Pinsky: Quality of life improvements are among the biggest strides of the past 20 years.

(First of two parts)

NEW YORK CITY—In a recent sit-down interview with, Seth Pinsky, the former president of the New York Economic Development Corp. and now a key player in the private sector at RXR Realty Corp., held forth on topics ranging from the strides commercial real estate made during the Bloomberg administration to the state of Manhattan’s office market. In fact, he shared enough insight with us for two articles, and that’s how we’re presenting the conversation. The New York Police Department has come under fire after several controversial arrests and an uptick in crime. Are you concerned that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD are not paying enough attention to the quality-of-life issues—such as safety and security—that were a key focus area for Mayor Michael Bloomberg?

Seth Pinsky: Improvements in quality of life and, in particular, the drop in crime in New York City are among the most important contributing factors to the revival of New York City over the last twenty years. In addition to resulting in, relative to highs of the early 1990s, nearly 1,900 fewer murders each year in our city—a staggering figure—the drop in crime has also played a key role in allowing the city to continue to attract young people and retain our vibrant middle class.

In the past, when “prime neighborhoods” became too pricey, the only viable option for many New Yorkers was to leave the city. With improvements in public safety, dozens of more affordable, but formerly challenged areas have become real alternatives for these and other important demographic cohorts. 

I am pleased that, even as the NYPD focuses on refining specific policing tactics that it thinks merit review, to date, Commissioner Bratton and the Mayor have continued to make fighting crime a central priority. What industries were a focus of your former boss and where is the city on those fronts?

Pinsky: During the Bloomberg administration, our economic development strategy had three broad areas of focus. First, we looked to support legacy industries—that is, industries in which the city was historically a leader, including finance and media. Our goal was to help companies transition from 20th-century business models to 21st-century business models.  This was the impetus behind the first municipally-sponsored media lab in the United States that we started with Columbia and NYU, the goal of which was to help media companies to “see around the corner” and anticipate changes in technology.

In addition to supporting legacy industries, we also were focused on industries in which the city had competitive advantages, but in which, for one reason or another, it was hitting below its weight.

An example was bioscience, where the city is a leading headquarters city and is a leader in basic research and development. However, we seemed to be a laggard in commercializing the research that was going on in our academic medical centers in a way that benefitted the New York City economy. To remedy this, the administration worked on the creation of over a million square feet of new commercial wet-lab space, including the flagship Alexandria Center for Life Sciences, which attracted operations from firms such as Roche, Eli Lilly and start-up Kadmon.

The third prong of our strategy involved supporting entrepreneurship, regardless of industry.  Here, the idea was that, traditionally, governments do a bad job of picking ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among industries and that the best way to ensure that New York would benefit from the next big thing was to empower our city’s most valuable natural resource: our smart and talented workforce. Among the initiatives launched to support this strategy were the city’s highly-successful network of business incubators, as well as innovative training programs and seed funding programs co-sponsored by the city.

To date, where specifically the DeBlasio Administration is going to focus its economic development efforts has remained an open question. Encouragingly, the new administration has expressed a desire to continue to promote some of the faster-growing industries that were attracted to the city by the Bloomberg administration’s policies—including the so-called “creative economy,” the technology sector and the commercial bioscience sector. 

As the new administration rounds out its economic development strategy, I hope that the general approach taken by the Bloomberg administration will continue to be pursued, as this approach led not just to a much greater diversification of the city’s economy but also to record levels of citywide employment.

Check back in the next day or so for part two of our chat with Seth Pinsky, where he will talk about his focus areas at RXR—based on trends he’s seeing—and a major threat to Manhattan’s office stock.