Before working at GroupMe & L2, I was at the NYC Economic Development Corporation. Most of NYCEDC’s work is conducted via real estate development, but I was on the small team focused on the City’s “innovation economy,” specifically how to make New York a better place for startups. Across all sectors, not just consumer web, although that’s what gets the most media attention.
At the time, and even more so now, I think the biggest benefit of all of the City’s initiatives (financing incubators & coworking spaces like General Assembly, seeding an angel fund at FirstMark, hosting business plan competitions, etc.) is the massive signaling effect it’s created. Individually, each initiative may not actually create new jobs on a scale that’s meaningful or help launch the next Facebook…but in aggregate, they garner continued media coverage of New York’s tech ecosystem. It’s basically a unified marketing campaign targeted at every aspiring entrepreneur in the world, screaming “HEY LOOK AT US. COME HERE, NOT THE VALLEY.”
Arguably the splashiest of these initiatives is the engineering campus on Roosevelt Island. It was no secret that Bloomberg wanted Stanford, the most marquee name in the business - and that fits perfectly with the idea that, if nothing else, all of this City effort is about the message it sends. Having “settled” for Cornell, Bloomberg then poured more money into tech/engineering schools at NYU and the just-announced data institute at Columbia.
Bloomberg (and his expert staff) are spending more and more money, just to send a message. Yes, a lot of tangible good will likely come out of these schools, but not for a while. He’s playing the long game, but with very immediate short-term wins.
What will be really fascinating is to look back in 10/20/30 years and actually quantify an ROI .