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Economics / Real estate

This economic development consultancy is exporting the Brooklyn playbook

Can the lesson of Brooklyn development be applied more broadly? Totem, founded by a team of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership alums, aims to find out.

The Totem team: Vivian Liao, Tucker Reed and J. Manuel Mansylla. (Photo courtesy of Totem)

For nearly five years, Tucker Reed and Vivian Liao worked together at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, helping to bring development and jobs to the neighborhood. Now the duo have started their own company, Totem, to bring what they learned to clients from all over the world.

“We’re focused on the idea of a holistic approach,” explained Reed by phone this week. “We found we were playing that convening role [at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership]. There were cities from all over the world who would ask us about our work in Brooklyn who wanted to replicate our success.”

The problem with development, Reed says, is that a lot of people are good at doing one thing. Builders are great at building, engineers are great at making more efficient products, and community organizations are great at looking out for their neighborhoods, but rarely do they talk, much less plan together. That will be one of the areas of expertise Reed, Liao, and their third partner at Totem, J. Manuel Mansylla, look to provide to their customers.

The company offers four services:

  • economic strategy,
  • real estate development,
  • design and placemaking,
  • and strategic ventures.

So far their clients include a new office development in Downtown Brooklyn, a revitalization project of underused land on the west side of Manhattan, and government of Guatemala City, which would like to create some special districts to spur economic development.

“The Brooklyn Tech Triangle planning process really started off as a real estate exercise,” Liao said, explaining how Totem would draw on their experience in the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “It got branded as an innovation destination and laid the groundwork for how to bring companies here. That process started as an economic impact analysis and then following it was a yearlong process where we talked to companies that were growing here, government agencies, academic institutions and took those findings and put together a master plan so that we could lay the groundwork. That process is something we can take some of those strategies from.”

If the team can replicate the success it enjoyed at the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, then it will do alright. In just the last three years, the number of tech/innovation companies in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle (roughly the Navy Yard to Atlantic Terminal to Dumbo) has increased 22 percent, and the number of employees has increased 45 percent, according to a recent report. Not too shabby.

Companies: Downtown Brooklyn Partnership
Series: Brooklyn

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