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Lee C. Bollinger

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New York: Media Capital 2.0

Posted: 09/02/09 03:47 PM ET

There is a troubling virus that is spreading among New York's business and intellectual communities. It is the assumption that the virtual world of the internet can assume the role that a great city like New York has always filled in attracting ingenious people who generate new ideas and new businesses. The truth is, this is a viral myth. Information technology has certainly changed a lot about our society and our economy. But most creative people want to live and work together in a real community of other interesting people. That's the great strength of university campuses and of cities themselves. The question is whether New York City can use its historic position as an innovative leader to take advantage of new technology and provide the next generation with the long-term jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities they need.

New York City area colleges and universities are central to achieving that goal. The area's institutions of higher learning generate 65,000 jobs and have an estimated economic impact of $18.5 billion each year. That's why it was a wise decision to include Columbia and several other universities on Mayor Bloomberg's multi-sector MediaNYC 2020 task force, the goal of which is to create roughly 8,000 media-sector jobs while strengthening New York's position as the media capital of the world.

Currently, the city's media industry employs more than 300,000 people and accounts for $30 billion in annual revenue. But, like Wall Street, many of our traditional media companies are shedding jobs while the new media and technology sector -- which includes global mobile entertainment, internet gaming, social networking and user-generated content -- is growing -- unfortunately, mostly outside of New York City.

The Mayor's MediaNYC 2020 initiative aims to address that gap in part by increasing collaboration between the media industry and New York City's universities to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. As part of this initiative, the city plans to develop the NYC Media Lab, modeled after highly successful media labs at Stanford and MIT. The Lab will serve as an exchange center connecting companies looking to advance new media technologies with institutions, like Columbia, that have the research capabilities to bring them to life.

In fact, universities like Columbia have long played a central role in nurturing some of the world's most influential writers, artists, filmmakers, and publishers who were drawn to the media capital of the world.

What is less well known about Columbia -- and our local peer institutions -- is the extent to which our scientists, engineers, and biomedical researchers have produced essential research and breakthrough discoveries. These discoveries are the source of entrepreneurial ideas and commercial technologies, leading to local investment, jobs, and taxes. New York City's academic research centers - Columbia, NYU, Rockefeller, Mt. Sinai, Sloan Kettering, Einstein, and Cornell - receive nearly $2 billion in combined research funding and generate 650 inventions, 200 new licenses and options, 20 new start-up companies and over $500 million in licensing revenue annually. Technology from Columbia alone is responsible for an average of 10 to 12 new companies each year. Our research breakthroughs have led to the creation of over 100 new companies to-date, many of which got their start right here in the City.

And the City's leadership is not just in the life sciences. While Silicon Valley may be more well known for leveraging the enormous research capacities of its major universities into new local industries, the fact is that many great ideas have been developed right here. For example, Columbia researchers have had a hand in media and communications breakthroughs, including FM radio, lasers, VOIP, compression algorithms behind DVDs and HDTV, X-ray photography, and a new laser-based method that makes possible, among other things, sharper display screens found in many high-end smart phones.

What the Mayor's initiative can do is help make sure that more of the entrepreneurial businesses that rely on such local breakthroughs not only start in New York City, but also stay and grow here.

New York City remains a global center for knowledge and culture, media and communications precisely because creative people thrive by living and working together in a vibrant city. Our research universities continue to attract great minds and generate new intellectual capital by bringing together scholars and practitioners in diverse fields - from journalism and business to engineering and computer science. With that kind of talent, New York can be a place where new technology doesn't threaten our leadership, but instead provides yet another opportunity for this city to chart its own future.