Impressive economic growth, but challenges linger in Brooklyn
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Jun 19, 2018 | 614 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
According to a newly released economic snapshot by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the borough of Brooklyn is seeing an acceleration in business, education, population...and rent.

For starters, Brooklyn has set employment records for eight consecutive years.

In 2017, private sector employment reached a record 613,400 jobs, an increase of 39 percent since 2009. The borough is outpacing the growth in the rest of the city.

Brooklyn has added 172,600 private sector jobs since 2009, far more than the 1,400 jobs lost during the recession and nearly four times as many as in the second-strongest expansion between 1992 and 2000.

In total, Brooklyn had 61,300 businesses in 2017. Nearly three-quarters of those had fewer than five employees, while 84 percent had fewer than 10 employees.

Downtown Brooklyn, DiNapoli noted, is the city’s largest business district outside of Manhattan.

In particular, the tech industry in Brooklyn reached a record 9,800 jobs last year. And with an average salary of $92,900, the tech industry is among the borough’s highest-paying industries.

The Brooklyn Tech Triangle, which covers Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is home to more than 1,350 innovation companies. DUMBO has more tech companies than any other Brooklyn neighborhood.

“This is a very exciting time for the borough,” DiNapoli said. “It’s very clear that there’s a lot to be excited about what’s happening in Brooklyn.”

And there's more industrial space on the way. Sunset Park’s Industry City is undergoing a 10-year, $1 billion renovation, and Brooklyn Navy Yard is set to add over two million square feet of space by 2020.

The unemployment rate fell from 9.9 percent in 2010 to 4.7 percent in 2017, which is the lowest annual level since data has been collected in 1990.

As the economy grew, so did the population, and Kings County is now the most populous county in the state.

Since 1980, the borough’s population has grown 19 percent to reach 2.6 million residents in 2017. Brooklyn also had 958,000 foreign-born residents representing 36 percent of the population.

“Immigrants are a large part of the borough’s success, making up nearly half of the workforce and 57 percent of the self-employed entrepreneurs,” DiNapoli said.

It’s also one of the most racially diverse counties in the country.

“Our children are no longer living in silos where they only know people who look like them or talk like them,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “There are two types of Americans, those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they could.

“We have an obligation to let them know on a national level that we are great because of our diversity,” he added. “We must not be just the best of brick-and-mortar, but also the best of what human beings have to offer.”

DiNapoli noted that 15 million visitors come to Brooklyn annually, spending $2.1 billion.

But there are several challenges as well. Many in the borough are facing poverty and a shortage of affordable housing.

There’s been little growth in household incomes in neighborhoods such as Brownsville, Ocean Hill and East New York, where average incomes are among the lowest in the city.

Rent has also increased faster than household income. About 54 percent of all households devoted 30 percent or more of their incomes to rent in 2016, which is the level at which rent is considered a burden.

Another 31 percent of Brooklyn residents are devoting at least half of their incomes to rent.

Rotimi Akinnuoye, co-owner of Bed-Vyne Wine & Spirits in Bedford-Stuyvesant, moved to Brooklyn a few decades ago from his native Nigeria. He attended City College and Brooklyn College before opening in his shop in 2011.

The business expanded from a single space to three locations. Akinnuoye currently has 30 employees, but the borough’s affordable housing situation is impacting the future of his business.

“Brooklyn has been to good to us, and we’ve benefitted from gentrification a lot, but a lot of our employees are not able to afford rent,” he said. “We have employees who tell us they have to move so it’s very emotional.

“We talk to our employees everyday, and we talk to people in Bed-Stuy who come for our boxes because they have to move out,” Akinnuoye added. “We have to figure out how we can let people stay in Brooklyn so it can remain this great place.”

Neighborhoods undergoing gentrification have seen median rent soar, which makes it difficult for long-term residents who don't live in rent-regulated apartments or public housing to remain.

Between 2006 and 2016, the median rent has increased by more than 50 percent in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Brownsville and Ocean Hill.

Though the average salary has grown faster in Brooklyn than the rest of the city over the last three years the average salary of private sector jobs was $42,500, which was the lowest among the five boroughs.

Brooklyn ranks second in highest poverty rate in the city at 20 percent, coming in behind the 28.4 poverty rate in the Bronx.

The impending L train shutdown in April 2019 will also be a 15-month disruption.

“Some of these challenges are longstanding, while some are newer and a consequence of the positive,” said DiNapoli. “But overall, I think what this report shows is that Brooklyn’s economy is soaring and can soar higher.”
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