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CityWatch: As creatives swarm to tech, wages rise, offices fill in COVID-emptied New York

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While Biff and Buffy were moving to Mamaroneck, Google, Amazon and Facebook were moving to New York. And New York is getting the creative jobs to prove it.

Much has been made these past 18 months over the emptying of New York City by its well-off residents, as they tried to outrun the reach of COVID-19 and its even more pernicious cousin, the delta variant. And all that’s true. With the pandemic raging, plenty of six- and seven-figure New Yorkers bought in Westchester, decamped to the Hamptons, snuck off to the Catskills or pretended that a leafy ZIP Code could protect them and their children from the ravages of an infectious disease.

Doubt this? Ask a suburban Realtor. You’ll have no trouble finding her. She’s the one with the grin on her face.

Watch: Flooding in New York City, tornadoes in New Jersey after Ida remnants drench area

Well, America’s cultural capital still has some two-way streets, even in the great COVID diaspora. Don’t look now, but someone saw a New York opportunity when the scaredy cats ran.

Big Tech.

And not just Big Tech―also media and fashion companies and other outposts of what is loosely called “the creative economy.” They’ve been hiring up a storm, as these companies and data from the jobs platform Creatively keep proving.

Next week, all this will be on vivid display at Spring Studios in Tribeca as thousands of fashion designers, photographers, stylists, producers and make-up artists have their big moment at the self-congratulatory pinnacle of international style and creativity, New York Fashion Week. This fall’s edition is being billed as New York culture’s exciting post-COVID return.

OK, there will be masks along the catwalks. Very stylish masks. And you’ll need to pick an iPhone case that doesn’t clash with the background of your New York State (“I have been vaccinated”) Excelsior Pass. But Fashion Week’s return to its almost pre-pandemic glory symbolizes something big.

New York used to be a factory town. Then it was a broker-and-trader town. Now, increasingly, it’s the land of tech, media, fashion and the arts. No wonder it’s so hard to get a table for chef Angie Mar’s $185 pre-fixe at Les Trois Chevaux on West 12th Street. All those Varvatos-attired tech execs have to eat.

See: Google extends its return-to-office date to January 2022

and: Facebook delays return to office until January 2022

This was a key goal of the Bloomberg Administration―remember them?―when media-conscious, tech-savvy managers like Katherine Oliver convinced those squishy industries that New York really was a better place for them to be. Who needs the sprawl and strip malls of Silicon Valley? Who needs the grinding traffic and endless distances of Los Angeles? New York is where the energy is and where the energetic people want to be.

The spark lit then is now a raging fire.

Amazon
AMZN,
+0.43%
,
Apple
AAPL,
+0.42%
,
Facebook
FB,
+0.26%

and Google
GOOGL,
+0.32%
,
the four horsemen of Big Tech, now have more than 22,000 employees in New York City, thousands having arrived since COVID. Facebook has leased up enough office space to triple its current city workforce of 4,000. Just as the pandemic arrived, Amazon paid $1 billion for the hulking Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue. These tech giants clearly aren’t convinced we’ll all be working at home in our gym shorts five years from now. Tech companies now account for 29.3 million square feet of New York City office space, compared to 17.6 million square feet in 2011, according to Tech: NYC.

No one’s in a better position than Greg Gitrich to see the critical role creators and artists are now playing in the city’s overall economy.

Gitrich is the CEO of Creatively, the largest professional networking platform for creatives, and his team has just completed a survey of executives in those fields. Sixty-one percent of the companies say they are hiring more creatives than last year. Sixty percent say the competition for creative talent has increased over the past six months. The most in-demand creatives have skills and disciplines associated with digital media, video and branding, according to the Creatively data. Demand is especially hot for graphic designers, video editors, social media producers, digital artists and photographers.

Also read: Meeting vaccine hesitancy, one calm answer at a time 

As the New York hiring spikes, the sought-after creatives are demanding higher pay and more perks. Sixty-three percent of companies across those industries report upward wage pressure, along with demands for flexible schedules and work-from-home options. 

“Most people associate tech companies with engineers, developers and data scientists,” Gitrich said. “What our data reveals is that the tech industry is increasingly a big employer of creatives, these designers, animators, 3-D artists, brand strategists, video editors and more.”

“We’re living in an era where demand for creative talent has never been higher,” said Creatively founder Stacey Bendet, who will be better known at Fashion Week as the brains behind the Alice + Olivia brand. “We see it in the size, diversity and depth of the creator economy in New York City. And that’s just one example. All these companies are focused on content creation. Fashion brands, tech companies, entertainment studios, e-commerce startups, local businesses—they’re all chasing the same thing.”

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