'Live, work, play': Why businesses are choosing Brooklyn over Manhattan in pandemic recovery

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Brooklyn has become the fastest growing borough in New York City's pandemic recovery.

"People just love the live, work and play vibe that we've got going here," said Randy Peers, the president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

Peers noted that in order to understand the COVID-19 recovery, one would have to look at what he calls the "rebranding" of Brooklyn that began in the 1970s when crime gave the borough a dark reputation.

"We were the fourth largest manufacturing center in the country after World War II," he said. "Then, like most industrial cities, we went in decline. Heavy manufacturing left, people left, they left to the suburbs."

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Photo credit Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce

The key to Brooklyn's transformation into a creative hub, Peers told WCBS 880, was the conversion of old industrial space into residential buildings.

"I like to say this a lot, but mixed-use matters and it gives that sense of a true sort of holistic community. And I think that's part of the rebranding story."

recent Partnership for New York City survey found only 8% of office workers have returned full-time. Remote and hybrid work have accelerated business growth in Brooklyn.

"I mean, if you're working from home, you're more likely to shop locally," said Peers.

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Photo credit Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce said technology is the borough's fastest growing industry with the highest paying jobs.

"People don't realize this, but we rival San Francisco in terms of new tech startups. But it's what I call little tech. It's not big tech."

"We've got Newlab out at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we've got NYU Tandon Future Labs. We've actually tried to cultivate tech through these wonderful incubators," said the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce leader.

Another incubator that has helped launch numerous startups during the pandemic is the Brooklyn Public Library in Prospect Park. Their business experts guided Brooklyn Tea, new environmentally conscious companies, e-commerce brands and more with skills and managerial training. Its PowerUP! program awarded a total of $41,000 in seed capital to eight finalists last year.

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While business is booming in Brooklyn, Peers emphasized on the Small Business Spotlight that the outer boroughs need Manhattan to thrive because it's the city's economic engine.

"I will say we need Manhattan to bounce back. We need office workers to come back if we're going to have a full recovery for New York City as a whole."

Peers said there are three factors still holding back the city's recovery: back rents from the COVID-19 shutdown need to be resolved; labor shortages in key sectors such as childcare are keeping some people out of the workforce; and people are cutting back on their spending due to high inflation.

See more on New York City's recovery, the post-pandemic economy taking shape, and the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where businesses are booming on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.