For perhaps the first time in history, a major U.S. city has a mayor who is also a successful digital entrepreneur. You may have watched his TV network, or listened to his radio station, or seen his digital data screens on the desk at your broker’s office. You’ve heard of him – of course – Michael Bloomberg. And I hear he’s running for re-election.
So as Wall Street firms are shedding jobs and trimming head count, is the city of New York ready to be the leader in East Coast digital development and tech?
So far, there’s a bunch of evidence that the Mayor’s office gets that digital is perhaps the most important new industry that New York could nurture and incubate. But at the same time there’s some reason to be concerned that Bloomberg and his team are taking the growth of digital for granted.
Now that the upcoming Internet Week is just around the corner, NY’s digital future seems worthy of consideration. Last year’s premiere of the week-long Web fest was a surprising success, and based on the early planning that’s starting to come together, It’s possible that this year’s Internet Week will be a flat out homerun.
But if New York is serious about doing more than slapping start-ups on the back, the city will need to engage in some serious economic development around the needs of digital startups. Here’s a top line list of to-dos for His honour:
- The Commish: Mayor Bloomberg should set up a office of digital media and technology, and current NYC film and TV boss Kathy Oliver should run it. She’s a government 2.0 rock star. (More about Kathy below.) But as long as she’s managing the important legacy business of film and TV production, Web is going to be odd man out.
- Economic Development: Show me the money. With New York’s Venture Funds mostly focused on big deals and big checks, the City needs more money for seed funds and start ups. How about matching funds for early stage investments?
- Real Estate: Enterprise zones, more digital building projects, shared workspace for startups. Needs to happen and fast.
- Love: With Wall Street in meltdown, and publishing and media facing tough times, New York needs more than a week of love around digital tech and web development. How about a year? Or better yet a decade. Make 2010 – 2020 New York’s Digital Decade, and focus on each and every way that we can be the true hub of the emerging digital content and technology business.
Let’s weigh the facts about NY’s digital game plan to date:
Historically, His honour has had his share of missteps. There’s the now well-reported gaffe that Mayor Bloomberg made to a swanky gathering of digital movers and shakers a few months back. With the founders of New York’s Tech Digerati in the audience, the Mayor praised west coast digital leaders like Google, and didn’t share the love with New York’s home-grown talent. Meetup.com’s Scott Heiferman was more than a little unhappy, and let his Twitter followers know it. Bad news for Bloomberg’s support from the tech crowd.
Then there’s the firecracker Senior team member from Bloomberg’s Inner-circle, Kathy Oliver. Kathy was a senior exec at Bloomberg LP before she joined the administration and now she runs the Commission of the City’s Office of Film and Television. Don’t get me wrong, Oliver is the absolutely right person to be handling Bloomberg’s outreach to the tech community – but isn’t about time that Digital was given a department with its name on the door? Is “Film, TV, and Web” really the right way to engage and grow the New York Tech community?
Now, I know that there’s some fear that the last boom and bust gave New York the jitters about the long term viability of digital technology as a tent-pole industry for The Big Apple. But that was then, and this is now. For sure, the bust was painful — but anyone who’s watched the growth of the New York Tech Meetup from its roots as 12 individuals around the Meetup conference room to the now more than 9,000 registered members and a monthly sold-out tech gathering can attest to the fact that New York’s digital explosion is fast moving, impactful, and worthy of nourishment and support from City Hall.
Will I be at internet week? You bet I will. We even built a channel for it. Now the question is, can we get the City to make this a year round initiative?
Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net, a NYC-based Web video startup. He has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV UNfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV.