If manufacturing is going to have a revival in New York, its leaders are going to need help from the city. Just no money, please.
Instead, manufacturing leaders would prefer the city rezone and provide tax credits to ensure the reshaping industry keeps producing. If varying forms of rezoning were implemented, smaller start-ups would be able expand, provide more jobs and help redevelop potentially large buildings for manufacturing. Their comments come just a day after a City Council report called for three types of zoning that would ensure economic stability for the industrial sector.
“There is not one size that fits all with zoning around industrial businesses,” said Andrew Kimball, CEO of Industry City in Brooklyn, at a manufacturing panel part of the innovation-focused Crain’s The Future of New York City Conference.
While it is nowhere near the 1 million jobs it provided to the city 50 years ago, a new manufacturing sector has begun to level out in terms of jobs. It has become more specific, more local and provides higher-paying wages.
Non-apparel manufacturing employs about 77,000 jobs as of September, according to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is roughly 2% of the entire city’s workforce. Although that number is small, companies employ a broad base from designers with college degrees to blue-collar jobs such as transportation, which would require at least a GED.
But this industry can only thrive, panelists said, if the city provides infrastructure to grow, along with ensuring areas are zoned the proper way to ensure outside forces – such as residential and commercial real estate – don’t drive up rents on small start ups.
Kimball, who oversees the privately-invested and controlled Industry City, pointed to his old project, the city-owned Brooklyn Navy Yards. It provided the infrastructure, he said, that spurred private investment.
That potential hasn’t quite hit Industry City, however, which still has underused space in need of development. One suggestion he had for the city is opening the doors for retailers to move closer to production. There’s a growing trend, he said, in which consumers want to see where products are made and who is making them.
But zoning making sure industrial space doesn’t get lost in the fray is the first step.
“For the small mom and pops to have more certainty in the future to know that they’re secure and continue to grow their business,” he said after the panel. “For the big, privately owned multi-story building that are so expensive to convert to high-employment innovation, I think it’s understanding that [there is a need for] a different mix of uses.”
And if successful, the city could zone in the infrastructure that would create a community of innovators who work together and continue making progress in the sector.
“Location matters,” said Peter Weijmarshausen, head of 3D printing company Shapeways in Long Island City. “People want to share notes.”
Following the tax credit model that’s been applied to the film and television industry could also help manufacturing expand. Kaufman Astoria Studios, for example, has been an anchor in the northwestern pocket of Queens, said studio CEO Hal Rosenbluth. With tax cuts to the ever-mobile industry, studios have been able to hire 130,000 people, according to the mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and become a $1.7 billion industry.
And potentially high costs have concerned Weijmarshausen. It’s been tough to draw the skilled manufacturers to the city if they have to move across the country, he said, and deal with a high cost of living while working at a start up.
“If you want people with experience, they’re working in manufacturing elsewhere,” he said. “Some convincing needs to be done to move people with manufacturing jobs to New York.”
City Councilmembers haven’t shied from this issue, either. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released a reporter yesterday calling for three types of zoning for industrial areas in the city. These would include ensuring large building could be converted, finding creative ways to spur economic activity, and mixed economic use that would ensure production remains a big factor in the area.