A Transforming Queens Welcomes Skilled Talent
Queens is rising. Or, as the New York Times put it in 2013, investors, developers, and young professionals are at the very least tilting toward the borough. While Brooklyn and Manhattan reap the lion’s share of New York City’s creative talent (82 percent), more and more Creative Class workers are looking to Queens — one of the most diverse communities in the world — as a place to live, work, and enjoy their free time.
With its bustling downtown and convenient access to Manhattan, Astoria has transformed from an enclave for middle-class immigrants to a lively neighborhood for young, working professionals. Meanwhile, Long Island City has attracted established corporations like Citibank and Metlife, as well as growing companies like JetBlue, Lyft, and Uber. To say that Queens is undergoing a dramatic transformation is an understatement: A decade of rezoning and increased investment from real estate developers and the private sector have altered the borough’s trajectory for the foreseeable future.
With the goal of understanding the changing economic makeup of Queens, my colleague Richard Florida from the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab and I explored the borough’s Creative Class structure. This is the final installment of an analysis of all five New York City boroughs. A more complete version of this week’s analysis of Queens is available here.
While Queens’ economy is increasingly driven by innovation science, arts and culture, and knowledge and professional services, its workforce is still dominated by the Service and Working Classes. As the home of two of New York’s three major airports — LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International — Queens serves as a transportation hub for the entire city.
With more than 285,000 employees, Queens’ Service Class — those working in routine service occupations in personal services, food preparation, childcare, and health assistance — accounts for nearly half of the borough’s total workforce. While smaller in size, Queens’ Working Class — made up of blue-collar jobs in production, construction, transportation, cleaning, and building and grounds maintenance — also makes a significant contribution to the borough, with around 149,000 employees. Taken together, service and working occupations make up almost eight in ten jobs in Queens.
Despite its relatively small size, Queen’s Creative Class is growing steadily. With approximately 141,000 workers, the borough’s Creative Class makes up around a quarter of its total workforce. On average, creative workers in Queens earn $79,000 a year. In the coming decade, Queens’ creative workforce is anticipated to grow by 14.5 percent, while its share of Creative Class residents has already risen to 338,000. The majority of these residents — around 79,000 — work in the Management cluster, while an additional 57,000 are educators or teachers. Although Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media occupations employ only 7.8 percent of Creative Class residents in Queens, this share exceeds the national average by 30 percent, offering further proof of Queens’ reputation as a home for New York’s thriving theater community.
Queens’ Creative Clusters
Despite its abundance of Service Class jobs, Queens’ skill base is becoming more diversified. The chart below breaks down the borough’s creative clusters by employment, ten-year projection, annual salary, and location quotient.
With over 36,000 workers, Healthcare Practitioners is the largest creative cluster in Queens, exceeding the national average by 13 percent. In total, this cluster accounts for 22 percent of Creative Class workers in Queens, and is forecasted to grow an additional 20.5 percent by 2025. On average, Healthcare Professionals in Queens earn slightly more than their counterparts in Brooklyn: around $80,000 annually.
As a complement to this healthcare sector, Queens’ Community and Social Service cluster exceeds the national average by 10 percent, employing around 11,000 workers. Of all ten creative clusters in Queens, Community and Social Service workers have the lowest salaries: an average of $44,000 per year.
Queens’ second largest creative cluster, Management, consists of 26,000 employees. In the next decade, this share is expected to increase by 11 percent. This growth is unsurprising, given the burgeoning corporate offices of JetBlue, MetLife, and others that now call Long Island City home. Of all ten creative clusters, Queens’ Management workers boast the highest average salaries: around $124,000 per year. In addition to Management, the borough’s Business and Financial Operations cluster accounts for more than 22,000 employees — an increase of nearly 8 percent since 2011.
With less than 21,000 employees, Queens’ Education cluster is smaller than the national average, though this is likely to change with the arrival of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. In fact, Queens’ Education cluster is expected to increase by 16 percent in the next decade. With an annual salary of around $53,000 a year, Education workers in Queens earn a relatively low wage compared to other creative occupations.
With the presence of cultural amenities like MoMa PS1 and Kaufman Astoria Studios, Queens has developed a competitive arts scene. Even so, the borough’s Arts, Design, and Media cluster is relatively small, consisting of a mere 6,500 employees. By 2025, this share is expected to grow by 11 percent. In addition to the 6,500 payroll employees in Arts, Design, and Media, another 7,300 residents from this cluster are self-employed.
With just over 8,000 workers, the borough’s Computer and Mathematics cluster is about half as concentrated as the national average — and yet it is significantly larger than Queens’ smallest creative cluster, Science, which contains just 2,700 workers. Once more, both of these clusters should expect an increase in workers as a result of the Cornell Tech campus. Employment levels may also increase due to organizations like Coalition for Queens, which equip residents with the necessary technological skills to participate and compete in the innovation economy.
When it comes to those who work in Queens, the Creative Class is underrepresented compared to service and blue-collar employees. All this could soon change as the borough welcomes an influx of skilled talent. In just a short time, Queens will be on track to rival Manhattan and Brooklyn as a hub for artists, professionals, and thriving businesses in New York City.
STEVEN PEDIGO is the Director of the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab and a Clinical Assistant Professor for Economic Development at the NYU School of Professional Studies. He is also the Director of the Research and Advising for the Creative Class Group, an Associate Partner at Resonance Consultancy (Vancouver/ NYC), and a Senior Advisor for Leland Consulting(Portland). Follow him on twitter @iamstevenpedigo.