When Gov. Eliot Spitzer delivers his State of the State address on Wednesday, we hope he’ll have some words of encouragement for Upstate New Yorkers.
When Gov. Eliot Spitzer delivers his State of the State address on Wednesday, we hope he’ll have some words of encouragement for Upstate New Yorkers – specifically, those in the Utica-Rome-Herkimer region.
We need them.
But we need more than a pep talk. Throughout his first year in office, the governor has talked repeatedly about fixing the Upstate economy, and while some areas of the state have been given reason for hope, Mohawk Valley residents continue to wonder whether there’s anything in the state’s bag of business for them.
Mainly, we need jobs – real jobs. Statistics from the state Department of Labor show that the Utica-Rome area had the state’s third-worst job creation record between October 2006 and October 2007 among the state’s 14 metropolitan areas. According to the report, the region added only 200 private-sector jobs in that 12-month period, representing an increase of 0.2 percent. By contrast, the Elmira area added 500 private-sector jobs, or a 1.5 percent rise, and the Kingston area added 1,200 such jobs, for a 2.4 percent increase.
In a recent guest column, Spitzer pointed out that part of his “upstate focus” plan for the Mohawk Valley included funding for the REACH Micro Enterprise Center in Rome to serve as incubator space for start-up enterprises, renovation of the Harza Building in downtown Utica and a downtown parking garage, along with renovation to the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center campus in West Utica, which includes demolition of two abandoned buildings there.
While investment in infrastructure can help, there will need to be an aggressive follow-through if the region is ultimately see any real benefits. For instance, Spitzer said that demolition of the Brigham Building and Dunham Hall on the psychiatric center campus “will create a shovel-ready site for major economic development.” That could be a plus since the city has little shovel-ready space for development now, but the key to making it work is for state officials and local leaders to work together and aggressively pursue developers to locate here. Such a partnership can lead to the real jobs the area so desperately needs.
We’ve had our share of disappointments when it comes to real jobs. In June 2006, Advanced Micro Devices chose to build a computer chip manufacturing plant in Saratoga County instead of Marcy – a site that just so happens to be in Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s district. That same year, Gov. George Pataki gave the region a glimmer of hope when he announced that the state would move several hundred well-paying data center jobs from Albany to a site near SUNYIT in Marcy.
But that promise was short-circuited by public employee unions representing the data center workers in Albany. In a visit last year, Spitzer told the O-D editorial that the project would be replaced by another one offering similar jobs, but we’ve heard nothing since.
We don’t need any more promises. Shortly after his election, Utica Mayor David Roefaro said he had a good rapport with Spitzer, and said that he was optimistic that the state will be addressing the area’s needs.
“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to work with the governor to obtain more funds for this area,” Roefaro said.
We need more than funds, which is really just our money anyway. We need jobs – real jobs. And the leaders we’ve elected to represent us at the state and local level need to press that issue in the weeks and months ahead because if they don’t, Spitzer’s “upstate focus” will continue to be blurry for the Mohawk Valley.