Crain’s: Smokestacks are all but gone, but the city’s manufacturing sector is very much alive

  • Client News
  • Client: Industry City

Industry City CEO, Andrew Kimball, recently sat down with Crain’s reporter Greg David to discuss the changes in manufacturing and what it means for jobs and the City.

See the interview below:

What is the new manufacturing?

The new manufacturing is very different from the 1940s or ’50s in New York. It is a blending of sectors as a result of new technologies and the ability of manufacturing goods in much smaller places than ever before. The innovation economy is defined as the broad range of making physical and digital products in media, design, fashion, film or art. They are the fastest-growing sectors in New York.

Give me three examples.

Roll & Hill, which both designs and assembles really high-end lights and lighting systems for fancy apartments and hotels. Aerobo, a couple of young guys designing and making the next generation of drones—an engineering office that is now prototyping and assembling drones. FilmRise, which takes advantage of new technologies and broadband, and compresses films and prepares them for Amazon Prime.

Why is the Brooklyn Navy Yard such a big success, now ­employing 6,400 people, or double the number in 2001?

The Navy Yard, Bush Terminal and the Brooklyn Army Terminal are each 4 million-plus square feet and formed the backbone of manufacturing in Brooklyn for 75 years. All of them fell into huge disrepair.

Fifteen years ago, city government began to say, “Let’s start investing in the basic infrastructure at the Navy Yard because the people on the ground have figured out there is a new form of manufacturing we can encourage.” We signed on Steiner Studios, which has exploded, and a wide range of other innovation-economy companies.

What is different about what you are doing at Industry City?

The facility is not city-owned. The private sector hasn’t gotten in this game in a big way on a campuswide basis because it is so hard to make the economics work. Our plan is to bring retail to the base of these buildings to pay for $350 million in infrastructure improvements and cross-subsidize the companies we lease to in the innovation economy.

What is the upside potential for you and for the city?

We can go from 1,900 jobs two years ago to 4,000 today to ultimately 13,500 on-site and another 6,500 nearby, or 20,000 in total. With other similar projects in Brooklyn pursuing the same objective, we could have 40,000 jobs in this sector in the next 10 years.

Why can’t you find large-scale manufacturers to fill this space?

It is clear that the days of the smokestacks are not coming back. It’s challenging to find large-scale manufacturers in New York, and by that I mean firms that want more than 50,000 square feet and have more than 50 employees in New York, which is tiny, compared with factories elsewhere in the United States or the rest of the world.

Can you produce good-paying jobs for people without higher ­degrees?

What is happening at the Navy Yard, at Bush Terminal and at Industry City is that upward of 50% of the people working at the complexes have just a high school degree, but the jobs pay up to 40% more at entry level than service-sector jobs. They provide a faster way up the economic ladder and they tend to be primarily local employers. The focus should not be on trying to re-create the 1950s. Instead, let’s focus on the industries that are doing the most to create opportunities for those with less education.

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