Portfolio Spotlight: How GMDC’s Helping Preserve New York’s Small Manufacturing Landscape
Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center offers affordable manufacturing space to industrial small businesses in New York City’s increasingly competitive real estate market. The Partnership Fund first invested in GMDC over 20 years ago and has funded five of its projects across Brooklyn and Queens. Today, GMDC owns and manages six properties, which together represent more than 690,000 square feet of space. These buildings are occupied by more than 125 businesses that employ over 700 people.
With its latest development in Brownsville, Brooklyn, GMDC partnered with another local nonprofit to construct a mixed-use development that combines affordable housing and light manufacturing space for the first time to provide quality residential and industrial space for more New Yorkers. Recently, we spoke to GMDC CEO Brian T. Coleman to learn more about the project and discuss local manufacturing’s important role in New York’s economy.
What does your company do?
GMDC is a nonprofit company that owns, manages and develops industrial space to help keep small- and medium-sized manufacturers in New York City. We operate six buildings; five are in Brooklyn, and one is in Ozone Park, Queens. Our seventh project is the Bridge Rockaway development in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which the Partnership Fund recently supported us on. I have had the privilege of working at GMDC for 20 years now, and it’s the best place I’ve ever been.
We aim to bring small businesses under one roof and allow those businesses to grow and create more jobs across New York City.
Historical manufacturing districts like Manhattan and Long Island City are no longer traditional manufacturing areas. To make space for small manufacturers in the city, GMDC seeks properties outside the central business districts that still have manufacturing space and preserves that space and the jobs that these businesses create.
To support our tenants as they grow, GMDC offers below-market rents and long-term leases that aren’t available in the commercial real estate marketplace. Many of our tenants come to us having been priced out of their previous space or exiting leases with less favorable, shorter terms. With a minimum lease of five years at GMDC, we’re proud to offer these businesses stability. That gives business owners more security and allows them to invest more in their businesses.
Tell us more about GMDC’s Bridge Rockaway development. What impact will this project have on the Brownsville, Brooklyn community?
In May 2022, we started construction on a mixed-use development that will combine for the first time in New York City affordable housing and manufacturing space in Brownsville, Brooklyn. GMDC partnered with a Harlem-based nonprofit organization called The Bridge, which is an organization focused on creating quality, affordable housing and offering supportive services to underserved New Yorkers.
Two challenges we often face in New York City are a shortage of affordable housing and of middle-income jobs. So, we were thrilled to partner with the team at The Bridge and combine our two missions and come up with a solution that could offer New Yorkers equitable access to real estate, both as residential tenants and entrepreneurs. We have a friend who says, “no home is affordable if you don’t have a good job,” and I think our partnership with The Bridge is answering that call by bringing good jobs and quality, affordable apartments to the Brownsville community. The Bridge Rockaway development will create 174 affordable homes and up to 10 manufacturing units that range from 1,400 to 6,000 square feet, which we expect to create up to 35 jobs. Often when a residential building is constructed in an industrial area, that traditional manufacturing space gets displaced. Fortunately, by partnering with The Bridge, that was not the case on this project.
Since this project is the first of its kind, we worked with the City of New York and the local community board and borough president to ensure that these two sectors would coexist and offer a seamless living and workspace that would create a model that GMDC or other developers could replicate.
There’s only a finite amount of land in New York City, so if we can prove that this model works and that we can get people those needed jobs and homes, and put them on the same site, then we’re using our real estate in a much more efficient way.
Why are manufacturing jobs an important part of New York City’s economy, and what is GMDC’s role in creating opportunities in this space?
There was a point when true manufacturing spaces were rapidly disappearing in New York City, but despite shrinking real estate available, we believe New York City is still a great place for smaller manufacturers to build a business. So, although there are fewer manufacturing jobs in New York than before, they are still good, well-paying jobs, which can be an important economic entry point for people across income and skill levels.
When we survey our tenants, we find that those small manufacturers like being in New York City in large part because of the quality of the workforce. These entrepreneurs want to keep their businesses here, but there is a critical need for affordable space — the fact that GMDC is currently 100% occupied speaks to that point. We’re happy to step in and create a soft-landing spot for industrial entrepreneurs so that these great businesses don’t give up on New York City and allow them to keep their operations here.
Also, having a variety of manufacturers producing local goods also contributes to a more nimble, diverse economy. Our tenants range from traditional makers like furniture and housewares manufacturers, architectural woodworkers, and glass blowers to technology hardware like computer chip manufacturing. Throughout the pandemic, many of these businesses continued their operations. As supply chain challenges put a strain on cities around the world, we saw how critical it was to be able to produce essential goods locally. So, we think it’s important to continue to provide ample space for this industry and contribute to a more sustainable manufacturing ecosystem in New York City.
What impact do small manufacturers have on the local communities surrounding GMDC properties?
Local manufacturing has a strong impact on the immediate community around it and supports economic development on a micro level. We have found that there are large concentrations of employees around the physical locations of our buildings, which means these businesses are creating jobs for local people or drawing talent in from other areas as people relocate to be closer to where they work: 92% of the people who work in our buildings are New York City residents, 97% of the workers are New York State residents.
We’ve also had success over the last two or three years with our tenants working with some of the public programs in New York City to help more people with a variety of different skill sets access careers in manufacturing. Most recently, we’ve worked with CUNY’s Internship-to-Employment program, which introduces recent graduates to manufacturing. Now our tenants can tap into a diverse pipeline of bright people who have been educated locally — it’s a great combination that creates a powerful ripple effect across the city, and we’re glad to be a part of that.