Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Keynote Address at Internet Week New York 2014

May 19, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning everyone. I just want to say I appreciated the note of New York City pride that Allison injected into this. Thank you Allison for being a good New Yorker, for everything you’re doing as managing director of internet week, for – with so many other great people putting together this festival and this week. Let’s thank Allison for all she does.

[Applause]

And thank you to so many members of the tech community who are here today. This is an exciting day for New York City and I’d like to note – with some New York pride in my voice – that if a similar gathering were being held in the Silicon Valley, that people would have to drive long distances to get here and then drive long distances back to your workplaces. But here I think a number of you will be walking back to work after this, or taking your bike or your Citi Bike or the subway just a few stops, and that is part of the glory of what makes the tech community in this city so extraordinary right now, and speaks to the extraordinary growth ahead. Because there’s an incredible synergy happening every day and it’s a community that’s vibrant and growing, but it’s happening with people who see each other all the time in the most natural, organic way – who walk to work, who meet each other along the way, who want to talk about a great idea. It takes minutes to get together, and that’s part of what makes this such an extraordinary setting. So I’m thrilled to be a part of this festival today, kicking off the week.

You heard about some of the members of the administration who are here. I’d like to just shout them out a little bit more because they’re an incredibly vibrant group of public servants, and they’re very focused on this community and what it means to the future of the city. Led by our Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen. By the way, I’ve asked her to not only help New York City create tens of thousands of new good-paying jobs and help to build the tech sector and other parts of our economy, I’ve also charged her with the task of creating 200,000 new units of affordable housing over 10 years. She deserves a round of applause for all of that.

[Applause]

So if you see her along the way, buy her a free cup of coffee or something, she needs all the support she can get. I want to thank our EDC President Kyle Kimball, our incoming DoITT Commissioner Anne Roest, our Small Business Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, the Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Cynthia Lopez, you heard about our Senior Counsel Maya Wiley, who is playing a crucial role in our broadband strategies, our senior adviser Peter Ragone, Jessie Singleton, who is doing great work as our digital director, and my technology advisor Jeff Merrit – all here today, all part of a team that is very focused on this community.

And look, what’s happened here is extraordinary. In a very short time in the scheme of things, this community, this sector has risen to extraordinary importance in this city. Now we’re very proud to say that New York City is the second-largest tech center in the United States of America, and growing. And we are intent on amplifying that growth. We see extraordinary possibilities ahead. We think bluntly we’ve only just begun in New York City in terms of developing this sector. But the numbers are extraordinary already. According to a recent report by the Association for a Better New York, 291,000 jobs in our tech ecosystem already. That is an extraordinary achievement. Everyone in this room should be proud of it. Please, give yourselves a round of applause at this moment.

[Applause]

And it means so much to the future of this city, because these are great jobs. This is a great community in all that it brings to this city, in so many ways. But it’s also about creating really high-quality jobs, exactly the kind New Yorkers need right now. And by definition, it’s a five borough industry. It’s already shown that and it will even more so going forward. Not just large companies, but so many small companies, so many start-ups, already in every borough making their presence felt. And we are committed to a strong, forceful five borough approach to the growth of this industry. And that’s just what’s happened already.

Let’s think about the possibilities going forward, because they are extraordinary. And I think this allows me to talk about a point of – a parallel, a point of unity that I think is true in my administration and our connection to the tech community and how we, in many ways, are leading parallel lives and have some of the same assumptions, some of the same impulses guiding our work. Because any of us in the public sector who are doing all we should be doing, by definition we should be agents of change, we should be questioning the status quo when it doesn’t serve people well enough. We should be, in effect, disruptive. That’s what good public servants have always been – changing the paradigm so that we serve people better. And disruption, in the best sense of the word, is synonymous with the tech community – always looking for what can be done in a more innovative, creative fashion, challenging an old way of doing things that wasn’t good enough. There is a synergy, there is a commonality.

We are change agents in our administration, you are change agents in the private sector. You do so much to change how people think, how they learn, how they communicate, how they work together. There’s so much we have in common, and that gives us a special excitement about the opportunity to work with this community.

You know, there are many people in the public sector, there are many people in the private sector who become used to a certain way of doing things, a status quo that is not necessarily efficient or effective or fair. But in this community, that is immediately acted on. And that’s part of why I love this community, because if something isn’t working, if something isn’t right, there are voices, there are people ready to act instantly. And we honor that and appreciate it. So what you do in technology, we try to do in government in our own way. And we also know that all that you do is critical –  in terms of the actual work that you do, in terms of the actual products you create – the way you think is critical to all we need to do in the process of changing this city for the better, in the process of making this city work better for all of its residents.

You allow us, through so much of what you do, to do our work better. And to think better about the work we do. We hope that we, in our efforts, will help you as a community, as a sector to grow. We hope we can make your life easier here in this city, we can make your work better, we can make your efforts at expansion smoother. We think there’s a pure synergy here that we need to act on.

Now let’s talk about some of what makes this place so special and why this community is so important to New York City. We understand that for us to be a true 21st century global capital, this community will play a particularly crucial role. And it’s not just because you bring so much in the way of jobs and investment. It’s because any successful city – I would argue more than ever in history, a successful city thrives on the kind of disruption that new technology brings. Now remember the history of this city. It sends us some very powerful signals. This has always been a place that thrived on change and progress. We’ve always been a global leader by moving with the latest technological and economic advances.

For a long time, New York city was a great city because of shipping. When shipping was the great dominant force in the world, New York City was a global capital of shipping. When manufacturing grew in importance, New York City became a global capital of manufacturing. As finance has risen, New York City became one of the great global capitals of finance. And now as we move more deeply into a knowledge economy, New York City has become a world-class tech sector, and will become even more so in the future years. And that is because we have knack for embracing change, for playing to our strengths, for being ready for the next thing.

And technology as a sector here is not only a thing unto itself, it has helped all the other sectors, all the other parts of our economy be more effective and efficient. So the deepening presence of the tech community in New York City is actually lifting all boats across our city economy. And we think that’s another example of the way the kind of disruption you bring to the process helps everyone.

Now, we recognize the role of government in fostering a healthy economy, the role of government in creating economic growth and better-paying jobs. The role of government in either facilitating economic growth or inadvertently standing in the way of it. And we take an energetic view of what we can do to help this sector grow.

I remind you, there are again plenty of examples in history of government either not getting it or being protectionist, status quo-oriented, unwilling to embrace change. This is a particular favorite of mine, the economist Joel Mokyr gives an example from Germany in the 18th century, a Prussian guild that literally issued this decree. It said, ‘No artisan shall conceive, invent or use anything new.’

Now, that was not an enlightened decree. But when you think about it, there are elements of government policy at all levels – we’ve all seen them – that in effect say something like that, that in effect lead to the same outcome. We resist that here in New York City. We want to foster what’s new. We want to foster what’s better. We know government plays a crucial role. And we want to be in the front line of helping this community to grow, as it knows how to grow best.

Now where has the tech community thrived? You’ve thrived where you have a strong pool of talented and creative people, where you’ve had the right infrastructure, and where you’ve the financial backing and other types of backing for entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. That has been true in a few places in this country. It’s increasingly true here in New York City.

And I always say I like to give credit where credit is due, and the previous administration of Mayor Bloomberg did a fine job setting the table for the growth of this industry. And we want to build upon that good foundation. We know there’s also a lot more to do for the next wave of growth.

Now, more than anything as I’ve talked to people in the tech community, the topic quickly turns to the talent you need. It quickly turns to the question of where you can get the best available talent for your ever-changing, ever-growing industry. And we know that we have to play a role in helping that to happen here in New York City. In the short term, we’re pushing for changes to get talented tech professionals to this city immediately. And that, of course, would be most aided by something I bet there’s a lot of consensus on in this room, the need for comprehensive federal immigration reform – a thing that would help this community so deeply, would help this country so deeply. But in the meantime while we fight for that, we’re trying to do all we can at the local level, whether it’s our effort to create a municipal ID card for folks who are here in this city or a new idea that the Economic Development Corporation of this city is working on, to help foreign-born, US-educated entrepreneurs get work visas and stay in this country after graduation so that they can be part of this community here.

In the near term, we think there’s a lot of ways that we can play a crucial role in helping you to attract new talent to New York City. You know I got a great memo, in effect. It was published, but it still gave me a lot of great tips on some of the things the community cares about deeply. It was by Erik Grimmelman, the president and CEO of the New York Technology Council. It was printed a few days ago. And he talked about fostering a culture of innovation in this city so the best and the brightest come here, stay here. And thankfully as we read this prescription, it was a lot of the things that this administration already agrees with and already is acting on.

We know we have to make this the most conducive possible setting for talent to come to and stay in, and to help do more to create our own homegrown talent. So EDC is working on a number of ways of making the city more appealing for folks who could work in this sector. One example, the tech talent draft has connected 4,500 students to over 150 New York City tech companies through events at 90 universities across the country and here in the city.  Another, NYC Generation Tech, which provides mentorship and immersive boot camp training for New York City public high school students, providing them to – with pathways to careers in technology. Each one of these pieces – and you're going to hear about a lot more – helps to bring more and more people to this sector.

Something we're announcing today we're very proud of – the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline. It will train thousands of New Yorkers for jobs in the tech ecosystem. Now again, we want people from all around the world to help us build this industry here. We have a special obligation to create homegrown talent, to help New York City residents qualify to be a vibrant part of this industry. So we're working on both of those tracks at once. The New York City Tech Talent Pipeline with a budget of $10 million dollars from city, state, federal and private sources over the next three years will be a crucial piece of this equation. Our partners will include JP Morgan Chase, the New York Community Trust, and the NYC Workforce Funders Group. And the city will administer the Tech Talent Pipeline to recruit and train New Yorkers, design new curricula, to meet employers' needs, and engage employers in building the talent pipeline.

Tomorrow, in another front, we'll be announcing members of our Jobs for New Yorkers task force, with leaders from the supply and demand side of an employment equation. Now, the charge is to fundamentally shift workforce and education efforts to focus on quality jobs that support families – in other words, to update everything we do in the way of training and education, to focus on where our economy is actually going, where the jobs are, where the quality jobs are, where the talent needs are. A lot of what we've done historically – in our public schools, in CUNY, in our training programs – has not aligned quickly enough to an ever-changing economy. This new effort will make that alignment sharp and quick and immediate, so we can help produce the talent that you need.

We're going to make sure there's a focus in that effort, particularly, on the tech sector, and that's also going to be a focus of the efforts of the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, which will play a big role in building innovative public-private partnerships and taking other steps to prepare workers for tech jobs.

Look in the long term, we have to change the whole equation, starting with our education system. And from my point of view, the status quo in education hasn't been working on many, many levels, but particularly not in terms of providing the kind of talent that this community needs. So we're taking a series of steps to transform our approach to public education, from pre-K up to high school. We know there's so much more we can do, in terms of curriculum, in terms of teacher training, pre-K, after-school, extending the learning day – so many pieces that will fundamentally improve the abilities of our young people to come out and be ready to be a part of this sector. We also know there are incredibly effective models already existent that we have to build upon, that are working right now, that show us the kind of education our young people could get through our public schools for the future. A great example is the academy for software engineering, which is a model we have to build upon. 

Another great example, we already have great success with our early college and career schools, including those that take kids up through an associates degree, so our young people leave high school with not just a high school degree, but an associates degree, already ready to go right into the job force. And CUNY is a crucial part of this equation. As I met people from the community over the last year, one of the things I heard over and over again is, how can we work more deeply with CUNY, how can the tech community and CUNY be better aligned? For that reason, in our new city budget, we have included $20 million dollars to build STEM programs, two-year STEM degree programs throughout the CUNY system, to help our young people be ready to go, right out of CUNY, into the tech community. And of course, Cornell Tech will be a crucial part of the equation, attracting leading faculty from around the world, and producing highly-schooled – skilled workers for our local tech community. A lot of pieces run through education, and the good news is, these pieces are now moving faster and faster and in coalition  to serve the needs of this community.

Now, as I've mentioned, as I've talked to people in the community, I constantly hear about the challenge of education, I constantly hear about CUNY, but right up there with those concerns, is the concern about broadband access. And I hear it wherever I go, and it's something that we are very focused on addressing. Our approach is going to be bold and it's going to be decisive, because we simply haven't done well enough in this city. The goal is quite simple – we must have universal, affordable, high-speed internet access throughout this city. It's as simple as that. And broadband is essential for everything this community needs to do.  It's essential for everything we need to do to be a fair and just city, because we can't continue to have a digital divide that holds back so many of our citizens. 

We really believe in an inclusive economy, in an effective education system, in a vibrant democracy, it all runs through broadband access. So we're going to be doing a lot of the things that need to be done to shake up the status quo when it comes to broadband. We're going to introduce more competition into the process, which is desperately needed. We're going to reexamine our franchise agreements – including with Verizon Fios and Time Warner Cable – to hold them accountable for providing the kind of service they're obligated to.

A very exciting new project we're undertaking relates to payphones. We're going to use – take a network of up to 10,000 payphones and turn them into internet hotspots across the city, replacing payphones with new cutting-edge technology hubs. And another exciting initiative – the Harlem Wi-Fi network, partnering with the Fuhrman Family Foundation to create the largest continuous, free public Wi-Fi network in the nation, something we're very excited about. 

[Applause]

This will bring free Wi-Fi to 80,000 people between 110th Street and 138th Street, and it will be a great model for us going forward. In the same vein, that we'll be – we will be forming in the coming days, a broadband task force, and we're going to need your help on that task force, because we have to get broadband right for the future of this city. We need people from the tech community, from academia, from non-profits to help us figure out the solutions that will make us stronger for the future.

Now, a couple other points I want to make, because there's a lot to say – there's not much time to say it in – but there's much that we are thinking about and acting on at City Hall right now, to build this community and to build this city's economy. And we know that some of it means getting our own house in order. We know the city government has so much it can do more effectively when it comes to technology. And one of the things I've heard, and I've deeply appreciated by so many members of the tech community, is they've said, look at the fact that the way we think about technology in city government is so often out-moded. And they point to, for example, our procurement process, our RFP process – that takes so long that by the time the process is completed the technology has already changed and the outcome of the process is made, to some extent, moot. And people in the community have said, can't we create a more flexible, interactive, communicative process that actually reflects the way the knowledge economy is going, the way innovation is moving? And we're committed to doing that. We know it can be done. And we need the involvement of this community to help us do some of our very ambitious programs more effectively.

You know, talking in the vein of disruption, if we're going to improve our school system, something I also hear constantly about from the tech community – if we're going to improve our school system so our young people are better able to be full participants in a knowledge economy – well, I've committed us to full-day pre-K for every child in New York City. I think that's foundational to fixing our school system. It's a big, ambitious effort. And this community can play a crucial role in helping us perfect our strategies to create the highest quality pre-K, and make sure that everyone who needs it, gets it. 

You know what we're doing on another crucial front to keep this city safe, our Vision Zero initiative. We know we can prevent so many fatalities from car crashes. We know we can do better. And this is a case where the city government is moving rapidly to change the way things have been done to protect people in new ways and better ways. Yes, we're borrowing some great ideas from Sweden, and they've been an inspiration to us. But we know right here in this community will be some of the answers we need on how to better protect our citizens through Vision Zero. And there's so much that we want to do with this community to help improve access to information, to help show that New York City is on the move as a tech center. 

Later this year – we're very excited about this – we will formally launch the .nyc web address. New York City will become the first city in the country with a top-level domain, creating new opportunities to support local businesses, organizations and residents. We're also committed to making sure – as I said – the tech community becomes a five borough community, and we're committed to increasing the number and diversity of tech companies doing business with the City of New York. And to do that, we have to get – as I said – our own procurement process to better align to this community, to this industry, and we need your help figuring out how to do that. 

As I finish, I'll note a simple quote that really epitomizes a lot of what I believe in – a lot of what I believe in about the economy, a lot of what I believe in about knowledge, about social and economic justice. It's from one of our greatest New Yorkers, the playwright Tony Kushner, who said simply, ‘The world only spins forward.’ It's something that summarizes so much of what I feel, it's something that epitomizes the future-looking approach of this community, and it's why we have a commonality in our mutual missions to make this city a better place for everyone, to make this city a better place to invest in. And we need you, we need your investment for this city to be all it can be, and we owe to you the kind of partnership that fosters that investment. We need that investment to be in all parts of this city, and again, we see it happening already, in particular, in Brooklyn, which is an extraordinary example of success. 

Brooklyn, by the way – let me brag as a Brooklynite – is now the fastest growing tech county in this country, other than the city of San Francisco. And we are proud of that fact as Brooklynites. And based on the success of the Brooklyn tech triangle, we're now working with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and the coalition for Queens, helping to launch the Queens Tech Strategic Plan, which I think is going to be very effective moving us forward in Queens as well, and then on to the Bronx and Staten Island. 

We're going to do all we can to train the people that you need for the industry. We need your help attracting people from all over the country. We need your help mentoring our young people, and helping them into this sector, providing them a gateway. We definitely need your help in Washington, D.C., fighting for better policies that will help us to get universal broadband access. We need your help in so many ways to build this city the way it should be. And I mentioned before – we are adamant, we are going to create 200,000 units of affordable housing. That's enough for half a million people.  And that will be built over the next ten years. By the way, just to, again, give you some sympathy that you'll help share with Alicia Glen – enough housing for half a million people means we're building as much housing as there is in the city of Atlanta or the city of Miami. We're going to do that in the next ten years in this city. Because yet another thing I have heard from this community so deeply is, you could do a lot better job at attracting and retaining talent if people could actually afford a place to live. So we're doing something about that with the most aggressive affordable housing plan in the history of this nation. And so much of what we're doing with education – I mentioned all the fronts we're working on there. We're in the process of reforming our schools because I know you need that to happen. We're in the process of making them more effective. We're in the process of making them the kind of schools that every person in this city will want to send their child to in every neighborhood, and the kind of schools that produce kids ready to engage the modern economy. It starts with full-day pre-K, it goes up through those early college programs, and all the other tools we have. 

And what we've done with the reforms in our new teachers contract is going to be part and parcel of making this a more vibrant and effective educational system. So I conclude by saying, just like you – by definition – have energetic, ambitious, innovative approaches to all you do every day, we in City Hall try to mirror that. We in City Hall try to move right in step with you. And together – I am convinced – together, we are going to build a much stronger New York City, a much more inclusive New York City, a much more vibrant New York City. We will be, in the future, undoubtedly one of the great tech hubs of the entire world because of all you are doing, and we will be there with you every step of the way. Thank you so much. 

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