Kyle Kimball became president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in August after the always busy and not uncontroversial Seth Pinsky left his post for the private sector. Kimball, who graduated from Harvard’s Kennedy School, spent years in finance with stints at JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs before going to work for government. He landed at EDC in 2008, where he has held a variety of positions since.
We called up Kimball, who had just helped plant the city’s 800,000th tree as part of the NYC Million Trees Initiative, to chat about the broad scope of economic development, the waning days of the Bloomberg administration, mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s Tale Of Two Cities platform, and the oft-derided parking requirements attached to city developments.
Next City: How can you apply your experience in the financial world to EDC?
Kyle Kimball: I used to work in corporate finance and capital markets, which were both very data driven, and we made recommendations based on what the data told you. This administration has really cultivated an environment where data matters a lot. It leads to an open mindedness about solutions based on empirical evidence that you see and testing hypotheses. So it’s been a great fit. There’s a willingness to try different things and fail, but hopefully succeed and learn from our failures if we do and to modulate.
NC: How has the transition to top dog been for you?
Kimball: I was at EDC for basically five years. I’d had a number of jobs within EDC [before becoming president]. I ran the real estate group, I’ve been CFO — so I’d sort of seen front of house [and] back of house, and got to really know the organization from stem to stern. It’s quite a complicated organization.
NC: How are the waning days of the Bloomberg administration shaping up? Have you spoken with the mayor-elect?
Kimball: Our to-do list is still very long and the sense of urgency is growing as the days count down. I haven’t devoted a lot of mindshare to thinking about what’s next, because we have so much to do. I haven’t spoken formally to the de Blasio transition team, in part because I’m not really thinking too much about what my next steps are, and I probably should relatively soon. But we’re just so busy. Economic development, as you said at the beginning, means a lot of different things, and the mayor-elect may think of economic development in different ways than we do.
Not to say that there’s one way to think about [economic development]. It’ll be potentially refreshing to see new ideas and new ways of thinking and new ways of solving problems. We have the way we do business, and it’s always good for fresh eyes to come in and ask some basic questions about why are we doing things. That’s how we learn and innovate.
NC: What sort of plans do you have for EDC? You were obviously a large part of the Bloomberg administration’s vision working with Seth Pinsky, but what are some things you’d like to see changed under your watch?
Kimball: I hope that whatever’s next for me, I get to continue thinking about urbanism and innovation and new ways of approaching old problems, but also using data to identify new problems in general. If I were to think about the one big-picture thing that I’ve really enjoyed, it’s thinking about how cities are innovating to address big challenges.
In terms of goals for the next month and a half? One is to complete our applied sciences Cornell Campus, in terms of delivering Roosevelt Island to Cornell Tech so it can begin building its campus. I would say that’s priority number one for us. There are a lot of things going on, but that’s one project that I’m very focused on making sure that we deliver on our commitments to Cornell and the city.
NC: Much has been made of EDC’s focus on big developments with loads of parking. Nancy Scola raised the question with Pinsky in an exit interview this past August. Are you conscious of the chatter and critiques?
Kimball: If I were to list the things people might criticize EDC for, that would not necessarily be one I would think of, because we haven’t necessarily expanded parking. We’ve done a lot of development on places where parking existed, and we certainly have thought to preserve existing parking. But in terms of expansion of parking, we haven’t built garages or seen garages as an economic development strategy in and of themselves. It hasn’t been a policy goal of ours to expand parking at all. But in cases where there has been parking, we have preserved it so that the project gets approved.
NC: What do you make of the mayor-elect’s Tale Of Two Cities platform? How can the city work toward de Blasio’s vision of a more equal city?
Kimball: This is something that we have done, but I would suspect the next administration will want to amplify, and that is the issue of income mobility. It’s not just about attracting new talent, it’s about making sure that people in the city have access to talent development. Sometimes the conversation gets too focused on wages, and I think that’s an important piece of the conversation. But it’s going to be important for the next administration to couple wage gains with income mobility and talent cultivation — making sure people have the ability to move jobs as they grow professionally through continuous training and development.
Income mobility can’t just be focused on wages. It has to [also] be talent and skills acquisition and mobility throughout someone’s life.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Bill Bradley is based in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in The Daily, Bloomberg Businessweek, GQ.com and Vanity Fair, among others. Follow him on Twitter @billbradley3.