Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NYC Talent Disadvantage

Using hyperbole is hard to do when talking about New York City. Its urban economy is king of the entire world. But the metro pales in comparison to Silicon Valley, which is why Mayor Bloomberg is anxious to stoke the fires of innovation. His city is playing catch up not only with San Francisco-San Jose. The Big Apple is also behind Beantown:

If New York has yet to make its mark in digital innovation the way Silicon Valley has done—with Stanford as its engine of innovation, or even Boston, with MIT—some vital trends are moving in its direction. “You’ve got to understand how big we are,” says Bloomberg, citing an encounter with a friend from Boston who told him, when the Roosevelt Island project was first being proposed, “Oh, you’ll never succeed because Boston is the education capital of the country.” Bloomberg says he told his friend bluntly: “New York City has more undergraduate and graduate college students than Boston has people.” That, he said with a chuckle, “sort of ended that argument.”

Actually, the quip should start an argument. What matters more, the aggregate number of brains or the concentration? In terms of innovation, Boston is closer to Silicon Valley than New York is. Boston is a talent production cluster. Producing college graduates defines Boston's economy. In New York City, the business of higher education is a sideshow. Its advantage is decidedly one of talent attraction, not production.

If anything, NYC wastes its raw brain power. Regions with lesser undergraduate and graduate students outperform the world's best metro. Big isn't necessarily better. Bloomberg identified a weakness, not a strength.

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