Andrew Kimball, EDC Chief, Talks Refilling Offices and Protecting Coastlines

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Andrew Kimball is leading New York City’s Economic Development Corporation through three crises at once.

The president and CEO of the city’s arm for growing a trillion-dollar economy and managing its 66 million square feet of property has spent about three months on the job since Mayor Eric Adams tapped him in late February to take over from Rachel Loeb. And what an appointment it was.

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Adams initially landed on another man, New York Building Congress CEO Carlo Scissura, before reports that Scissura lobbied for private property deals without officially registering as a lobbyist scuttled his appointment. Kimball took the gig a week after Loeb departed — and the controversy hasn’t weighed on his mind, or on his relationship with Adams, Kimball told Commercial Observer.

The 57-year-old, who comes to the EDC from Brooklyn’s Industry City and before that the Brooklyn Navy Yard, navigates his new role as New York City recovers from a global pandemic that wracked its economy and as it faces increasingly dangerous consequences of unchecked climate change, never mind rising inflation and recession rumors

So far, it seems like Kimball hasn’t stopped to take a breath. He’s charged with executing Adams’ more than 70 economic initiatives, including opening city agency outposts in key neighborhoods to drive economic growth, spurring on the life sciences industry — which the EDC says has already outpaced San Francisco in job creation in the New York metro area — and managing the EDC’s developments across the five boroughs. 

His remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

Commercial Observer: I know your schedule has been packed. Can you give us a quick overview of what you have been working on since you joined?

Andrew Kimball: The key thing is implementing the mayor’s economic blueprint for the city and overseeing 70 initiatives that look to not only bring the city’s economy roaring back, but to do it with an eye towards resilient industries that make sense for today and the future. 

One of the hallmarks of the Adams administration is going to be a relentless focus on opportunity — opportunity for students at Department of Education (DOE) schools and opportunity for students at City University of New York (CUNY) schools. I think people underestimate the reach and power of CUNY. 

You’ve been on the job for about three months now. What has changed about your plans, and what have you learned?

We are building on plans where seeds have been planted, in some cases, decades ago. A good example of that is the biotech industry — the Adams administration has taken the baton and is going to run with it.

We’re in the midst of a billion-dollar investment plan around biotech. We are turning Kips Bay into something closer to Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass. We’re going to have a hub and spoke strategy that really touches communities across the city from the West Side of Manhattan, to Harlem, to the North Bronx and Morris Park, to Long Island City and Queens and to the South Brooklyn waterfront in terms of biotech. 

New York City still has work to do. We still are behind San Francisco and Boston, if you look at just our five boroughs. But we’re gaining traction. Obviously, what we’ve always had in New York are the “eds” and the “meds” — tremendous educational infrastructure and medical institutions. What we now see happening broadly is the commercialization of products built out of commercial lab space, often in partnerships with those medical institutions and educational institutions. You’re going to see a lot more news around that in the coming months.

Can you give us a hint about what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of continuing that growth?

Some of it is sector-wide and some place-based. We put a big emphasis in this administration on geographic proximity — not just of education, medical institutions and commercialization, but also on educational institutions, particularly the Department of Education and CUNY. That’s going to continue to be a big focus as we move forward. We’re also working very hard to make sure that each one of the transactions we are involved in, whether it’s a real estate transaction, or a tax exemption that helps facilitate lab build-out, that baked into those deals are strong social impact commitments — whether its commitments to entrepreneurial opportunities for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and other people of color] businesses or internships.

I just went to an event last week kicking off our internship program. There were over 100 interns that EDC funds through this program every year, from almost 2,000 applicants, which again speaks to the interest and demand for these kinds of jobs. This is the most diverse and impressive group of young people you’ll find. They’re getting placements at companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 medical industry companies. Almost 40 percent of those internships have resulted in either an extended internship or a permanent job, and obviously that’s the goal here.

What’s the biggest lesson you’re taking from Industry City, or your other previous roles, to this new gig?

Both at Industry City and my experience at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, there is a new kind of manufacturing going on in the city that tends to be much more high tech, high touch, very connected to design and very connected to the green tech and clean tech industries. Both the Navy Yard and Industry City had a slew of tenant partners in that space.

On a citywide level, the clearest example around the industry of the future and clean tech, green tech, is obviously the offshore wind industry. The mayor has committed about $200 million in capital to build out those facilities and to train the workforce of the future — going back to that DOE, CUNY connection, which will be a driver of the 13,000 jobs that are going to be available for all elements of that industry. That’s over 1,000 jobs just at the South Brooklyn Marine terminal, and we currently have a request for proposals out for [the Rossville Municipal Site] on the Staten Island industrial shore. There’s a real opportunity to service the next phase of offshore wind development, and to potentially attract manufacturing at a large scale.

There’s a whole slew of smaller industries that support offshore wind. We’re very focused on driving innovation there and also making sure that we capture that marketplace in New York City.

Another key sector is building retrofits. We did lots of demonstration projects at the Navy Yard in my time there and also in Industry City. Technology is evolving very quickly, and there are the pressures of Local Law 97 that require the greening of buildings. There’s a whole industry — billions of dollars of economic activity — that will be generated as a result and we want to make sure that New York City captures the engineering and manufacturing jobs associated with these upgrades.

The greening of the grid, the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal and the city’s Financial District and Seaport Protection Plan would have a big impact on the environment. How do you see your role in protecting the city from climate change and preparing it for a more eco-friendly future?

With a million people living downtown and billions of dollars of economic activity generated out of Lower Manhattan, we have to act now. 

That action is a combination of things — pivoting off fossil fuels and moving aggressively to other energy generation sources. At the same time, the threats from climate come from both above, in terms of storms and particularly catastrophic rains, tornadoes, hurricanes, but also sea level rise. One of the things that’s amazing about EDC’s work is that we have a $9 billion, 10-year capital plan. A very significant portion of that is going into projects that have major resiliency components. The Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project is a huge piece of that. This is a multiphase, generational effort. 

While it’s expensive, we have to do it if we want to preserve what is a very important residential — but even more important economic — driver for the city. These investments will bear other returns by creating a shoreline that’s more active, inviting and green. 

In the work we do there, multiple administrations have been focused on minority and women contracting. It is a very high priority of this mayor’s. We have a very well-established Minority, Women-Owned, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises contracting program where 40 percent of the dollar value of EDC projects in the last year alone went to minority- and women-owned contractor firms. That’s over $200 million of work right there. And we need to continue to expand that program.

What are the things that an agency like the EDC can do to get people back to their offices, and is that a priority for this agency?

That is a key priority for this administration. One of the key items that the mayor is initiating is a blue ribbon panel, called the “New” New York panel, which was just announced earlier this month. It’s going to be co-chaired by [Sidewalk Labs CEO] Daniel Doctorof and [Robin Hood CEO] Richard Buery, and it’s going to have a broad subset of New York City leaders from business, from labor and from education. 

It was co-convened by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Adams, and I just want to pause on that for a minute. Candidly, after eight years of dysfunction between the city and the state, we have a mayor and a governor who are working better than any mayor and governor that I can remember in my lifetime, and I’m 57. That says a lot. 

The EDC is going to staff that commission that is going to be looking at the future of downtowns, not just Midtown and Lower Manhattan. But how do we capitalize on the fact that there has been real commercial growth when many people were working closer to home or from home? 

That said, we need to continue to drive economic activity in our core central business districts, and that’s going to be a combination of reimagining them at some level. It’s going to require some very thoughtful interventions in the public realm, making it more attractive for people to come back to work, but also to come and enjoy culture or shop. It is going to require a relentless focus and, finally, after 25 years of talking about it, a massive redevelopment of Penn Station. It’s going to require a continued reimagining of our streetscape, in terms of greening sidewalks, or bike paths. All of those things are on the agenda. 

It may also mean looking at a different mix in terms of commercial and residential uses that we have today. We are relentlessly focused on making sure we get back to work. There are so many small businesses that have suffered because there’s not as much street activity. I think you see those numbers steadily moving in the right direction as we move into this next phase of essentially living with the pandemic and more and more people being out and about.

Does EDC face any staffing shortages similar to those confronting the Housing Preservation & Development Department? Is the lack of a remote option for city workers impacting hiring?

I can only speak for EDC, and we are open and active and working harder and more effectively than ever five days a week. We have an outstanding team that is getting stronger every day, so we are not facing those issues.

The ongoing pandemic and potential recession have definitely been on a lot of people’s minds. How do you expect those issues to impact the EDC’s work? Are you concerned about a recession’s impact on the city’s economic growth? 

Well, you can’t put your head in the sand. It’s obvious that interest rates are up. There is a higher degree of trepidation for investors and venture capitalists. What we need to continue to do is EDC’s core mission of diversifying the economy, identifying those sectors that continue to grow, despite the broader economic picture, and really fuel and drive those industries. In many ways our work during challenging economic moments becomes even more critical.

If a recession does occur, has the EDC been thinking about its response or a potential plan?

The 70-point economic blueprint is not a blueprint for good times or bad times or something in the middle. It is a smart blueprint for where we need to take the city. And we’re going to stay relentlessly focused on the mayor’s plan.

Are there any retail trends you’re keeping an eye on?

There’s very good news on the hospitality front. Hotel occupancy continues to go up every month. We’re going to look to continue to drive that. NYC & Company [the city’s tourism arm] is working very hard to drive tourism, and that is up to 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. If you’ve gone to Times Square in the evening, particularly around the weekend, it is jam-packed. These are all positive signs about the global economy reopening.

The mayor reportedly had Carlo Scissura as his pick to head EDC last year, before THE CITY reported that Scissura possibly engaged in lobbying without registering as a lobbyist. Did that context around your appointment change your relationship with the mayor or affect your decision to take the gig?

Not at all. The mayor and I are looking forward, not backwards. There’s a tremendous amount of work we have to do every day. And we’re making progress towards our economic development goals every day.

Do you have any updates on the ferry system? Have you reviewed any ideas on potentially changing how it operates?

I would say the ferry service is one of the real bright lights of the last 10 years in terms of economic development and urban mobility in the city. People tend to forget that the system is only 6 years old. We’ve served over 24 million riders. The ridership came back faster than any other mass transit system as COVID-19 began to recede. We’re up to full capacity already. There were 40,000 riders on the ferry system last Saturday alone. New Yorkers have broadly embraced this new mode of transportation. We’re very focused on making sure that we expand the ridership, and that comes through marketing and smarter outreach. There will be more news on that in the weeks ahead.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com