Job placement or displacement? Industry City shares local hiring numbers, but critics still wary of gentrification

Job placement or displacement? Industry City shares local hiring numbers, but critics still wary of gentrification
Photo by Louise Wateridge

Sunset Park’s most divisive development is also one of its largest employers.

Half of Industry City’s 4,000 employees are people of color who hail from the immediate area, and many have not obtained a college degree — proof that Industry City is making jobs that will benefit the diverse neighborhood rather than just the white and college-educated, honchos said. But critics say the quantity doesn’t trump quality.

“With the kind of job numbers they’ve been talking about, I don’t imagine it happening, and my real concern is they’re going to hit these numbers at the hotel and dorms,” said gadfly Tony Giordano, referring to Industry City’s plan to build a hotel and dorms as part of a $1 billion renovation. “What I think they have planned for us is house-keeping jobs for the hotel.”

The company announced the expanded renovation plan in march. It hopes to turn the more-than six-square-block complex into a so-called “innovation district” — a mixed-use area with high-tech manufacturing, retail, offices, education space, and a hotel.

Giordano and others — like the social and environmental justice group Uprose — have panned Industry City’s plan, suggesting it will lead to rapid gentrification and that monied whites will displace longtime residents in the largely immigrant neighborhood.

“Be careful with ‘innovation districts.’ Nothing Innovative about Displacement,” reads a tweet Uprose posted Nov. 3. Another tweet shows a photo of graffiti on a construction shed that reads “Coming soon: Displacement” in Industry City’s signature stenciled font. Yet another depicts a painting of Columbus landing in the New World bearing Industry City’s standard.

But displacement results from real estate market forces — something Industry City has no control over, the complex’s honcho said.

“We can only control what we can control, and what we can control is taking a place that had very few jobs and no investment for 30 years and turning it into a place where there are lots of jobs and a very good number of which go to local folks,” said chief executive officer Andrew Kimball.

Currently, half of the people employed at the various businesses occupying Industry City are from Red Hook, Sunset Park, or Bay Ridge — and 37 percent alone are from Sunset Park, according to spokeswoman Lisa Serbaniewicz. Blacks, Latinos, and Asians comprise 49 percent of the workforce, she said.

And the barrier to entry is low — 43 percent of workers have less than a bachelor’s degree, she said. That creates opportunities for locals in Sunset Park, where just under 19 percent of residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher — well below the borough-wide figure of 30 percent, census data shows.

Industry City plans to find more jobs for locals when it opens a so-called “innovation lab” — a job-placement and training center run in conjunction with New York City College of Technology and local business organizations including the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, and the Center for Family Life. It’s slated to open in January, and will hook up locals with jobs in Industry City and other waterfront developments.

Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow will train young people to do basic computer coding. The Center for Family Development will run two programs — one that helps locals start small cooperative businesses and another that finds jobs for adults, according to Executive Director Julia Jean-Francois. Borough President Adams and Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) have provided some funding for equipment and training respectively.

They have their work cut out for them, according to one Sunset Parker and long-time employee of Industry City bakery Colson Patisserie, who said he wished more people in the neighborhood — particularly Latinos — knew about the jobs available at Industry City.

“When I mention Industry City, they don’t know where it is, where it’s located,” said baker Daniel Leal. “They just don’t know.”

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlync[email protected]local.com.
The hipsters are coming!: Detractors have mounted a guerilla street-art campaign mocking the “coming soon” signs Industry City honchos have erected around the massive under-renovation manufacturing complex.
Twitter / Uprose