In the midst of a generally sensible Bloomberg View column by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser comes this passage:
The history of America's local economies illustrates the dangers of relying solely on large, established companies. Fifty years ago, the economist Benjamin Chinitz noted that New York appeared more resilient than Pittsburgh, which he credited to the entrepreneurship inculcated by New York's garment industry.
Chinitz noted that "the average establishment in the apparel industry, for example, has one-sixth as many employees as the average establishment in primary metals." Since big companies produce middle managers more than entrepreneurs, he said, "You do not breed as many entrepreneurs per capita in families allied with steel as you do in families allied with apparel."
Chinitz's claim has been supported by many studies...
Maybe Professors Glaeser and Chinitz are right about firm size and entrepreneurship, but anyone familiar with the history of New York City's apparel industry is likely to think of it as more like Pittsburgh's steel industry than un-like it. Mr. Glaeser himself wrote less than two years ago, "In the 1960s, the garment industry—that great incubator of entrepreneurship—left New York. ...Why sew on 28th Street when you could do it more cheaply in a right-to-work state or in China?"
An October 2011 article in Crain's New York reported that New York City's garment district "is currently home to around 21,500 fashion jobs, down hugely from a peak in the 1960s, when 200,000 people worked in the garment industry citywide."
The point seems to be that veterans of the garment industry were better equipped to adapt than veterans of the steel industry were after both industries collapsed. That may be true, but it's also true that a lot of New York's comeback happened after the garment industry had long receded, and that most of the largest employers in New York City today are firms that have been around for a long time.