De Blasio, Bloomberg, and a $100 Million “Baby Step” for Cornell Tech

At Roosevelt Island’s southern end, with the United Nations headquarters across the river, there are giant holes dug into the earth that do not seem like much now—but the project to create the Cornell Tech engineering campus there just got a $100 million boost.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio led an entourage to the construction site slated to one day be an academic center for schooling future innovators in New York. Joining the current mayor was his immediate predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, whose administration initiated the $2 billion project.

This is being billed as part of New York’s next chapter and economic future as the city tries to firm up its place in the technology world by establishing in the city a permanent place to educate engineers and other tech professionals.

Bloomberg does not hold political office anymore, but he is helping support the construction of Cornell Tech with a $100 million donation through Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The campus project is one of the signature elements in the city’s still evolving tech sector, de Blasio said.

“We saw, in just a matter of years, New York go from a place many considered a backwater of the tech community to one of the leading cities for the tech community,” he said, giving compliments to Bloomberg’s administration on that effort, as well as the Google and Facebook for opening local offices.

Building up the technology community in New York naturally offers a chance to bring in more jobs, something most every politico tries to deliver on. “The applied sciences sector will have extraordinary impact enhancing this city’s economy,” de Blasio said. “The projection over the next three decades: more than 48,000 jobs, $33 billion in economic impact.”

The first buildings of the Cornell Tech campus are scheduled to open in 2017, with a fair amount of concrete and rebar to be laid between now and then. Along with schooling students in applied science and engineering, the campus will also have room for tech companies to work alongside resident academics.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg said Cornell Tech will be significant to the city's future. (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg said Cornell Tech will be significant to the city’s future. (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth)

The plan for the campus, Bloomberg said, emerged after his administration had conversations with industry leaders about their long-term needs for personnel. “What we heard again and again was the demand for engineers and applied sciences is going to grow with each passing year,” he said.

Bloomberg’s administration borrowed a page from the federal government of the 19th century, he said, which created land-grant colleges to help the country become a global leader in agriculture and industry.

Though he was an engineering major in college, Bloomberg joked about his chances of being a student at the forthcoming campus. “For the record, I would not have gotten into Cornell Tech, but we’ll forgive them for that,” he said.

Suffice it to say, Bloomberg built his own technology business, the financial software and media giant that bears his name, in New York before founding a startup was the cool thing to do. “It’s exciting to think of all the entrepreneurs who will disrupt industries with innovative ideas and build companies that will employ thousands of people,” he said.

Tuesday’s gathering also brought out stakeholders, such as Habib Kairouz, eager to see the New York innovation community flourish. Kairouz is a managing partner with Rho Capital Partners, Rho Ventures, and Rho Acceleration.

“The customers are here, the entrepreneurs are here, the capital is here,” he told me. “The biggest shortfall was that there wasn’t enough engineering talent. This unlocks it.”

It will be a long while though before the city sees the full benefit of the completed campus, which is expected to be finished by 2037. However, classes for the school have been underway at space within Google’s New York headquarters in the Chelsea neighborhood. In May, said Cornell Tech Dean Daniel Huttenlocher, the school finished its second full academic year, with 75 students graduating. “About 30 percent of our graduates this year are creating new companies in New York,” he said.

Cornell and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, who partnered to create the campus, are also already working with a dozen public schools in the city, de Blasio said, to introduce kids to coding. “We need more and more of our young people to have opportunity in this tech sector,” he said.

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