Facebook rented just enough new office space in Manhattan to nearly triple its current local workforce, including in one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the 107-year-old former main post office complex near Pennsylvania Station.
Apple, which opened its first office in New York a decade ago, is expanding into another building in Manhattan. And Google and Amazon connect company campuses in the city faster than anywhere else in the world. Amazon paid around $ 1 billion for the iconic Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue in March.
Despite a pandemic that has devastated New York, undermined many of its office buildings and raised fundamental questions about its future, the four companies known as Big Tech are significantly expanding their presence in the city and giving it a much-needed vote of confidence.
With fears that the virus could rise again in the colder months, many companies are grappling with how, when, and even if office workers will return to buildings in Manhattan. The tech giants haven’t brought their workers back either.
Even so, the giants not only pushed ahead with previous growth plans, but also increased their pace in hiring and acquiring offices during the pandemic.
Industry acceptance for New York City comes despite the tumultuous response Amazon received last year when it proposed building a sprawling headquarters in Queens. Amazon abandoned plans in the face of political and local opposition, but has now acquired more than 2 million square feet of office space for corporate employees and warehouses from Staten Island to Queens to the Bronx.
After Amazon bought the Lord & Taylor building, it announced in August that it would employ 2,000 people, adding half of its current 4,000 technical workforce.
Amazon now has eight office properties in New York, most of which are in Midtown. The company recently expanded outside of Manhattan, renting space on the Brooklyn coast for its Amazon Music team.
“We know that talent attracts talent, and we believe the creative energy of cities like New York will continue to attract diverse professionals from around the world,” said Ardine Williams, vice president of human resource development at Amazon.
Despite Big Tech’s expansion, the city continues to face a fundamental challenge: most offices have been abandoned since March, destroying the local economy and the ecosystem of transit, shops, restaurants, and other worker-dependent businesses. Only about 12 percent of workers have returned to the Manhattan offices managed by CBRE, a commercial real estate company that manages 20 million square feet of office space in the city.
Many people don’t want to go back to the office until there’s a vaccine. Even after that, there are more and more questions as to whether the pandemic has fundamentally clouded the appeal of the office towers of Midtown and Lower Manhattan.
In addition, a recent surge in new cases in parts of Brooklyn and Queens has raised fears that a second wave is looming and that restrictions on daily living may be reintroduced.
In total, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple have hired more than 2,600 people in the city so far this year, bringing their total employment to over 22,000 people. Facebook alone has hired 1,100 employees to increase the current workforce to 4,000.
Apple, Amazon and Facebook have devoured more than 1.6 million square feet of office space since the start of the year, most of which was leased or bought during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, Google added about 1.7 million square feet of office space as part of a corporate campus along the Hudson River in Manhattan.
The companies now have enough new office space to employ an additional 15,000 people. When these workers will arrive in the new offices remains uncertain; All four companies have given their employees the ability to work remotely, and some, including Facebook, foresee a future where up to half of employees will work from home.
Company executives said their investments, even during one of the city’s darkest periods, reflected their belief that the features that define New York – its diversity, culture, regional transportation network, and numerous colleges and universities – continue to attract people after the pandemic will.
To a large extent, companies also rely on current and future employees to strive to return to shared workplaces that encourage spontaneity and collaboration.
“The most important thing is that New York will always be a technology center,” said William Floyd, director of external affairs at Google’s New York office, which employs approximately 9,000 people, more than half of whom are engineers.
Google is committed to employing 14,000 people in the city in the coming years to meet its 2018 commitment to double the workforce in New York City. The company has assembled a large corporate campus in and around the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, including several properties under construction.
The tech sector settled in New York more than two decades ago and is a tiny player overshadowed by the city’s traditional power plant industries such as finance, media, real estate, and healthcare. Google opened its first outpost outside of California in 2000, a sales office in Manhattan with a single employee.
But in recent years New York has grown into a true technology hub, a rival on the east coast of Silicon Valley that has become a second home for tech giants but has also spawned thousands of startups.
The larger corporations have set up a technology corridor on the West Side of Manhattan that extends from West 34th Street in Midtown South to the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
The focus of tech companies in New York has shifted from marketing and sales departments to teams similar to those in Silicon Valley. They have recruited engineers and developers from local and regional universities, and filled some roles with West Coast employees who want to move to New York City.
For every big tech company in town, there are numerous smaller but still sizeable companies, including Salesforce, LinkedIn, Spotify, and ZocDoc. Microsoft, another tech giant, has only a modest presence in offices near Times Square.
Before the pandemic, the city’s technology sector employed 150,100 people and created a total of 15,700 jobs in 2018 and 2019, according to the New York State Comptroller’s office. Most of the new jobs were in areas such as software, computing, and internet publishing.
The pace of recruitment is expected to increase further.
When Facebook seized all of the office space in the James A. Farley building near Pennsylvania Station in August, it cemented Manhattan’s West Side as a campus on the east coast.
The company said it rented 730,000 square feet of space at the old post office, in part because of the cavernous arrangement – a rarity among buildings in New York City – that used the large open spaces at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, mimicking. When a renovation is completed the building will be filled with engineers.
“The floor plan allows multiple teams to be accommodated on these floors,” said Jamila Reeves, a company spokeswoman, “and we don’t necessarily have to separate people.”
Around the corner from the Farley Building, Apple signed a lease for 220,000 square feet at 11 Penn Plaza, a 1923 Art Deco tower near Madison Square Garden.
Before the deal, Apple, which said very little about its plans in town, hadn’t grown beyond a Fifth Avenue office building in the Flatiron neighborhood it moved to in 2011.
Smaller tech companies kept topping up their payrolls until the outbreak.
MongoDB, a cloud database platform headquartered in Midtown Manhattan, has hired 97 people since the pandemic began, adding 551 employees to the city.
The company, whose products are used by Verizon, eBay and Adobe, among others, employs more than 2,100 people worldwide and is creating a hybrid work model that allows employees to work remotely on some days and in the office on other days.
“While there are questions about what the future of work will be after Covid, we plan to maintain office space in New York,” said Dev Ittycheria, the company’s general manager. “We believe that being physically present in an office with coworkers can provide important opportunities for personal interaction, collaboration and connection that are essential to the success of our business.”
One of the company’s newest employees, Farah Wahab, joined the company as a product marketing manager in August after spending five years with technology companies in San Francisco.
Although San Francisco has a far bigger tech scene, she said the city feels more insular compared to New York.
“I love SF, but it can feel a bit like a tech-centric bubble isolated from the real world,” said Ms. Wahab, 32. “It was important to me personally and professionally, with different industries and types to be together of people and to have better access to the market. “
Kia D. Floyd, Facebook’s public policy director for the East and Midwest regions, pointed out that the company opened a store in New York just before the Great Recession of 2008, another challenging time of uncertainty in the city .
“People fled town then and didn’t think it would come back,” Ms. Floyd said. “But the city has grit, resilience and diversity, and it’s always been inspiring for companies like ours.”