Oneida, Herkimer counties lag in private-sector jobs

Jennifer Fusco

Oneida and Herkimer counties are failing to create private-sector jobs in sufficient numbers to overcome losses in manufacturing, even as other areas of upstate are beginning to show gains, a new federal study concludes. 

Upstate has long lagged the pace of growth elsewhere in the country, but has started to rebound in fields such as health care, education and businesses services, according to the study of the region’s employment trends by the Federal Reserve Bank’s Buffalo branch. 

Not so the Mohawk Valley. 

“The Utica-Rome metro area has been one of upstate New York’s weakest economies over the past year-and-a-half as jobs were shed in the manufacturing and trade sectors,” states the report, which looked at upstate employment trends since 2000. “The only source of major job creation has been education and health services.” 

Some local officials and business leaders take issue with that conclusion. They point out that the 5,000 jobs at the Oneida Nation’s Enterprises are not included in the private-sector jobs total because the state classifies them as government jobs. 

Also not included: new federal jobs created at Rome’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service. 

“I don’t think it tells the whole story,” said Rob Duchow, vice president of marketing for Mohawk Valley EDGE, the region’s main economic-development agency. 

“They are taking a statistical look at the area and not necessarily an accurate look,” he said. 

Duchow and others pointed to job growth at Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome. Just last week, a private-sector employer called Mascoma Corp. broke ground for a test facility at Griffiss for creating ethanol, a project they said could ultimately create hundreds of jobs locally. 

“We’ve got a proven track record for this area,” said Rome Mayor James Brown, who pointed also to the growth of aircraft-maintenance firm Empire Aero Center. “Look at Griffiss. Is it easy? No, it’s one job at a time.” 

Other leaders, however, questioned the effectiveness of the region’s economic-development policies. 

At times, the city of Utica has been overlooked by Mohawk Valley EDGE, Mayor Timothy Julian said. 

“We cannot be strictly a one business park area,” Julian said, “while Utica has basically been left to rot with very little assistance.” 

Government Jobs Grow

The Federal Reserve report paints a portrait of gradual recovery across Upstate New York in the private sector, which shrank between 2000 and 2003 and has expanded slowly since. 

About 40 percent of the region’s growth can be found in four fields: financial services, professional and business services, education and health services and leisure and hospitality. 

The Mohawk Valley, however, lost private-sector jobs between 2000 and 2005, and again in each of the past two years, the Federal Reserve concluded. 

The weak figures were also reflected in state Labor Department employment totals for the period between October 2006 and October 2007, which showed the Mohawk Valley had the third-worst rate of job growth during that period. 

Even so, Mark Barbano, regional economist with the labor department, agreed with Duchow that the Federal Reserve’s focus on the private sector misses out on the Mohawk Valley’s gains in government jobs, an area in which the state classifies the Oneida Nation’s jobs. 

The Oneida Indian Nation is the largest employer between Oneida and Madison counties, with almost 5,000 jobs, said spokesman Mark Emery. 

“The Nation continues to grow its economy and that will help everybody else in the region,” Emery said. Central to the Oneidas’ efforts is Turning Stone Resort and Casino, which hosted a PGA Tour event in September and recently opened a nightclub. 

EDGE’s Focus

Utica-Rome showed a 0.18 percent decrease in private sector job growth in 2006-07, according to the federal study. That’s a decrease of 180 jobs, which Duchow said he considers stable. 

Still, each of the other eight upstate metropolitan areas showed private-sector job gains for that same period, according to the Federal Reserve study. 

And the most recent totals did not include the 219 job losses at Partners Trust Financial Group, which was recently bought out by M&T Bank Corp. 

Mohawk Valley EDGE is committed to increasing private-sector jobs, Duchow said. 

“I think EDGE has done quite a bit,” Duchow said, as he pointed to Empire Aero Center, the Family Dollar warehouse in Rome and several information technology businesses. 

The key will be continuing to promote the region and attract more of the same types of companies, while keeping the current ones stable and growing, Duchow said. 

Businesses React

M. Brian O'Shaughnessy, chairman of Revere Copper Products Inc., said he’s not surprised Utica-Rome ranked so low in the study. 

One of the main reasons job growth is declining? 

The high cost of energy, he said. 

“The Central New York region is the only area in New York state that does not have a strong energy policy,” he said. 

EDGE has been doing a great job marketing the region, he said. 

“I don’t think this is something you can look at local people and say it’s their fault,” he said. “I think we have to develop a long-term energy program in Utica-Rome that allocates hydropower to manufacture in this region.” 

Mike Baldwin, president of Dart Communications in Rome, said Utica and Rome are so separated that it’s tough to coordinate development efforts, he said. 

“It’s difficult for us to respond to a lack of jobs because we don’t know how to respond as a region,” he said.

Observer-Dispatch

FALLING BEHIND

According to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Buffalo Branch, study released Monday, private-sector job growth in Oneida and Herkimer counties has lagged: 

Utica-Rome was ranked last of nine metropolitan areas in upstate in employment growth rates for 2006-07. 

Our region was the only one of the nine metro areas to lose private sector jobs in each of the past two years.

The only source of major job creation in Utica-Rome has been education and health services, where employment grew nearly 3 percent in 2006 and almost 2 percent in the first half of 2007, the Federal Reserve study found. 

Local economic-development officials say the study ignores job growth at Oneida Indian Nation Enterprises, which is the region’s largest private employer yet has its jobs classified as “government” by the state Labor Department. 

The study also doesn’t take into account growth in government jobs such as the U.S. Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Rome.

Progress elsewhere 

Sectors showing growth across Upstate New York include financial services, professional and business services, education and health services and leisure and hospitality. 

The Albany area has seen “a modest but sustained expansion of jobs since 2000,” the report found. That’s been spurred by private universities and colleges and by the region’s burgeoning nanotech industry. 

Glens Falls has seen one of the state’s strongest economies thanks to growth in construction, education and health services. 

Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse have each seen a modest rebound in employment this year, despite continuing losses in manufacturing.