December 8, 2022

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Retaining New York City’s Talent is Key to Its Business Success

7 min read

Retaining New York City’s Talent is Key to Its Business Success

New York, NY—The message from the State of NYC Business Summit hosted by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, featuring prominent business leaders, is that the city’s job is to provide good education, good infrastructure, etc., but it’s the private sector that creates the jobs and builds the economy.

The event took place this morning at the SaksWorks co-working space in the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue department store.

The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce’s President and CEO, Jessica Walker, kicked off the event by noting that the Chamber’s mission is to empower businesses to thrive in New York City. She said the purpose of the discussion with the panel was to explore the current state of the business community and where the city is heading.

“Listen, we continue to find ourselves in the depths of uncertainty. But we as the business community have a major say over where we go from here. As businesses, we impact the local economy, jobs, livelihoods, families, neighborhoods and taxes that provide our city services—people’s most intimate decisions about where they are going to work and live. All of this is fundamental to a person’s most basic happiness and fulfillment. And this influences the feel and tenor of this city, so we are a critical force in New York City. When we thrive, the city thrives,” said Walker.

She then introduced Fred Gabriel, the publisher and executive editor of Crain’s New York, who posed questions to the panelists, who included Jason Myles Clark, Executive Director of Tech: NYC; Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance; Reggie Thomas, Senior Vice President of The Real Estate Board of New York; and Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.

“We hear from tech companies all the time that they need more folks at their companies. So, I would love to see that we committed to doubling the tech sector by 2030,” said Clark.

Also, important to tech’s expansion, especially for start-ups, is to win more city contracts, which, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, totaled $20 billion in 2018 for a variety of services.

“What can we do on the city level to make it easier for small businesses to get contracts? Right now, the procurement system—it’s easier for bigger businesses, but what can we do to simplify the RFP process so that we can incentivize and provide more opportunities for small businesses,” Clark said.

Rigie said that in the hospitality industry, food and beverage need to anchor the city.

“If we have amazing restaurants. If we have a really vibrant nightlife, tourism and hospitality industry people feel safe [and] then people will want to be here. I think it’s going to lead to people staying here and attracting people that are going to do the real innovation in their sectors, and we will be the anchor to creating that experience that allows these other sectors to grow,” Rigie said.

Thomas of REBNY said he’s so far happy with Adams’ early announcements, particularly on two fronts. For example, Adams just announced this week the nixing of dozens of fines on businesses to cut red tape, which Thomas and the other panelists welcomed. But looking ahead to the city’s position within 10 years the city has to build more housing.

“New York City added 500,000 people in the last ten years, but we only built enough housing for about half of them—right now demand is through the roof and prices are up as a result. As a city we need to do a better job if we are going to attract world-class tenants, restaurants and bars,” Thomas said.

Then Wylde responded by saying that it is about the basics. She noted her organization conducted a survey last month of 9,500 employees with some of the city’s biggest companies, and based on the survey about 40 percent of Manhattan residents said they were seriously considering leaving the city if issues like public safety and quality of life issues aren’t paramount in the city administration.

She noted that the long-term trajectory of the city is positive, but in the immediate it depends on the city government’s response.

“I think that we elected the right mayor to take this on with the right message, which like [Michael] Bloomberg’s message for 12 years is—the city’s job is to provide good education, good infrastructure, etc., but it’s the private sector that creates the jobs and builds the economy,” said Wylde

She noted that her organization represents big business, and half the jobs in the city are companies that employ more than 500 people. But their success is so important to the other 50 percent of businesses that employ fewer than 500 people.

“The biggest asset that New York City has is that we are the global headquarters of so many key industries, and we are growing that all the time as with the tech sector. So, let’s give a shoutout to the fact that we ought to be celebrating that we are the headquarters city of so many key global industries and really reinforcing that effort,” Wylde said.

Gabriel followed up with Wylde to ask does big business want to do business in New York, with Wylde responding, yes, so long as the talent wants to remain in New York.

Gabriel then raised the issue of housing, particularly the effort to convert empty hotels into housing.

“What a quick solution that would be, but yet we don’t seem to be doing that?” asked Gabriel.

Wylde said that hotels are the easiest thing to convert, particularly into supportive homeless housing. But she provided a recent example of a hotel in the Times Square area—600 rooms and financing to turn into supportive homeless housing. But the project is stalled because, according to Wylde, the Hotel Trades Council, the union that represents hotel workers, is making demands that the non-profit that owns the former hotel property cannot meet.

“So, instead, they are talking about converting non-union hotels across the five boroughs, but the problem is concentrated in the Manhattan business districts. We are in many ways not thinking about how we have to change our sense of what our vested interests are into something that is a bigger picture than many of us are willing to do,” said Wylde.

Then Gabriel asked whether the Adams administration has the support of the NYPD, with Wylde saying that the question is whether the police feel they have the support of the community and the public at large.

She believes that the Police Commissioner, Keechant L. Sewell’s, messaging is accurate but noted that since the disbandment of 3,500 plain clothes detectives, drug use is on the rise in Manhattan business districts because police can no longer arrest someone in possession of syringes.

“This is a huge problem because if the police are feeling helpless, it doesn’t do anybody any good. We definitely don’t want to go back to Stop-and-Frisk, but on the other hand we have to figure out what works,” Wylde said.

Gabriel asked if Wylde could elaborate on how the issue of public safety, clean streets and stemming crime is important for her big business clients.

It turns out that that’s the criteria her clients’ workforces are saying will determine if they stay or leave New York City.

Thomas of REBNY said that every six months he gets invited to a meeting with top HR managers of major companies. And in November, in a meeting, he asked them what is it that their employees want in terms of wanting to come back to the office.

“And this still shocks me; this was as the Omicron variant was really starting to tick up— all of them universally said our employees actually are more afraid of coming in on the subway and dealing with potential crime issues than Omicron,” said Thomas.

In turn, Rigie said that people’s perception is their reality, regardless of what the data might say.

“This is an issue, and especially in our industry where people are going home late at night, they want to feel safe. All of these things are really important—if people don’t feel safe and if they think everything looks dirty, that influences them significantly and has a lot of different ramifications,” said Rigie.

 

In his first days in office, Mayor Eric Adams unveiled his “Blueprint for New York City,” a document illustrating the measures his administration would take to re-energize the city’s economy in the wake of the pandemic.

So, Gabriel asked the panelists what does that plan mean for their respective clients.

Clark said it’s a moment for real inflection for the city. Because Adams campaigned on the virtue of leveraging technology to create more economic opportunity for New Yorkers, the tech sector is on the cusp of expansion.