Diamond District businesses lauded, urged to sell more aggressively

John Liu, Michael Grumet and Scott Stringer. (Dan Rosenblum)
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On Monday morning, the business improvement district representing Midtown’s Diamond District unveiled a study highlighting the economics behind the dense, jostling row of jewelers along 47th Street.

Those numbers showed more than 4,100 businesses employing more than 22,000 people while the district provides the city $4.2 billion in wages, profits and indirect taxes. The businesses provided an economic impact of $24.2 billion dollars in cost of materials, services, wages, rent and profits. The study also found that jewelry, diamonds and gold were three of New York State’s top four exports.

One of its conclusions was that Diamond District businesses needed to do more to promote themselves, attracting tourists and potential customers.

The study, funded by the Empire State Development Corporation and the 47th Street Business Improvement District, was conducted by the Pratt Center for Community Development.

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“Obviously we need a strong Wall Street economy and certainly we need to diversify the kinds of people who will be employed here in the next 20-30 years,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “But if you want a model that has sustained itself for decades and decades, you have to think about the diamond district. You have to think about the great potential that’s unleashed so many entrepreneurs in the city.”

The press conference came before the annual meeting of the business improvement district. Board members—mostly property owners and retailers—met on the tenth floor of the Diamond Dealers Club and picked over trays of bagels, whitefish, smoked salmon and lavish plates of fruit.

Seth Pinsky, the head of the city Economic Development Corporation, and Stringer sat next to each other and complemented the success of the neighborhood’s jewelry trade. Comptroller John Liu sat next to Stringer, occasionally flipping through the BID’s magazine, Diamond District Monthly.

“It is exactly the kind of industry we want to support here in New York,” said Pinsky. “It’s global, it’s export-oriented, it’s vertically integrated, it provides thousands and thousands of jobs to people of all different backgrounds.”

Pinsky said the district gives high-paying jobs to workers, many of whom are immigrants or lack a formal education.

“I can say this, especially from personal experience having just gotten married, I’m very well aware of just how the diamond district works,” Pinsky said. “It’s a very efficient marketplace and I’d like to thank everyone in the industry for helping to make my marriage a success.”

Liu also played up the diamond center’s importance, but started with a message for Pinsky.

“First congratulations, Seth, on your marriage and your successful purchase,” he said. “I won’t say how many carats. As my grandmother in Taiwan would say, mazel tov.”

Liu stayed on that theme when he talked about the district.

“This is a place where people from all over the world come to for visiting, for tourism, but also to purchase what is surely their most important asset in their entire lives,” Liu said. And that would be the wedding ring that brings a couple, and keeps a couple together.”

Roughly a block long, Midtown’s Diamond District is a complex thicket of businesses and trading centers hiding behind display windows of shimmering trinkets. Much of the area is covered by security cameras. Some properties are Foreign Trade Zones, where many U.S. Customs rules are suspended.

The Diamond Dealers Club, which bills itself as “the largest diamond trade organization in the United States,” is a visible sign of the city’s role in the world economy. In the rooms next to the meeting, diamond dealers sat on tables with lamps and magnifying glasses for appraising gems. A television played CNBC. Clocks told the time in New York, Ramat Gan and Antwerp.

“All of us know about the district’s contribution to New York,” said BID head Michael Grumet. “But we decided it was time to find out just exactly what that contribution was to the economy of the city and the state.”

Grumet said the last study of the district was done 20 years ago under former Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger.

During the meeting following the conference, members of the BID boasted that they were able to remove a newsstand, and they would be one of the first districts to get LED signposts. One business owner complained about taxes.

Kenneth Adams, head of the state’s economic development agency pitched Andrew Cuomo’s recently formed regional councils that split the state into groups to compete for $1 billion in state funding. He said the BID’s study might make it easier to remind city and state leaders of its importance as an economic lever.

“The study is fundamental to our work in telling story,” Adams said. “This is all data-driven and we need the data. We need these numbers to tell the importance of this sector in New York, across the state, across the country, and literally, with some of our partners around the globe.”

After the press conference Avery Weinschneider, chair of the BID’s finance committee, ran through the budget and urged the group to help draw more customers to 47th Street.

“Everyone, please encourage your people in your exchanges on the ground floor, upstairs manufacturers, people who serve this industry, to take out ads, and to encourage them to be seen,” he said. “Because if you don’t have an ad, you’re not seen. And if you’re not seen, of course, you can’t get the business.”