November 28, 2011

KAY HYMOWITZ: How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back. “It’s a story that contains plenty of gumption, innovation, and aspiration, but also a disturbing coda. Brooklyn now boasts a splendid population of postindustrial and creative-class winners—but in the far reaches of the borough, where nary a hipster can be found, it is also home to the economy’s many losers. . . . For all their energy and creativity, Brooklyn’s young entrepreneurs tend to have few employees, and they’re not likely to be hiring large numbers in the future. The factories of the past employed hundreds, if not thousands; Dumbo alone once had three firms that each employed more than 1,000. Today, Etsy, one of the area’s more successful companies, has a staff of just 180. The old Brooklyn Navy Yard now rents space to 275 businesses, employing 5,800 people. That’s an impressive rise from 3,600 in 2001, true. But compare it with the Yard at its World War II peak, when it had 71,000 workers, or in 1959, when it employed ‘only’ 15,000. Even Brooklyn Brewery has only about 50 employees, small potatoes when you consider that Schaefer Beer’s Brooklyn factory—now a luxury building called Schaefer Landing—once had 1,000. . . . Brooklyn’s story, then, doesn’t lend itself to a simple happy ending. Instead, the borough is a microcosm of the nation’s ‘hourglass economy.’ At the top, the college-educated are doing interesting, motivating work during the day and bicycling home to enjoy gourmet beer and grass-fed beef after hours. At the bottom, matters are very different.”