Is the “New” Brooklyn Economy For Real?

Congratulations, Brooklyn—you are officially the white hot center of New York City’s labor market.

From 2000 to 2010, the borough’s employment rolls grew by 11 percent as more than 50,000 jobs were created. Manhattan, by contrast, saw its job count fall by 100,000, or just over 4 percent. Queens and Staten Island, meanwhile, were up 2.4 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively. The only borough to approach Brooklyn’s growth was the Bronx, which over the decade gained 19,600 new jobs, up 9.2 percent.

To regular readers of the New York Times Styles section (and, well, magazines like this one) this should come as little surprise. Brooklyn has become in recent years the epicenter of a certain small-scale, locally focused but widely heralded economic scene. This is perhaps most evident in DUMBO, where a growing collection of internet firms like Etsy and Small Planet, along with digital creative agencies like Huge and Big Spaceship, have led local real estate agents to dub the area “Silicon Beach.” The trend, though, extends borough-wide: jewelry-makers in Williamsburg, whiskey distillers in the Navy Yard, letterpress printers in Sunset Park, bars upon restaurants upon restaurants upon bars—new Brooklyn businesses abound like beards at a Bon Iver show.

It’s impossible, of course, to fairly characterize this activity in just a few sentences. But were you to describe the “New” Brooklyn Economy (as we’ve decided to call it), a few themes would emerge: it’s entrepreneurial and improvisational. It’s obsessive and passion-driven. It’s tech savvy but ploddingly (some might say annoyingly) deliberate. It values quality over efficiency and productive surprises over standardization. It’s the realm of autodidacts, fanatics, mad scientists, and geeks; a world of vintage coffee roasters, hand-made bicycle frames, and nine-dollar chocolate bars.

A person might argue—and certainly some have—that this is something of a sideshow, a game of make-believe put on by and for affluent brownstone-dwellers while the rest of the city, and country, go on making and spending their money the old-fashioned way—as entrenched members of the largely corporate, increasingly globalized order. And yet, over the last 10 years, more than 10,000 new firms have opened for business in Brooklyn. Which raises the question: can an economy of 2.5 million people run on iPhone apps and artisanal pickles?