february 6, 2015
Fairfield reuses what it has to attract businesses
A picturesque residential town anchored by major educational institutions, corporations and a host of luxury automobile dealerships, Fairfield faces the challenge of attracting new businesses. Abandoned industrial buildings and vacant properties on Commerce Drive fail to contribute tax dollars, and space is limited for new projects.
But in recent years, the economic landscape has changed. With the addition of a third train station in eastern Fairfield, the town is now pushing for a multimillion-dollar economic development project by demolishing old factories and studying creative ideas for how to utilize another 36-acre site on the east side of town, the former home of Bullard, a metalwork company.
Decades ago, the Bullard site was home to a factory that made cast iron and brass during World War II, said Mark Barnhart, Fairfield economic development director.
Part of the factory was converted into retail and a multiplex cinema. BlackRock Realty Advisors Inc., which owns nearly 10 acres of the site, plans to build office, hotel and conference facilities and an ancillary retail space by the station in the years to come.
Ten acres is reserved to maintain open space and create a walking trail. The remaining 10 acres will be set aside to create parking spaces for the Fairfield Metro station.
“With the new rail station coming in, we’ve seen a lot of new investments in the area,” Barnhart said. “The former property of Syms-Filene’s clothing retailer went through a bankruptcy proceeding and the property was sold as part of the reorganization plan. It was purchased by Orthopaedic Specialty Group, and they’re building out medical offices and an urgent care center in the 40,000-square-foot building.”
He said the construction project is slated to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.
Lacking large tracts of land zoned for commercial use, the town has welcomed adaptive reuse of its properties. Sportsplex@Fairfield, 85 Mill Plain Road, was built on the site of Fairprene, the sheet-rubber division of DuPont. The Fischel Properties-owned building was retrofitted for indoor recreational use.
The former home of Handy & Harman Ltd., a precious metals processing business, off Grasmere Avenue and Kings Highway was torn down and redeveloped into a Whole Foods retail plaza.
“You have older vestiges of manufacturing heritage that dates back many years,” Barnhart said. “A lot of these properties have had environmental challenges associated with them.”
Fairfield commercial tenants are choosing to stay in the area for an extended amount of time. The town has one of the lowest rates of office vacancy and lowest number of underutilized properties, Barnhart said.
Wanting to establish long-term relationships with small businesses, Fairfield sought resources from universities and businesses to open up a co-working space for startups.
“One of the things we were involved in this past year is starting up a business incubator with Fairfield University and Kleban Properties,” Barnhart said. “The Fairfield Accelerator and Mentoring Enterprise, or FAME, is identifying new and emerging businesses and providing office space, tech support and other resources for startups to flourish and grow and remain a strong part of the local economy.”
The incubator, which launched in late 2013, is at 1499 Post Road in the Fairfield Center Building. A group of small-business tenants occupy the workspace.
“We have lot of folks who had a corporate career and for one reason or another decided to strike out and start a business on their own,” Barnhart said. “We help people in the process, connect them with resources both through the university and outside of that and hopefully give them an opportunity to grow and sink their roots here and hope they continue to flourish in Fairfield.”
Fairfield’s theater scene is exploding in the transit center next to Fairfield station. Fairfield Theatre Co. approached the town asking to use the underutilized industrial building next to the train station and convert it into a 150-foot theater stage.
Not only was the space acoustically sound for music, but it changed the landscape of the theater and live-music culture, which began to boom in the downtown, Barnhart said. He said the company is now moving into an adjoining warehouse space and creating a second theater that will seat 600 people.
“The capital campaign to build out that space into two performing arts venues is underway and it’s an opportunity to attract different artists,” Barnhart said. “They also do films, lectures and children’s programs — not just live music. In terms of its impact on the downtown it’s immeasurable. Restaurants and businesses in the downtown will feel the impact of the Fairfield Theatre Co.’s expansion.”
In an era when technology can drive a business’s decision to move into a city or town, Barnhart said he wants to expand his industrial technology department and revamp the town’s website and use multiple channels of communication to provide businesses with additional resources.
“We’re struggling constantly with ways in which businesses are seen as no different compared to any others to consumers,” Barnhart said. “We’ve got to use a variety of different mediums to provide information to the business community to help them grow their social media presence. We need to keep our website updated because consultants who help businesses select sites to move into are basing their research on the town or region’s website. The challenge for us is to make sure our website is well designed as a good marketing tool. That’s an area we’ll focus on making improvements to this year.”
septembeR 8, 2015
For many startups, 'Brooklyn is the place to be'
Brooklyn is home to many different types of people: the bearded hipsters who drink hand-poured iced coffee and ride handcrafted wooden bikes, the artists and artisans who design silver-plated carving knives and sell refurbished Smith Corona typewriters, and, most recently, the techies who are set on creating the next big thing.
With major tech giants emerging in Brooklyn’s backyard, it’s no surprise why upwards of 500 tech and creative companies have flocked to the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The industrial Brooklyn Navy Yard, the incubator-friendly scene in DUMBO, and 17 million square feet of office space in Downtown Brooklyn all point to rapid business growth.
So what attracts companies to set up shop in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan?
Some tech-related companies were born and bred in the heart of Brooklyn during the dawn of the post-industrial age when giants like 3D printing company MakerBot, digital agency Huge, and education company Amplify set up shop between 2007 and 2012.
Led by CEO Aaron Shapiro, Huge was named the fastest-growing marketing agency in 2009. The company conducts business with major Fortune 500 brands all over the world. Huge is in a unique situation where it has more demand for jobs than employees to fill those roles. It’s not just looking to expand, but also to hire and retain employees.
“We chose DUMBO as Huge’s headquarters because the location allows us to focus on making groundbreaking work for our clients in a community of artists and designers like ourselves,” says Eric Moore, managing director at Huge, headquartered at 45 Main Street. “Over the years, a few other like-minded companies have followed, so today DUMBO is a thriving creative and technology community of its own.”
Other Brooklyn companies like Gimlet Media started on a smaller scale: when it was just the two of them, Alex Blumberg and Matt Lieber worked out of an apartment building. The year-old podcast company has grown to 19 people on its staff. The team chose Brooklyn as its headquarters because the company sees value in immersing itself in a startup culture.
“We’re looking to attract a certain tier of creative talent,” says Chris Giliberti, chief of staff at Gimlet Media, headquartered at 33 Flatbush Avenue. “Manhattan is mainstream. The counterculture is centered in Brooklyn. If you want to signal to employees and clients you’re not hierarchical or bureaucratic, and you’re creative, Brooklyn is the place to be.”
Just last year, the live-streaming video platform Livestream moved its 7,000-square-foot Chelsea headquarters into a 30,000-square foot space in Bushwick. CEO Max Haot considered this move to be an opportunity for Livestream to immerse in an entrepreneurial community that carries a positive, creative, and “maker” energy.
Startup culture and economic growth
The transformation of the borough, which was known in the 1890s as a manufacturing district filled with warehouses and factories, is astonishing. At least that’s what Tucker Reed, president of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, says. For instance, the cardboard box was invented in the Robert Gair building on DUMBO’s Washington Street. Now it’s home to Etsy, a new-age ecommerce business platform that connects sellers of handmade and vintage goods to online buyers.
“When I first came to Brooklyn, it was a creative arts scene with galleries and artisans,” Reed says. “And then around 2008 and 2009, we started to see a clustering effect of technology and more digital branding media companies. More engineering, coding, and tech-based startups started to follow the creative economy that was growing here.”
These days, Brooklyn is still home to artists who have fostered a culturally unique vibe. But now, developers are pouring millions of dollars into the rehabilitation of old factories and abandoned warehouses for commercial use. Underneath the cranes, hardhats, and rubble, Brooklyn is slowly expanding its office footprint.
DUMBO is a leader in this effort. The neighborhood has close to 2 million square feet of office space. The place has several advantages that make it particularly attractive for entrepreneurs in the tech, design, and media industries. Not only is the location accessible by more than a dozen different subway and bus lines, but it’s also the stomping grounds of an assortment of creative companies like Etsy and Huge.
There are also plenty of co-working spaces to complement the growth of startups in the area. To couple the growth of the tech startup scene in DUMBO, WeWork has unveiled an eight-floor space at 81 Prospect Street.
“Showing our commitment to Brooklyn is to our advantage,” says Joshua Gaviria, WeWork’s expansion lead. “We know there’s a vibe there as well, and we want to make sure every part of New York is reached. We’re almost at full occupancy. We have lots of nonprofits, finance, marketing, and a lot of creative fields, such as photography, design, publishing, and video production companies as well as tech coming in.”
Teeming with businesses both big and small and co-working spaces aplenty, DUMBO is poised to outdo Manhattan, in terms of creating a tight-knit community of creative minds. DUMBO Startup Lab, located at 68 Jay Street, opened shop in Brooklyn three years ago. Since then, founder John Coghlan has been fostering a creative space for startups, accepting no more than 50 people at a time. About 80 to 85 percent of his members are entrepreneurs in the tech industry, focusing on software, web design, and mobile apps.
“Co-working is still a new concept, and we’re looking for creative ways to grow,” Coghlan says. “We want to evolve without losing our uniqueness. We intentionally keep the community small. We’re going for the inch-wide and mile-deep approach to building relationships within the community, instead of the mile-wide and inch-deep approach.”
Running a tight operation is just about right in a place like Brooklyn because space is limited, Reed says. The commercial vacancy rate diminished from 8 percent a few years ago to below 3.5 percent, sometimes even hovering near the 2 percent mark. The Brooklyn Tech Triangle is responsible for this initiative of fostering low turnover rates in order to maintain a high density of the tech population and encourage collaboration of startups.
A 2012 Urbanomics study commissioned by the Brooklyn Tech Triangle’s stakeholders found that local businesses had a $3 billion impact on the economy and created more than 9,600 jobs. By the end of the year, the area is expected to be home to 17,960 employees.
Just recently, Kushner Companies rehabilitated four buildings in Dumbo Heights that it purchased from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $375 million. Major tenant Esty signed a lease to take up 200,000 square feet of the 1.1 million-square-foot building in the Watchtower building.
“This new move will allow them to expand their divisions and consolidate into one space,” Reed says.
Because of Brooklyn’s strong artistic and artisanal roots, its creative vibe is unmatched by any other borough in New York City. With constant innovations in technology and access to more than 60,000 students on 11 college campuses, the growth of industries depends on the future generation. Brooklyn’s selling point is opportunities to draw creative talent locally.
november 15, 2015
Rise of the robots: jobs machines can do better than you
The robots are coming, and this time it’s for your job. They’re bypassing the interview process and heading straight for your desk, not to mention the desks of your co-workers. And it looks like they’re here to stay.
With technology advancing and the labor market evolving, the encroachment of robots is more widespread than you ever dreamed of. You’ll soon find them in your doctor’s office, behind the wheel of your car, and checking you in at your hotel.
Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply, says that their presence won’t always be noticeable. Some—like the ones greeting you at the bank or the department store—will look vaguely human. Others will basically be invisible.
“When they say the robots are coming, it doesn’t mean they’re going to look like people,” Kaplan says. “They’ll come in the form of distributed systems capable of performing a job better than humans can, or storing information better than humans can, or perceiving different patterns in cyber space that humans can’t readily analyze.”
Kaplan attributes the rise of the robots to two breakthroughs in artificial intelligence: machine learning, which feeds off large quantities of data being inputted into computer programs; and sensory perception, which allows robots to take in information about their environment and react accordingly.
Robots have patiently waited in the unemployment line for the following jobs—all of which they’re now capable of taking on.
With advancements in artificial intelligence, there’s a possibility that robots will fill jobs in the medical field that require high skill and intellect, says Hod Lipson, professor of engineering at Columbia University.
How is that possible? While a doctor can see 10 to 20 patients a day, Lipson expects that artificial intelligence could allow thousands of patients to be treated in that same time frame, and for a fraction of the cost.
“It’s both exciting and alarming,” Lipson says. “Lots of lives will be saved with robotic doctors, but a lot of jobs will be lost. There are pros and cons to this.”
Robots are already working away in hospital operating rooms. If you’re getting knee-replacement surgery, for example, a robotic arm may help with the procedure.
Sanjay K. Gupta, medical director of the joint replacement program at Connecticut’s Danbury Hospital, says the device uses 3-D visualization of the entire pelvis to assist surgeons.
“It guides the surgeon to put the socket exactly in the way it’s intended to be put in,” Gupta says. “That makes the surgery very precise and very reproducible.”
Narrative Science, a Chicago company that specializes in machine-generated articles, is teaming up with media outlets to provide sports stories and earnings reports. For run-of-the mill coverage, it’s less expensive to go this route than to hire reporters.
How does it work? When scorekeepers email post-game data to Narrative Science, a software program called Quill whips up a pretty accurate story in a matter of minutes.
The same holds true for business stories. Even big publications like Forbes are getting in on the act, using the technology to summarize earnings reports.
When it comes to most articles, you won’t even know a human didn’t write them.
“The truth is that machines are much better at analyzing that kind of data than people are,” says Stuart Frankel, CEO of Narrative Science. “Technology like Quill emerged to automate a task people are spending a lot of time doing.”
It’s expensive to rent out a helicopter to get some great aerial shots, but with drones, you can capture all the footage you need for comparatively little money. They’re also becoming indispensible for special events, weddings, and even exotic vacations.
Drones have become so popular that the Federal Aviation Administration is cracking down on unauthorized flights. Earlier this month, it announced a $1.9 million fine for a company that operated drones in restricted airspace over New York and Chicago.
But even with these restrictions, the use of drones continues to skyrocket, and startups have been quick to take advantage of the growing industry. Queen B Robotics, based out of WeWork Berkeley, develops software that allows a fleet of drones to communicate with one another, while FreeSkies, a member of WeWork Golden Gate, was founded to make drone photography even easier.
“Photographers and cinematographers will need hybrid autonomous drones that assist without limiting creativity,” says Jay Mulakala, co-founder of FreeSkies. “Drones are the next visual domain that is set to transform film from the skies.”
By now, you’ve surely heard of the Google Self-Driving Car. The Google X project is already forcing the government to consider down-the-line legal ramifications, and the Department of Transportation has given four states and Washington, D.C. the power to draft rules governing how these self-driving cars are tested and sold.
Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are wary of these changes. Soon, they’ll face the interesting dilemma of whether they should also deploy self-driving cars to keep pace with the latest technology.
But it’s not just cars that will be speeding down the highway without drivers; soon, commercial vehicles will also be operated remotely.
“The technology being developed will eliminate cars and trucks altogether,” Kaplan says. “There’s a likelihood that the role of cab drivers will be greatly reduced in the future. But the first to go will be long-haul truck driving because it’s the simplest thing to automate.”
Say bye to baby-sitters. Chinese company AvatarMind created the iPal to give kids a fun and interactive friend to play with while their parents are away at work. The cartoon-like robot on wheels made an appearance at a recent RoboBusiness conference in San Jose, California, where attendees had a chance to interact with it and admire its many talents. It can sing, dance, play, talk, and read with children, and has an LCD display and sensors that help provide therapy for kids with special needs.
Parents can use AvatarMind to monitor their loved ones remotely via smartphone, and even initiate a video call that uses a screen on the robot’s chest, says John Ostrem, the company’s co-founder.
Customer service rep
When you walk into a hotel lobby, imagine someone behind the desk handing you a refreshing cup of water and striking up a conversation. You’ll do a double take when you realize you’re talking to a robot.
That’s right: robots are taking the customer service sector by storm. They’re programmed to answer tons of tough questions that their human counterparts might not always know the answer to. And you’ll never see them calling their managers over.
The famous example is Pepper, a Japanese humanoid robot that has the ability to read emotions, react to its environment, and spark interactions with customers. Behind the design of these intelligent, wheeled robots—which, among other things, can recognize and remember your tastes and preferences—are Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank Mobile.
Magali Cubier, global marketing and communications director at Aldebaran, says Pepper can actually increase traffic and engage customers.
“Pepper is not supposed to eliminate jobs,” Magali says, “but act more like another layer on top of in-store professionals to provide customers the best experience possible.”
[Your name here]
Someday, robots just might replace your physical presence while you’re away on vacation or on a business trip.
Double, a teleconferencing tool created by California-based Double Robotics, sits in on business meetings when you’re not there. A web-based platform and iOS app allow you to have a virtual presence through video chat. If you really wanted to, you could grab a seat at the lunch table, have a one-on-one meeting, or just roam around the office saying hello to co-workers.
Another way to roll is via Beam, a robot created by WeWork South Station member Suitable Technologies. Barack Obama used Beam this past summer during a reception at the White House. For the workplace, the upside of having Beam show up to your meetings is that it’s always ready to go. It doesn’t need a coffee or lunch break. Instead, Beam has a battery dock on its feet, which keeps you juiced up throughout the day.
Amid the rising tide of robots, there’s nothing for entrepreneurs to be worried about—so far, at least. “Robots don’t start companies,” says Kaplan. If anything, they’re taking on work that requires the ability to retain a great deal of information or perform repetitive tasks. In doing so, they’re helping us focus on creating jobs we’re truly passionate about and actively pursuing them with a higher purpose.