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The Upstate Economy

Jobs report shows upstate economy still needs work

Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrates "topping off" of SolarCity gigafactory in Buffalo Aug. 4.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been making frequent trips to upstate cities this summer, touting his success in reviving the regions’ faltering economy. But a new report from the New York state comptroller on job creation shows there is still some work to do.

Cuomo was in Buffalo recently at a topping off ceremony for a giant solar factory on the site of an old steel plant. State investment in the new plant is part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion initiative, and he claims it will create at least 3,000 new jobs.

“On the gravesite of the old economy, where Republic Steel stood, now rises, literally, a beautiful monument to Buffalo’s future,” the governor proudly proclaimed.

The governor bought all of his top advisors to Rochester to hold an event he called "Capital for a Day," and announced the creation of a new photonics headquarters. In Binghamton, where coincidentally, a key state Senate race will be held this fall, he joined leaders of a marketing company who say they will renovate a vacant industrial site and hire nearly 600 more workers. Cuomo told the audience he’s been focusing on the upstate economy “like a laser beam."

“Today is proof positive that the formula works,” the governor said.

Cuomo says New York was a “tax and spend state” for years, but now it’s become business friendly.

But five-year survey of job creation in New York, compiled by the state comptroller, finds that vast swaths of upstate are still struggling.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says the state now has nearly 9 million jobs, a record high. New York City economy is doing very well, with a growth rate of 11 percent between 2009 and 2014.  Long Island is also improving, with the economy growing just under 5 percent.  

DiNapoli says three out of every four jobs in the five-year period were created in the downstate region. The figures paint a tale of two states, with some areas left out of the economic recovery, and even reporting job losses.

“Central New York, North Country, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley,” said DiNapoli. “Significant regions of the state that are still in the negative as far as job creation.”

DiNapoli says Buffalo is a bright spot. Its economy grew by 1.5 percent from 2009 through 2014, and he says the Buffalo Billion effort has contributed to that success. He says confidence and positive “psychology” can contribute to investment, but he says it’s difficult to measure the exact effect.

There are some other worrying trends in the comptroller’s jobs report, including the prevalence of older workers in New York, who perhaps can’t afford to retire; and fewer younger employees, compared to the rest of the country. There’s also a greater number of what’s termed “underutilized workers," people who have lost jobs in their profession and have had to take lower paying or part-time work.

Cuomo’s budget office released some job numbers that they say shows the comptroller’s figures are out of date, and that it may be too early to judge the economic recovery based on data that ends in 2014.  Their numbers track the first half of 2015, and show that most regions of the state, including upstate, grew slightly, with the exception of the Southern Tier, which showed a 0.1 percent drop in job growth from January through June. Overall, New York’s economy is expanding faster than neighboring states for the first half of the year.   

DiNapoli says that’s good news, but he thinks the full year’s numbers will portray a more accurate picture of where the economy is going. He says his office has also found that sales tax revenues are slowing, which could mean slower consumer spending.

Cuomo, at the Buffalo event at the SolarCity plant,  agrees that there’s more work to do.

“We have to keep building momentum,” Cuomo said.

The governor does plan to invest more money in upstate New York. He’s begun a competition, where three of the seven regions will split a $1.5 billion prize.