The Real Story of Upstate New York’s Economic Rebound (Op-Ed)

Howard Zemsky, President, CEO & Commissioner, Empire State Development

March 30, 2017

With real economic progress being made across Upstate New York, it’s disheartening to hear denizens of doom yelling the sky is falling. It's hardly illuminating to compare Upstate’s cities to other U.S. mega cities like Boston or Atlanta. Noted economist John Slenker sums it up perfectly: “The best way to compare Buffalo, N.Y., is to compare it with Buffalo, N.Y. We’re different from the West Coast. We are not New York City or Washington, D.C.”

For decades, Upstate New York lost population and found itself in an economic hole that Gov. Cuomo has been helping us to successfully climb our way out of. Many young people left, which isn’t unusual, but few moved in. And that hurt. This multi-decade net loss of young population robbed us of skills, entrepreneurs, consumers and people who, you know, reproduce. Without population growth, it's harder to achieve economic growth.

But Upstate’s young population is now rising for the first time in what seems like forever. And by every measure – jobs, wages, housing, GDP, investment, unemployment, population, and so on – Upstate New York is doing remarkably well relative to how it was doing.

The Upstate economy is adding jobs, including 80 consecutive months with private sector growth – the longest on record since 1990;  and from 2011 through this year, that job growth clocked in at nearly 6 percent, compared with a 3 percent decrease from 2001 – 2011.  Plus, nearly 40 percent of Upstate’s private sector jobs in 2016 were well-paying.  Today, instead of disparate development strategies we have robust regional plans driving and achieving sustainable economic growth.  

While some critics are in denial about our progress, the rest of us know how far we have come. More importantly, we know the path forward:

We will invest in revitalization – of our waterfronts, historic buildings and downtowns, be they cities, towns or villages, because that helps retain and recruit young people; and there's no more important leading indicator about our economic future than that.

We will invest in innovation – be they incubators, university centers of research and technology, business plan competitions, venture funds and early-stage businesses, because our economic future depends on our ability to innovate.

We will invest in our people – through traditional and more innovative providers of skills, be they community colleges, neighborhood based not-for-profits, technical schools or adult extension programs, to give our residents opportunities to obtain the skills needed to achieve their career and economic aspirations; and

We will invest in the tradable sectors of our economy – because private industry generates wealth through capital investments and job creation and retention.

There are no quick fixes, no silver bullets, and no illusions about the challenges we face in Upstate New York. However, the Investigative Post chooses to ignore every positive development, discounts every sensible strategy we are deploying, and turns a blind eye to the bounty of positive statistics demonstrating Upstate’s economic rebound.

Through his vision for an inclusive, bottom-up approach to economic development, Gov. Cuomo – like no governor before him – has mobilized and empowered our Upstate economy while providing the tools and resources necessary to succeed. From Buffalo, where the positive changes are irrefutable, to Utica, which is on the verge of being the epicenter of innovation for a global industry, and across Upstate New York – we are implementing holistic, sustainable and successful economic development strategies. These efforts are paying dividends for New Yorkers and, despite the naysayers, we have a lot of economic success to celebrate and even more to look forward to…finally.

 

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