With Google, Facebook, IBM Aboard, New York Looks Like Next Tech Hub

Aggressive, flexible focus on schools and business pushes New York toward tech forefront.

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Quick—where are some of the biggest tech breakthroughs coming from?

Would you guess New York City?

The Big Apple is increasingly becoming a tech hub—in 2008, Google moved into a huge space in the Chelsea neighborhood, and Facebook is set to open a massive engineering office in the city later this year. That's because Mayor Michael Bloomberg has placed a huge emphasis on promoting STEM in the city, according to Robert Steel, Bloomberg's deputy mayor for economic development.

"We're trying to make new things happen," he said. "Companies have moved to New York and others are just starting. Google is taking up a million square feet in Chelsea. Well, the employees there will have new ideas, and they'll want to start their own companies in New York."

The city is also trying to change the education system. P-Tech, which opened in September with help from IBM, is a six-year high school. When students graduate (in "grade 14"), they'll leave with a high school diploma as well as an associate's degree from the CUNY—New York City College of Technology, and they'll be first in line for a job at IBM, according to Stan Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs at the company. Four more grade 9-14 schools are set to open in Chicago this year, and Litow said the development could usher in a new educational paradigm.

"People think we've always had high school as a mandatory—but 50 years ago, a relatively small population completed high school. You could argue that making high school mandatory and the GI bill were two things that fueled economic growth," he said. "Well now, we have a challenge. If you get a high school diploma, you'll earn $15 an hour. If [P-Tech] graduates can hold these high-paying jobs [at IBM], it could be the same game changer as making high school mandatory."

Steel says the city is counting on new ideas from P-Tech graduates and other up-and-coming STEM graduates in the city.

"We're in the first few decades of an information economy, and the skills that make you successful in that are different than the ones that made us successful in the past," he said. "It wasn't clear we had the skills that would make us a global winner … we have to prepare New York City for the future."

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