For urbanites, east versus west coast is a time-honored debate — a living, breathing, competition hashed out via earnest and often intractable comparisons that range from the cultural, to the geographic, to the idiosyncratic. Fast or slow; sun or snow; traffic or far worse traffic.
Rarely, however, has tech, the crown sector of California’s famed and economically fertile Silicon Valley — not to mention the proving ground for just about every tech mogul since before the rise of the Internet — been up for argument. Spare maybe, right now.
According to Julie Samuels, executive director and founder of Tech:NYC, a non-profit representing the city’s tech industry, the debate over the dominance of California’s Silicon Valley has credence. Samuels would know, having made the Valley to Alley transition herself.
“For a long time, if you worked in tech there was a lot of pressure to go to The Valley,” said Samuels, who made her push back to New York about four years ago. “Over the past five years, that’s really changed, and increasingly as the tech sector in New York has exploded, you see just as many people that want to come here.”
New Yorkers in search of proof of California’s tech exodus need not look any further than the recent flurry of expansions taking place right in their backyards, chief among them, the announcement that Amazon, long-based in Seattle, will set up shop in Long Island City as part of a split bid for two new headquarters, the other slated to open just outside of D.C. in Crystal City. Over time, Amazon’s plan will bring a formidable 25,000 new jobs — a figure that makes Google’s recently announced intention to double their New York staff to 14,000 employees look almost diminutive in comparison.
While not even the biggest New York tech evangelists would venture as far to rule out Silicon Valley’s outsized impact on the tech world — after all, Valley-based venture capital totaled $58 billion in investments as recently as this August — some statistics, especially those of one of the Bay Area’s biggest metro hubs, San Francisco, portend an environment of atrophy.
According to property company, Redfin, San Francisco saw a net outflow of more than 15,000 residents in 2017, making it the biggest loser of any major city across the country.
New York, for what it’s worth, was second on that list, but clocked in with a net loss that was a whole 20 percent smaller than that of its west coast kin.
Among the recent outgoing Bay Area residents is New Yorker-cum-Silicon-Valley-defector Arthur Jun, 29, who explained that while he set off eastward to work in tech, he also made the pilgrimage to get away from it.
“San Francisco has become really kind of static in a sense. It’s very tech heavy,” said Jun, who came to New York in 2016 to work for Spotify. “Every time you go to a bar, you’ll run into someone you know. Every conversation in a bar is about my work.
“In New York you meet business folk, fashion people and you get a variety. It’s refreshing… There was a lot of spirit [in San Francisco] and it’s dying.”
Likewise, Samuels, who now spends her days fostering the best possible environment for the tech industry and the people that it encompasses, said that while New York’s ample offerings of culture and entertainment may drive individuals out east, it’s the individuals that often drive the companies.
“We hear all the time about people coming here from The Valley, and again, that’s because people want to come to New York,” she said. “The challenge for any company, large or small, is finding people, so at the end of the day, the companies are going to go where the people are.”
By all accounts, the fast-track from Silicon Valley to New York is wide open, driven in large part by souring attitudes towards the tech industries domination of the Bay Area and beyond, but what and furthermore, where, exactly the tech transients are looking is a different story.
According to Matthew Kraus, a corporate relocations specialist for the New York heavyweight Corcoran, those people, defectors from the west coast and San Francisco in particular, have tended to disperse throughout the city.
Last year alone, Kraus said, he logged 200 relocations from the west’s tech industry — a number that he qualified as “a lot.”
By and large, Kraus said, these potential New Yorkers were in search of one thing: value.
“When I was looking at the addresses and some of the price ranges, it seems to be that [transplants] were really looking for value more than anything,” he said. “They’re going to neighborhoods everywhere from Mott Haven in the Bronx, to Washington Heights, all the way down to Red Hook in Brooklyn.”
While the choice of neighborhoods tended to vary, transplants — which he added were marginally more heavy on the rental market in Manhattan and Brooklyn — had one thing in common, they would not relocate outside of the city.
Any time a potential candidate for relocation showed less than the average financial means to live in New York City, Kraus said he would recommend other proximate locales in New Jersey or sometimes further upstate. The advice, he said, does not typically stick.
“I would recommend New Jersey or neighborhoods that they didn’t know existed, and they didn’t’ want to do that,” he said. “I would talk to people when I would say ‘If this was me I would find other ways and live somewhere cheaper’… They really wanted to live in New York City and say that they live in New York City.”
Likewise, relocation specialist for Halstead, Taryn Wisky, who is also handling leasing for a residential building at 409 Eastern Pkwy. in Brooklyn, said that sometimes the draw for valley transplants is so strong that buyers and renters are coming site-unseen.
“Throughout my career — I’ve done six or seven rental buildings in Brooklyn — and I’ve never seen a percentage of people this high relocation from the west coast,” she said.
Jun, who despite his love of New York said he may still move back out west, isn’t dissimilar from that crowd.
For those with eyes set out east, looking Atlantic-side down the coastal pipeline for their own reverse manifest destiny, one of the biggest factors, Jun said, may not lie in career aspirations or even the industry itself, but in the intangibles that only a New Yorker would know enough to describe.
“There’s a stark difference [between New York and San Francisco]. There’s less nature and you don’t need a car, and that’s a big difference,” said Jun. “And there’s all the excitement… You can’t explain it until you live through it.”