By Raanan Geberer
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli hit the nail on the head when he issued a report stating that Brooklyn’s economic achievements have outpaced those of the rest of the city.
As a recent Eagle article by Matthew Taub reported, DiNapoli, speaking at the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, said, “Business in Brooklyn is booming and people want to live there because of the borough’s economic opportunities, its diversity and its outstanding schools, museums and nightlife.”
Steve Hindy, the co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery, added, “Educated young people have been pouring into Brooklyn for the past two decades, and they responded to the 2008 recession by starting businesses in the food, beverage, media and tech sectors.”
What DiNapoli didn’t say is that the boom in Brooklyn began with two things: Downtown Brooklyn’s closeness to Manhattan, and the availability of large commercial and industrial spaces that became vacant as traditional industry declined.
As far as all those young people are concerned, originally, young people who sought to live on their own in New York and take advantage of the city’s intellectual and cultural opportunities were attracted to Manhattan. In particular, they flocked to the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village.
Then, however, something happened — Manhattan rents went though the roof. The co-op boom soon followed. Starting in the 1970s, many young single people began moving to Brooklyn, at first to Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and other nearby areas.
Originally, the attraction of these neighborhoods was that they were close to Manhattan. But soon, young people in these areas started to develop businesses and cultural institutions of their own. They also revitalized existing institutions, such as the Brooklyn Museum. A similar dynamic happened in Williamsburg, beginning around 2000.
Now, we get to the large, empty spaces. At one time, all of those waterfront lofts, warehouses and factories stretching from Sunset Park to Williamsburg were humming with industry. Little by little, many of these industries either moved to other parts of the country or overseas. Others became obsolete. For example, a friend of mine once worked for an envelope company. After the coming of the Internet, fewer people sent actual letters, and the company went out of business.
Many of these spaces were eagerly claimed by artists, who began moving into DUMBO in the 1990s. Later, high-tech start-ups began to take advantage of these vacant spaces. We must add that the growth of small industries and start-ups was helped by public entities, in particular the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Brooklyn Army Terminal, which aggressively sought to attract new businesses. The Borough President’s Office and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce also did their part by calling attention to Brooklyn’s good points at every opportunity.
Getting back to DiNapoli’s report, we can see the result of Brooklyn’s achievements. Since 2003, private-sector jobs have grown by 19.8 percent, nearly twice as fast as the rest of the city.
Of course, the glitzy high-tech and creative industries aren’t the whole story. According to the report, the health care and social service sector was the leading employer, although this sector is doubtless taking a big hit as the result of the closing of LICH. The second leading employer was the retail sector, which includes both trendy boutiques and 99-cent stores.
All in all, Brooklyn must be praised its economic success. This success is a result of a fortuitous combination of circumstances aided by active efforts from government, academia and business.