More than 400 real estate and public sector experts gathered at 117 West 46th Street on Monday for a conference on development and investment in New York City, organized by NYCEDC and hosted by Convene. Headlining the day was former Secretary of Transportation during the Obama administration, Anthony Foxx.

Foxx’s keynote focused on NYC’s current position as a world economic leader and the challenges it must address moving forward to hold onto that position. On the top of his list were the infrastructure and transit issues facing the city, and the complicated partnerships needed to solve these problems. Foxx pointed out that for large projects, such as the Gateway Project, city, state, and federal agencies must all be on the same page, along with private stakeholders. “We’ve had moments when New Jersey wasn’t on board but New York and the federal government was, moments where New Jersey and the federal government were on board but New York wasn’t. Now we have New Jersey and New York on board but the federal government isn’t,” Foxx said, to chuckles from the audience. “Everyone is in charge and no one is in charge.”

Despite those bureaucratic headaches, Foxx encouraged the audience to stay vigilant. “Don’t understate your role as a bridge over troubled waters… Or in this case, under troubled waters.”

Former Sec of Transportation Anthony Foxx at Convene

Former Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx speaks to the Development Finance Conference, hosted by Convene at 117 W. 46th Street.

Foxx closed his comments by bringing the focus back to the people of the city who are most affected by the projects EDC hopes to take on. “Don’t forget, in this great city you still have families struggling to make ends meet. Proposals that create job opportunities for people who have been underserved can make a huge difference.”

Throughout the day, panel discussions focused on different aspects of investment opportunities in New York City, from the wide-ranging neighborhoods in which economic development projects were underway, to the emerging industries that will lead the city into the future.

On a panel moderated by the Wall Street Journal’s Peter Grant, business leaders discussed the risks NYC faces moving forward. Grant presented the panel with a provocative question: “Compare the New York City of 20 to 30 years ago when the city was hemorrhaging jobs to now—in terms of the future, have we won the war or is this something that is cyclical and we’re in danger of all that happening again?”

Raymond J. McGuire, Vice Chairman at Citigroup stated that the war is being won, but there is still much work to do. “There are battles where we need to gain ground. The battle of infrastructure. The battle of affordable housing. Income inequality is growing. 51% of African American and Latino families are below the median income in this city.”

James Patchett, CEO at NYCEDC, seconded McGuire’s statement and added that the city must be wary of where stock market valuation is heading, geographically. “Five of the most valuable companies in the world are located on the west coast. We have to ensure that NYC remains at the forefront of technology and fueling changes that happen here. We can’t rely on Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv to create jobs.”

Ryan Simonetti speaks on a panel at the NYCEDC conference

Convene CEO Ryan Simonetti joins other real estate and city leaders on a panel on investing in the “industries of tomorrow”

Later that afternoon, Convene’s CEO Ryan Simonetti spoke on a panel on the “Industries of Tomorrow.”

Simonetti spoke about building a company in New York City and the benefits it offers, like access to customers, talent, and capital. With the concentration of commercial real estate business in the city, Simonetti also said that there is an opportunity for New York to become the world leader in proptech. “You have consolidation of power—vertically integrated owners, operators, and brokerage companies are all based in New York. If you go to a five block area in Midtown Manhattan, there’s more power and wealth there in real estate than anywhere else in the world. I believe we have the opportunity in this city to become a global leader in real estate tech, and with that comes a lot of benefits.”