By Pete Bardunias
Last year we talked about workforce, which continues to be a hot-button issue for area employers and economic developers alike. New York struggles to compete with the rest of the country, and indeed the world, when it comes to attracting an adequate workforce to support the type of industry-leading and cutting-edge technology we hope to attract to the area.
There is a simple reason for this: people keep choosing not to stay in the area. To those of us who, like myself, have chosen to come to Tech Valley in search of a better future for our families, this may seem rather counterintuitive, but it is a big problem because parents keep sending their kids to expensive schools in search of liberal arts degrees and perceived prosperity in environs far away from home.
This despite the fact that jobs are available right here in the trades and technical fields. Economist Hugh Johnson told the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership last month that American economic growth was stuck at 2 percent per year in part because of the low labor participation rate, i.e. people who have abandoned the workforce due to various concerns.
It’s a little hard for me to swallow that people are staying home and choosing not to work, while factories, farms and workshops right down the street can’t fill jobs paying in some cases $20-30 per hour.
How do we fix this? Start by removing the stigma attached to manufacturing, farms and trades.
Yes, farmers and industrial workers get dirty. So do environmentalists with expensive anthropology degrees roaming around Africa trying to save rare species of snails. But you’ll make more money locally, especially if one has strong technical skills and can apply them. Is it boring to stamp 500 of the same gizmo every day? Perhaps, but workers learn something about dedication, machinery, the ability to reliably replicate something and develop the skills necessary to move up the ladder, the way the Jack Welches of the world did two generations ago.
We need to start recognizing and promoting those who choose the trades for their career, because it will be a very rewarding one.
In 2017, its 50th anniversary year, the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County (CSSC) is a recognized leader in the marine, manufacturing, agriculture and transportation industries. We invest the time to make things happen in areas that are often not on everyone else’s radar screen. The Route 4/Route 32 corridor from Waterford to Northumberland is ripe for business development, with standouts such as the Area 3 intermodal rail/canal/manufacturing concept being marketed right now to potential corporate investors via a volunteer committee led by Scott Roth of RLF Realty in Albany.
Other interesting sites exist in Mechanicville along the Hudson River, as well as the old rail yards. We are leading a rehabilitation effort at the old train station to help serve, along with the restored XO Tower, as a focal point for the downtown industrial and commercial district.
This is the 75th anniversary of the pivotal battles of World War II, the 125th anniversary of General Electric Co., the 200th of the construction of the Erie Canal, the 225th of the Town of Charlton, and the 240th of the epic Battle of Saratoga. In September the USS Saratoga reunion will be held in Saratoga Springs, and we are helping to chronicle the story of these epic ships, the sailors, the historic battle behind the ships’ nameplates, and even the engineers at General Electric who made possible the innovative propulsion system of CV-3 the most technologically advanced when it debuted in the 1920s.
Southern Saratoga County does face some challenges keeping up with recent trends. For example, the 1,000 hotel rooms in Clifton Park and nearly half as many in Malta don’t have a dedicated funding mechanism to provide support, thanks to the recent veto of home rule legislation designed to collect occupancy tax from tourists.
We do have a strategy for promoting these hotels. After all, its been our mission to advocate for these communities for half a century. But it will be a relatively rudimentary until proper resources have been secured.
Finally, it is a strong conviction of mine that more economic development can effectively be done in the current economic climate of New York state by utilizing the “bottom-up” approach to community development. This takes more work, but the results can be very satisfying.
Witness the strong cooperative effort that have taken place in Schuylerville, thanks to community volunteers led by Chelsie Henderson of Rural Soul Studio and the underlying support of an autonomously-run CSSC committee called the Schuylerville Small Business Association. More than ever before, it’s going to take a community effort to get things done in 2017. Let’s get to it.