Fred Wilson and Tim Armstrong say policy matters for New York’s tech growth

Against a backdrop of a New York investment scene that’s been long on promise and press and somewhat lacking in terms of exits, tech icons Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, and Tim Armstrong, (my boss’ boss’ boss) chief executive of AOL, have come together to launch Tech:NYC, a new lobbying group for the technology community in New York.

While Wilson conceded on our stage that New York may be 20 years behind Silicon Valley in the tech sector, “things are going good.”

Over 400 tech companies have already been enlisted in the organization, headed by Julie Samuels, which is aiming to give New York’s technology community a seat at the table in discussions at the city, state and national level.

“We’re trying to grow an economy here,” Wilson said. “We’re 20% of the NY economy in the past 10 years… we want to make sure that our industry is getting what we need.”

That’s especially relevant as government and tech continue to clash as the industry enters more and more aspects of daily life.

“It makes sense to have people in the tech sector involved in those conversations so that we don’t make stupid rules,” said Wilson.

The issues facing the tech community in New York extend beyond regulations. For Armstrong and other New York-based companies, the competition for talent is fierce, and the two men hope their organization can coordinate to find ways to promote the industry, and make it a more attractive place for potential employees to settle.

At this point, that means addressing immigration issues, Wilson said. He specifically called out presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his proposed anti-immigration policies.

“I think that Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies are bad for the tech sector,” said Wilson. “For the next five or 10 years we need to bring people from other parts of the world to staff these companies.”

Armstrong agreed. “At the end of the day we want people to make a decision about where they want to go to work,” he said.

Even more broadly, New York is battling a perception that when it comes to technology, it’s a one-industry town.

The city’s biggest exits (many architected by Armstrong) have been based on advertising technology. Both DoubleClick and AOL were multi-billion dollar deals and among the city’s biggest tech wins.

But Armstrong and Wilson both pointed to the diversity of traditional industries in New York as a benefit that would bear fruit as more companies become increasingly driven by technology.

“What Fred and I want to do is make sure — for the whole community; whether it’s ads, or fashion or biotech — that companies and talent want to start their companies in New York and grow their company in New York,” Armstrong said.