Approach To Rebuild Upstate Economy Is Unrealistic

The economy is in the midst of a long, slow climb from the depths of the 2008 economic recession.

Private sector job growth is up statewide and in Chautauqua County, according to the latest state Labor Department statistics. Unemployment has stayed at 7.6 percent statewide and is down to 7.4 percent in Chautauqua County; both numbers are much lower than they were at the same time last year. State tax collections, meanwhile, are increasing and the state’s general fund closing balance of $3.6 billion at the end of August was $71 million higher than projections from the first quarterly update.

Those are indeed positive signs, but the job is far from done.

DiNapoli acknowledges the number of jobs in New York has increased above pre-recession levels, but the state is still falling short of national growth rates in several key job sectors. A report by the Fiscal Policy Institute is even more bleak. Median wages have decreased 7 percent for men and 1 percent for women as underemployment runs rampant in the economy. People who were working in full-time jobs before the recession are working part-time in lower-paying job sectors like retail and hospitality. The institute’s report states fewer than 71 percent of New Yorkers ages 25 to 64 were working in the first half of 2013 compared to more than 75 percent before the recession. And, only about 45 percent of those ages 18 to 24 are working, down from 50 percent before the recession.

There is obviously more work to do, especially in Upstate New York.

Government’s first task at the state and local levels should be to lower taxes and streamline state and local regulations – making it easier for private business to grow the economy. Unnecessary hand-wringing over the slightest hiccups in life lead to poorly crafted laws that have helped create New York’s high regulation, high tax environment. It is an environment that does nothing but drive good-paying jobs away.

That business unfriendliness is compounded by an amalgam of smoke-stack or entrepreneur chasing tax breaks that end up costing more money than they recapture in tax revenue. There is little evidence yet that the Regional Economic Development Council approach to development is working since many of the projects aren’t adding very many jobs, especially not in Chautauqua County. The 2013 economic development darling – Tax Free New York – was pitched as a way to incentivize entrepreneurs around the state’s SUNY campuses while state schools lag in cutting-edge basic and applied research; the result is tax-free zones ill-suited to the graduates of many SUNY schools.

Expecting the Upstate New York economy to be rebuilt in a year would be unrealistic. Expecting the state’s willy-nilly approach to ever rebuild Upstate New York’s economy is equally unrealistic.