Outlook 2013: Searching for some silver linings

Northern New York economy likely to see steady, calculated gains as uncertainty looms over policies that impact jobs

Uncertainty in Washington over what will become of the nation’s fiscal house has cast a pall over economic optimism like a wet blanket. Add a myriad of unknowns on how federal health care reform will impact job creation and a Congress content with inaction on a farm bill and many are left to wonder how optimism is even possible. And, as if that’s not enough, Albany is abuzz with talk about increasing New York’s minimum wage while also trying to market the Empire State as a business-friendly oasis for innovation and entrepreneurship. If this all sounds like a bad political thriller, welcome to 2013. Still, no matter the action — or lack thereof — in either capital city, Northern New York is poised to see some bright spots in the year ahead.

From a regional perspective, expect big topics like health care costs and job growth to capture a great deal of debate and discussion in the coming year, said Kevin Schwab, CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“Changes to health care are an important issue across the region and we think that the issue will become clearer as the year progresses,” Mr. Schwab said. “We recently held a health care seminar that 57 different businesses attended. We expect that businesses will become better positioned going into 2014 when a number of changes take effect.”

Mr. Schwab said that the region added jobs in 2012 and CenterState CEO expects that trend to continue into the new year.

“We do anticipate continued growth in the health care and higher education sectors for 2013,” he said.

Capital investment in the region was one of the areas of largest growth in 2012, something that also will continue, according to Mr. Schwab. In its 2012 economic forecast that CenterState CEO released last January, 83 percent of forecasters believed there would be an increase in capital investment.

“Across the region, from housing developments in Watertown to the more than $1.4 billion in projects under way in the Syracuse area, capital investment was a big part of 2012. In downtown Syracuse alone there is $265 million of capital investment under way; we have nine cranes in the air at the moment.”

In the Watertown area alone, more than 700 residential dwellings are in varying stages of construction with the $38 million, 296-unit Beaver Meadows behind Towne Center Plaza in the town of Watertown on pace to begin leasing in the spring.

To call the housing build-up progress for a market that has long faced a significant deficit is an understatement. Just last February, a study completed by GAR Associates, Amherst, and commissioned by Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, estimated that Watertown and the area surrounding Fort Drum was short 955 housing units. Investments in construction, housing and infrastructure in the past year alone have given the region more than a few reasons for optimism to percolate.

Higher education continues to be a tremendous draw for New York’s central and northern regions. In the 12 counties that make up CenterState’s service area — which includes Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence — there are 35 colleges and universities with more than 140,000 students enrolled.

“Colleges and universities will continue to be leaders in our economy and magnets for talent. We have a work force here that is 20 percent more educated than the rest of the country. That is a tremendous asset for businesses developing new projects.”

Mr. Schwab said that the region boasts a growing population, with businesses and stable jobs attracting people from around the world to live and work here. Still, it is important for the area to retain talent from the 35 colleges throughout its 12-county region.

“[Retaining a talented work force] is something we at CenterState are constantly working on,” Mr. Schwab said. “We are working to get students into internships with companies because one in three students get and accept job offers from companies they’ve interned for. We want to attract those students and retain those students.”

Last year was a big year for tourism, Mr. Schwab said. Agritourism saw growth as well as an increase in Canadian traffic, which likely will continue into 2013. A strong or on-par Canadian dollar and easing restrictions at the border in terms of what Canadians could bring back with them worked favorably to influence Canadian spending to near-record levels, Mr. Schwab said.

[Editor's note: This is a truncated version of this story. For the full version, please see NNY Business in print or subscribe.]

Kyle R. Hayes is associate magazine editor for NNY Business. Contact him at khayes@wdt.net or 661-2381. Ken Eysaman is editor for
NNY Business. Contact him at keysaman@wdt.net or 661-2399.