The battle for American innovation: New York City takes aim at Silicon Valley

New York City wants to beat Silicon Valley in nurturing innovation and attracting venture capital dollars. To do so, mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to build a major engineering campus.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a grand plan for the city's technology and bio-science sector on Tuesday in an attempt to attract as many -- then more -- venture capital dollars as cross-country rival Silicon Valley.

In a keynote speech at the "Future of New York City" conference hosted by Crain's New York Business, Bloomberg said a "state-of-the-art" engineering and applied sciences campus in the city -- built in conjunction with a top-tier university -- would help NYC reclaim its title as the "world capital of technological innovation."

"New York became the world's greatest city because New Yorkers dared to dream it and build it," Bloomberg said. "Today, we are looking far into the future once again - and launching one of most promising economic development initiatives in the city's long history."

To do so, city officials this week released a Request for Proposals to universities "near and far" with an enticing offer: the city will provide prime New York City real estate at virtually no cost, plus up to $100 million in infrastructure upgrades, in exchange for the institution's commitment to "build or expand a world-class science and engineering campus here in our city."

"We are doing what New Yorkers have done at key points throughout our history: investing so that the future of this City will be brighter than its past," he said.

The sites in question: Governors Island, which sits between Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York Harbor; the Navy Yard in Brooklyn; and Roosevelt Island, which sits between Manhattan and Queens in the East River.

Bloomberg likened the plan to the U.S. government's creation of a land-grant program in 1862 to spur the creation of new universities.

"President Lincoln and Congress sought to promote innovation and expertise in agriculture and engineering -- because they knew those fields were critical to the nation's economic growth," Bloomberg said. "And how right they were. Cornell, MIT, Cal-Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and so many major universities grew out of that land grant program, and along with them came pioneering discoveries that helped America become the world's largest economy."

Last year, New York City passed Boston to become the second largest recipient of venture capital funding for technology start-ups, behind only Silicon Valley, Bloomberg said.

"Boston had a lead on us for years mostly for one reason: the strength of their research institutions, especially MIT," Bloomberg said. "Every year, their researchers develop technological advances that are spun-off into new businesses."

Columbia, Cooper Union, Fordham and NYU are among the universities in New York's backyard; all have expansion plans underway.

Can New York muster a match? Bloomberg said it won't happen overnight, but it could within 30 years' time.

"Even when we were the nation's manufacturing capital, we were also its creative capital," he said. "Right now, our appetite for innovation is outstripping the capacity of our labs."

More highlights from the speech:

  • "When I was first elected in 2001, New York City still had one foot planted firmly in the 20th century - and unfortunately, it was the first half of the 20th century. Most of our basic infrastructure was 50 to 100 years old."
  • "The future we envisioned for New York has enough space for generations of families and companies to grow. And so we have re-zoned major swaths of the city to allow for more housing and commercial development."
  • An extension to the 7 train on the far west side of Manhattan "will do for the Far West Side what the Jubilee Tube line did for Canary Wharf in London: transform an old industrial area into one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in the world."
  • "When our city fathers created the street grid two hundred years ago, there was no need to stretch it to 155th Street - but they did, because they imagined growth they could not see."
  • "We asked 325 CEOs, entrepreneurs, university leaders, and other major employers what their key needs were - and the most common refrain they repeated over and over again was: Technology capacity is critical to our growth - and there is just not enough of it here."
  • "For most of our history, New York City was the technology capital of the United States - and the world. We became the country's economic engine because our entrepreneurs were the most innovative - and their ideas and investments built our city into a global powerhouse."
  • "When I created Bloomberg LP in 1981, no one called us a start-up. But that's what we were. We had an untested idea that relied on untested technology developed by a one-time engineering student and a few computer scientists. Of course back then, they weren't called scientists. They were called nerds. But I could never have built the business without them."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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