New York City and Its Small Businesses Go Digital

You could think of New York City's Digital Roadmap, published in the spring of 2011, as the founding document or charter for the city's push to make municipal government — and the citizens it supports — more high-tech.

The brains behind the effort was Rachel Haot (née Sterne), the city's first-ever Chief Digital Officer. The 29-year-old former tech entrepreneur was hired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg with a clear-cut mission: Make New York City a leader in digital technology.

Now, more than a year later, Haot's office, NYC Digital, says it has achieved 80 percent of the goals laid out in the Digital Roadmap. Among other accomplishments, it has introduced more Wi-Fi in public places, hosted the city’s first hackathon and launched the @nycgov Twitter handle.

This week on WNYC's New Tech City, host Manoush Zomorodi talks to Haot about the state of the city when it comes to technology.

Haot discusses the steps the Bloomberg administration is taking to retain top-level software engineers, expand broadband service and reach out to New Yorkers who don't have a computer or smartphone.

She also explains NYC Digital's most recent program — the Small Business Digital Toolkit — a set of online and offline courses to teach business owners 21st century skills like e-commerce and how to use social media or build a website.

"Ninety percent of people, when they are looking for a small business, will immediately search for one online," Haot said. "But only about 60 percent of those small businesses even have a website or a digital presence."

In an August report called "Smarter Small Businesses," the Center for an Urban Future argues that small businesses in the city face the threat of extinction if they don't adapt to changing technologies.

"People aren't going into the Yellow Pages anymore," said Jonathan Bowles, the organization's executive director. "If you don't advertise on Google, if you don't advertise on Facebook, a lot of these neighborhood-based businesses are missing out on a lot of potential customers."

With that in mind, WNYC's Dan Tucker talks to small business owners along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to see whether they think going digital makes sense for their stores, saloons and delis.