Former Publisher Forges Partnerships to Develop Emerging NYC Markets
MIT Technology Review
New York City may already be the nation’s capital of finance and trade, but Mark Thomas, MBA ’14, is helping the city branch out further to help ensure its financial stability and global relevance.
In 2016, Thomas became the first senior vice president of partnerships for the NYC Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC), the city’s principal investment agency for job creation, with a 500-person team and an $850 million budget. His job is to create partnerships in emerging industries like cybersecurity, virtual reality/augmented reality, and blockchain.
The new role is a striking evolution for Thomas: his background is originally in journalism, and he’s a poet and writer. Before MIT, he’d spun off City Limits, the magazine of New York City’s Center for an Urban Future, into a nonprofit media organization and led its transition from print to digital as publisher and director.
But he was hoping to make a change and expand his leadership abilities. At Sloan, he filled in skill gaps in management and system dynamics, the study of complex factors affecting organizations.
“Before MIT, I thought communications was the only area I could be a success, but I left knowing I could bring the same framework to new sectors,” he says. “I didn’t have to be a one-hit wonder.”
After MIT, Thomas became director of Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s Operations Innovation Team. There, he oversaw reforms of LA’s high-cost operational challenges and worked with companies and academia to adopt best practices. He also studied cities with operational efficiency, including New York; in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, NYCEDC has provided investment capital, infrastructure, and targeted support to help promote economic diversification.
Since joining NYCEDC, Thomas has been working with companies, venture capitalists, and accelerators in the US and abroad. “Eighty percent of the time I’m doing system dynamics: seeing how New York compares to Boston, Toronto, and other cities, and using game theory models to manage this impressive hub and work with other hubs and partners,” he says.
In 2017, NYCEDC announced a $30 million effort as part of the mayor’s Cyber NYC initiative to make New York a cybersecurity hub. The city tapped partners and local universities to create a pipeline for innovation and talent. They hope to create 10,000 new positions.
“Many believe the city is already ‘done’ and investments need to go to other things besides jobs,” Thomas says. He’s certain, though, that “we have to be a hub for whatever sectors become the new big things.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 of MIT News magazine, published by Technology Review magazine.