MIDTOWN — Using the frustrations fueling the Occupy Wall Street protests as her rallying cry, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a set of initiatives Tuesday aimed at boosting jobs by investing in technology.
“Continued unemployment and the growing gap between the rich and the poor are the greatest threats to our prosperity,” said Quinn, who is widely expected to run for mayor, in a speech in Midtown at an Association for Better New York event, where she unveiled what she described as “concrete and immediate steps we can take to create jobs today and strengthen our economy for years to come.”
Building on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to attract a new tech campus to the city, Quinn announced plans to create a new business incubator at the City University of New York next year. The “Center for Innovation” would house up to 25 new companies spawning from research happening at the school, she said.
To take advantage of the growing biotech sector, Quinn announced a new tax credit for "angel investors" to encourage them to fund biotech start-ups.
She also introduced a partnership with the group hackNY to develop a new tech job placement service to connect New Yorkers with tech-focused jobs. In the same speech, she discussed a deal with CUNY to develop new certificate programs for in-demand programming languages to train people for jobs in mobile apps and web design.
Quinn, who has not yet paid a visit to Occupy Wall Street's encampment at Zuccotti Park, described the protests that have spread around the globe as a manifestation of ”legitimate fears about the future of our nation” and a response to the recent erosion of the city as a place where people could work to achieve a better life for their children.
“For many, that promise has been broken. And that’s what the protesters downtown are responding to. They fear the loss of that part of the American dream,” she said, arguing that the city must step up and do more to reverse the trend.
“These are more than challenging times. These are defining times,” she said. “These are the times that will determine what type of nation, and what type of city we will become.”
She said Tuesday that she would consider paying a visit to the protest site, which has attracted other elected officials ranging from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to City Councilmembers to Borough President Scott Stringer.
Despite expressing support for the protesters, Quinn was careful not to alienate many of the big business members present.
“I am not somebody who is anti-Wall Street,” she told the group of business leaders, but argued that it was important to diversify the city’s economy so that if one industry took a hit, the whole city didn't suffer.
In addition to the tech push, Quinn suggested several proposals to boost the city’s manufacturing sectors, including working to identify major trade partners for city-produced products, in order to increase the city’s export rate which trails behind the rest of the nation.
She also announced several initiatives to help improve the incomes of self-employed workers such as nannies, including helping to create worker-owned businesses and a partnership with SEIU 1199 to train people in the growing industry of home health care.
Quinn addressed concerns from business leaders in the room about her public support for the protesters as well as her behind-the-scenes dealings last week to prevent Brookfield Properties, which owns the park where the protesters are camped, from setting off a massive clash between protesters and police by trying to evict them from the park.
“I urged that the showdown that was scheduled for Friday not happen,” she said, arguing that she felt it would be better for all sides to sit down at the table to find a solution.
While frustrations are now growing among some elected officials and local leaders who say no progress has been made, Quinn said she hopes that Brookfield and the protesters will be able to come to together in the coming days to reach a compromise that strikes the right balance between the free speech rights of the protesters and mounting concerns from nearby businesses and residents that “are not insignificant,” she said.
“Hopefully that is what we will be able to accomplish,” she said.
She added that concerns raised by City Councilwoman Margaret Chin and others that protesters are "unable, or unwilling, to address the concerns expressed by the community" are valid, and said protesters need to do more to work with the community.