The Long Island City skyline is virtually unrecognizable compared to a few decades ago, as high-rise luxury residential buildings keep filling the neighborhood.
But when it comes to the area’s technology industry, according to Borough President Melinda Katz, Long Island City has a long way to go before it catches up to the hubs within Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“Unfortunately, tech job growth in Queens has lagged behind other New York innovation districts. And we know tech jobs on average pay more and are growing at a faster pace than jobs citywide,” Katz said. “So we decided to do something about it.”
Speaking to a crowd of technology professionals inside WeWork’s Queens Plaza office space last Thursday, the borough president announced the creation of the Western Queens Tech Zone Strategic Plan — a roadmap for growing Long Island City’s technological footprint.
The plan includes six initiatives, beginning with the creation of the 21-member Western Queens Tech Council — which includes officials from various city agencies, influential area entities like Kaufman Astoria Studios and education institutions such as LaGuardia Community College.
The other “people-focused,” “place-based” and “programmatic” prongs of the plan are in the process of being ironed out, but they include:
• building a centralized technology hub complete with affordable office space;
• expanding existing tech job training and pre-training programs for longtime western Queens residents who otherwise might be priced out of the neighborhood; and
• creating economic development tools to incentivize private sector investment and job creation in Long Island City.
According to the strategic plan, western Queens has only seen a 10 percent growth in the number of technology jobs in the last decade, while the city as a whole has seen a 28 percent growth — the 8,400 technology workers in western Queens make up just 15 percent of the neighborhood’s workforce, well short of the percentages in parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
By investing in not just the waterfront neighborhood— an area rife with public transportation — but also its longtime residents, Katz said the expansive proposal will “effectively change Long Island City.”
“It closes the gaps in existing tech training programs. It creates stronger partnerships with tech ecosystem employers to better connect with western Queens residents,” Katz said. “Ultimately, it creates jobs and that’s what we’re here to talk about.”
Kate Wittels of HR&A Advisors — the firm that helped develop the plan — said it is undeniable that Long Island City has the necessary foundation to become New York’s next great tech hub.
All that has to be done now is build it, proponents hope with the hands of people already living in the area.
“The future for tech and innovation districts is to say, ‘How can we do it in a way that is equitable and making sure that we are bringing all of our community members into this ecosystem?” Wittels said. “It’s not just about building some buildings.”
Over the course of her tenure as borough president, Katz has repeatedly called for a balance between explosive development in Long Island City and making sure longtime residents there don’t get priced out.
But with expanded job training programs and more tech companies that pay well moving into the neighborhood, she said, this very well might be the balance she and others have sought.
“We have this tech ecosystem that is just picture perfect for western Queens,” Katz said. “We have people who want to be trained in not only tech, but they want to be trained to go and get a technology education.
“We want to prepare disadvantaged residents to succeed in tech training programs.”
LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow added that she believes the plan would be beneficial to everyone who lives in Long Island City — both new residents and old.
“Technology is not just going to work for Google,” she said. “Technology is going to work, period.”