City needs to brew manufacturing jobs

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State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report last month extolling Brooklyn as the “king of NYC economic growth.” It applauded the borough’s 21% increase in businesses in the past 11 years, and noted that manufacturing jobs increased slightly in 2012 for the first time in decades. This is a positive sign for New York City, and at the same time a challenge to the de Blasio administration, which so far has put affordable housing at the center of its agenda and made little mention of the need for more manufacturing jobs.

I think people need solid manufacturing jobs in order to have the means for “affordable housing.” After all, in New York City, even affordable housing is not cheap.

At a Citizens Budget Commission event last month, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said the administration was committed to creating a “live-work mixed-use and modern manufacturing environment” and “vibrant mixed-use districts.”

But Adam Friedman of Pratt Institute’s Center for Community Development said “mixed use”—a zoning designation that usually permits residential as well as commercial and industrial buildings—will undermine manufacturing unless there are limits that balance each use. What developer will settle for a low-rent industrial tenant when he can develop housing or rent to a hotel?

Rather than parsing the statements of Ms. Glen and others, I’ll suggest that Mr. DiNapoli’s report can be a good barometer of the administration’s economic-development policies. Will the manufacturing upturn continue, or will it fade?

Another test is the fate of the fledgling craft-brewing sector in the city. There now are five small breweries in Brooklyn and another three in the planning stages. Queens has eight small brewing operations, the Bronx has two, Manhattan has one, and two are coming to Staten Island.

Some may scoff at this brewing revival when compared with the 1890s, when there were more than 40 breweries in Brooklyn alone. But many of those pre-Prohibition breweries were neighborhood operations, not unlike the new breed of urban craft beer maker. There were large brewing concerns making millions of barrels of beer in Brooklyn, like Schaefer and Rheingold, but more often the breweries measured their production in the hundreds of barrels.

My own company, Brooklyn Brewery, employs more than 100 in the borough. We also brew a significant volume of beer in upstate New York in a plant that employs 120. I started Brooklyn Brewery 26 years ago. In my first 15 years, I watched more than 20 small brewing operations fail in metro New York.

The new wave of craft breweries is small, but, well, you have to start somewhere. Think of these ventures as canaries in a coal mine. Will the de Blasio administration develop the industrial space in the city for them to thrive, or not?


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