City Looks Abroad To Boost Business

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The New York Sun

The Bloomberg administration has not let a period of relative local prosperity keep it from its efforts to drum up business for the Big Apple.

A city delegation last week returned from a six-city, 12-day visit to Israel to interest businesses in opening New York offices.

Since 2003, the city’s international business development group, part of the economic development corporation, has visited about 20 countries to convince companies to open branches in the city. The deputy mayor of economic development, Daniel Doctoroff, said the city has met with more than 1,000 companies, and he estimated that the program costs significantly less than $5 million a year.

“The city doesn’t always sell itself,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “That is a mistake that market leaders often make — to think everyone will flock to you because you have advantage.”

In a telephone interview from London, the head of international business development at the EDC, Laure Aubuchon, said the city’s biggest domestic competitors often are its nearest neighbors: New Jersey and Connecticut.

Internationally, she said, London is the biggest competitor. That city has a staff of more than 40 employees attempting to attract international companies. It has an office in New York.

Yesterday, Ms. Aubuchon was trying to convince luxury British retailers to follow in the footsteps of Hermes and Tiffany’s and move to Lower Manhattan.

“Cities are out there competing really hard,” Ms. Aubuchon said.

City officials say that much of the work the EDC performs overseas is difficult to measure with concrete returns. The EDC would only point to the March arrival in New York of a Belgium-based biomedical company, TiGenix.

A former president of the EDC, Andrew Alper, also initiated conversations with Beijing Vantone, the Beijing-based real estate firm that until this week was going to occupy the top five floors of 7 World Trade Center. That $80 million deal was scuttled by developer Larry Silverstein on Tuesday, when Mr. Silverstein said the firm failed to deliver a letter of credit by deadline.

Ms. Aubuchon said large, job-creating deals are in the works with a British company and another company from Asia, but she would not name them.

“These things don’t happen quickly,” Mr. Doctoroff said. Recently, the EDC has been working to land tenants from the biotech and life sciences field to fill in the area around the planned East River Science Park on the far East Side.

The director of the Center for the Urban Future, Jonathan Bowles, said he supports international outreach, in theory. “The question is, what have the results been so far?” Mr. Bowles said. “It is a step in the right direction.”

“Before Bloomberg got into office, five to six years ago, they had a defensive development strategy,” Mr. Bowles said. “It was whatever big businesses came into the door, they gave a retention deal or a tax break.”

Although early returns may be hard to come by, Mr. Bowles said the city’s visits could pay dividends with added jobs in the future. In 2003, Comptroller William Thompson, a Democrat, released an audit of the EDC that criticized the agency for “providing luxury trips and parties for other people.” Bloomberg officials blamed the episodes of frivolous spending on the Giuliani administration.

Yesterday, Ms. Aubuchon characterized the international trips as “back of the bus.” She said the EDC staff flies economy and finds cheap hotel deals on the Internet.

“We are very conscious of the fact we are on a budget,” Ms. Aubuchon said.

Mr. Doctoroff said that both he and Mr. Alper paid for their own visits abroad.

The president of a Partnership for New York, a private sector organization that does similar corporate recruitment activities abroad, Kathryn Wylde, said that the city’s recent efforts are a welcome complement to market forces.

Ms. Wylde said city advocacy was necessary to detail cost and benefits, as well as to allay fears about crime, a difficult regulatory environment, expensive housing, concerns about terrorism, and underperforming public schools. In some cases, the city can offer property tax incentives.

“Every other international city, particularly London, has been way out in front on this international outreach,” Ms. Wylde said.

She said the next step was for the city and state to partner and open offices abroad, like several other American cities are already doing.

“London is treated as Great Britain’s international city,” Ms. Wylde said. “New York doesn’t get any of that kind of support from the federal government. We are really on our own.”

The New York Sun

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