The initiative, called the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, would connect the real estate and education resources in Downtown Brooklyn to the tech businesses in DUMBO and the Navy Yard.
Stakeholders held a meeting at 2 Metrotech Center last Wednesday to discuss the progress of the initiative – where they said their highest priorities include improving transportation between the points of the triangle and addressing expansion needs from local businesses.
At the meeting, they said a main goal is to expand on the qualities in Brooklyn that are naturally attracting startups.
“They're not here as a result of any of other thing other than the fact that they find Brooklyn to be a good place to live and work,” Tom Montvel-Cohen, chairman of the DUMBO BID, said of the emerging tech startup scene in DUMBO and the Navy Yard.
“They're not being enticed here by any program or by any other point other than the quality of life, which is an extraordinary thing,” he said.
Alexandria Sica, executive director of the DUMBO BID, said her area and the Navy Yard are nearly full of startups, but Downtown Brooklyn needs help attracting businesses, which would also keep them from relocating to the West Coast.
Currently, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has 4.5 million square feet of built space which is 98 percent occupied, with 100 businesses on a waiting list. But the Yard will add 1.5 million square feet over the next three years, along with a 20-acre hospital campus.
DUMBO has 1.26 million square feet of leasable space in nine buildings, with a 2 percent vacancy rate.
Downtown Brooklyn, however, has 17 million square feet of commercial space, with a 3.4 percent vacancy rate for Class B real estate and a 10 percent rate for Class A.
In addition, Empire Stores has 325,000 square feet, 370 Jay Street has 400,000 square feet, and the MetroTech center has an additional 1.5 million square feet of space.
“You've got dozens of companies looking to grow, double in size, really expand over the next couple of years,” Sica said, “but what we're coming up against is real estate constraints for spaces where they want to be.”
To fight this, she said the tech triangle would provide methods for the critical mass of start-ups in DUMBO and the Navy Yard to spill over into Downtown Brooklyn.
Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, said the triangle needs public help in four ways.
The first, he said, is improving transportation, to not only help workers and students get around the triangle, but also to help those in underemployed communities obtain jobs in Brooklyn's up-and-coming tech industry.
The initiative also needs funds for capital projects to improve streetscapes and make areas, such as the route between the waterfront and the new Barclay's Center, more pedestrian-friendly.
“It's no secret that these companies are choosing to locate in areas like DUMBO and the Navy Yard because of the charm and because of the sense of place, so what can we do to expand on that?” Reed said.
Stakeholders need help battling economic problems as well, such as providing jobs in chronically underemployed communities in Brooklyn, which has a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the city.
Finally, businesses need to attract talent from the 57,000 college students who attend the 11 universities in Downtown Brooklyn. To do so, government needs to prepare both high school and college students for employment in the borough's technology hub, Reed said.
“What are we doing to make sure that those students are prepared for jobs here when their finished?” he asked. “How are we preparing students from a very early age to go to school here and find a job here?”
But the “private sector cannot address it completely on our own,” Reed said.
Stakeholders said the government is very responsive, citing $100,000 for 10-month study to identify how to adapt available commercial space to the needs of tech startups, secured by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman Steve Levin and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz.
In an interview Monday morning, Red Hook resident Zephrin Lasker, CEO and co-founder of Pontiflex, a mobile advertisement company in DUMBO, agreed that space, transportation and access to talent are the most important ways to foster economic development in Brooklyn.
“I think that getting critical mass into this area of Brooklyn and Brooklyn in general for tech startups is really important,” Lasker said.
He said he does notice expansion restrictions for startups due to a lack of space in DUMBO.
In addition, Lasker said 65 people are employed at Pontiflex, many are students, and that he is always looking for interns.
“Having a deep pool of tech talent is probably the most important thing,” he said.