Mike Bloomberg did for New York City's tech community was the greatest thing since sliced bread--and that was continuing and expanding exponentially what Rudy Giuliani did to make this a livable city.  If NYC crime didn't plummet, we wouldn't have a tech community to speak of.  DUMBO wouldn't have existed unless the Giuliani administration hadn't rezoned it to provide local developers an incentive to build a neighborhood here. Giuliani cleaned up the city, Bloomberg made it work and grow.  Bloomberg efforts like 311, Riverside Park, the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park, improved walkability, bike share, ferries, the Atlantic Yards/Barclay's Center, etc have all contributed to making New York City an attractive destination to plant your roots and to invest economically.  

That is the single most important thing Bill DeBlasio can do for NYC--continue to improve livability--and he should do so with unwavering focus.  That's going to mean making sure union contracts don't bankrupt the city.  The current pension benefits system is economically unstable and threatens the welfare of this city.  Penion reform is unpopular, but necessary.  Yes, we all appreciate your efforts as a city worker.  No, we can't pay you out for 35 years after you retire at age 55 when no one in the private sector gets the same kind of benefit.  

That's also going to mean improving education from early on.  We completely overinvest in college educations when it isn't even clear that college is right for everyone, nor is it clear that the debt created by a college degree is worth it.  I applaud investments in early education, but we also need to make those investments effective.  We spend more per child than most education systems in the world, yet we don't get the same results.

That's going to affect our tech community--not a year from now, or even five, but if we can't educate and inspire our kids, we're going to fill this pain for decades to come.  

I think NYC tech has left the station--there's no turning back now.  Investors are here to stay and companies will continue to get build.  Are there issues?  Sure.  Issues like Airbnb and the taxi hailing will get solved with improved communication with city government.  We need to enable politicians to understand the repercutions of government intervention in changing markets.  

I'm less worried about DeBlasio enacting "anti-tech" policies than I am about the city facing bankruptcy ten years from now because too many people have their hand in the till, and no one ever likes being told no.  It's a tough road to reform, but the money for DeBlasio's "One City" agenda is going to need to come from all of us, not just a handful of rich bankers, who, by the way, have been footing the tax bills in NYC for quite a long time.  Anyone who understands local economics realizes that.