Unemployment’s High, But Not in the High-Tech Area!

By Dennis Holt

DUMBO — For far too long, there has been a chorus of “Where are all the jobs?” But another question is being asked in DUMBO: “Where are all the workers?”

Reports have been intensifying that DUMBO is becoming a major new tech center. The Wall Street Journal last week ran a major story with this lead:

“Tech startups and digital advertising companies have flocked to DUMBO throughout the past decade, drawn to the neighborhood’s industrial lofts that eschew Midtown’s buttoned-down culture. Now DUMBO’s tech scene is about to get bigger.”

But there is a damper on the good news — too many chairs remain empty. Jerry Hultin, president of New York University-Polytechnic Institute, has said, “If there is one common hurdle putting a damper on growth for many DUMBO startups, it is finding qualified programmers and engineers.”

Gavin Fraser of Small Planet Digital, a mobile- and tablet-app firm, says his company is in a similar situation. “We are in a position now, unfortunately, where we are turning down work because we can’t hire app developers quick enough,” he said.

Small Planet came to DUMBO in 2009 and now has about two dozen employees. The company says it wants to hire six more positions immediately. Fraser says that if he had eight more developers, he could likely double the revenue of the company.

Huge Inc. and Etsy, two of DUMBO’s largest employers, rapidly expanded in 2010 and plan to keep growing next year. Smaller startups such as Pontiflex and Red Antler are also hunting for programmers and engineers to add to their work force.

And as reported previously, NYU-Polytechnic will open a new incubator in DUMBO that could consist of at least 20 companies.

The story of Huge Inc. reflects the pressure of finding qualified people. It has 400 employees worldwide, and most of them are in DUMBO. It hopes to hire 50 people in 2012 to work as programmers, designers and strategists. By next fall, it will occupy an additional 40,000 square feet at 45 Main St.

There may be some good news for all those DUMBO firms and others elsewhere. There are reports that the number of declared computer-science majors at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science increased by 12 percent this year and 10 percent at NYU. Similar reports are coming out of Queens College and Stevens Institute.

This is a national trend as well. According to the Computing Research Association, the number of computing science majors increased by 7.6 percent from 2009 and 2010.

Think about there being a high-tech DUMBO. When David Walentas bought his DUMBO properties, they were supposed to house back-office operations for Wall Street. Now see what’s happened.

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Filed under Brooklyn Broadside, DUMBO, Editorial

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