Our response to Covid-19 offers a similar opportunity. Although there’s no doubt we must focus on addressing immediate problems (schools, contact tracing, saving small businesses), we also should put thought into New York’s future. Repairing is one thing, but designing a foundation is another. The new street grid, transit reforms and development policies that came out of 9/11 attest to the importance of the latter.
New York leaders should therefore take a few steps to chart the 21st century. In addition to controlling the virus and helping people in need, we must develop a grand strategy that recognizes the economic changes that were already happening before the pandemic, and leverage them in a way that benefits everyone.
Step one: capitalizing on emerging industries. Here the tech sector is a good starting point. Not only will tech companies continue to grow, but so too will tech aid and fuel the growth of every other kind of business. The areas that we should invest in include cybersecurity, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, transportation and smart manufacturing. Not only are they slated to create many jobs, but they also will increasingly undergird every other industry. A recent study on the projected impact of quantum computing on the New York economy, for instance, found that more than 57,000 new jobs will be generated in this area during the next five years, with that number expected to continue to grow as the technology advances. Policymakers and entrepreneurs need to work together to ensure that momentum keeps moving into the next decade, and create the right business conditions for New York to become an emerging tech hub.
Another way of putting this is reinvention by necessity. With more and more of our lives happening in a virtual world, the safety and efficiency challenges facing organizations have changed. Cyber threats, for example, are now a regular vulnerability for businesses and governments alike. Companies need rapid data processing like never before. Quantum computing and advanced malware detection are crucial for the economy. Not only will emerging tech generate growth, but it will also be a necessary component for the economy of tomorrow.
The next steps are doubling down on workforce development and ensuring that people can actually break into the sectors. Job openings in AI and cybersecurity don’t mean much if New Yorkers aren’t qualified for them. We, therefore, need to expand our roster of digital skills programming—which includes computer science in the classroom, boot camps for aspiring coders, and a bevy of private training classes for entrepreneurs and workers. If the tech economy is to be inclusive, we’ll need to put as much emphasis on teaching people the requisite skills as we do teaching them arithmetic.
Closing the digital divide is another step. Before Covid-19, we were already spending a lot of time online. In the midst of the pandemic, that trend has been amplified. People now need speedy, affordable internet connections to do their job, go to school, pay bills and get through each day. The fact that there are disparities in internet access is an impediment to the economy and only exacerbates existing inequalities. A strong 5G network throughout the city and state would help solve that issue and ultimately allow workers to take the necessary steps to move into the tech sector.
The good news is we already have parts of the foundation. New York has nearly unlimited investment resources, and state and local leaders have shown their appreciation for what tech can do.
The key is tying all the parts together and creating a new economy that offers opportunities to all.
Lynn McMahon is the managing director of Accenture’s metro New York office. Julie Samuels is the executive director of Tech:NYC.