The recent announcement that Dick’s Sporting Goods will build a 650,000-square-foot distribution center in Binghamton has been cited by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as further evidence of an economic resurgence in the region.
“Five years ago, we had a 7.9 percent unemployment rate in the Southern Tier,” Cuomo said. “Today, 4.6 percent. The arrows are headed in the right direction.”
In fact, as shown in the state Labor Department’s household survey data, the unemployment rate dropped only because fewer residents of the region are available and looking for work. If the labor force were still at its 2010 level, the unemployment rate would be 13 percent.
As measured by another Labor Department statistical series — the “establishment data” count of payroll jobs based in the region — the Southern Tier basically hasn’t been growing at all for years.
The arrows, in other words, are actually pointed sideways.
To be sure, the Dick’s distribution center and its 466 jobs are a good “get” for the growth-starved Southern Tier, which lost 1,000 private-sector jobs during the 12 months ending in July. Nonetheless, the larger implications of this project are limited, at best.
Unfortunately, while the Southern Tier’s problems began years before the current governor took office, Cuomo’s policies on balance has helped make them even worse.
First, of course, he banned the use of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing to harvest natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation underlying the region. More recently, he killed the proposed Constitution gas pipeline, which would have linked the region’s businesses (and residents) to the gas harvested in nearby Pennsylvania.
Two of the Southern Tier’s dwindling band of manufacturing employers — Raymond Corp., which makes forklifts in Greene, and Amphenol Aerospace, in Sidney — had made it known that they’d be ready and willing to expand, if they could gain access to natural gas. The Cuomo administration itself had approved regional economic development grants to help finance feeder lines from the Constitution Pipeline to those plants.
Most recently, Cuomo pushed through a “Clean Energy Standard” that will require a much greater reliance on expensive wind- and solar-generated electricity in New York while also mandating large subsidies to money-losing upstate nuclear power plants. This is likely to add $3 billion to New York’s already high utility bills over the next five years, my colleagues at the Empire Center have calculated. In effect, it’s an enormous green tax.
Given Cuomo’s costly energy policy, his denial of the Constitution Pipeline permit, the fracking ban, his sharp increase in the minimum wage and his new paid leave mandate for all employers, the governor has not exactly been sending positive signals about New York’s business-friendliness.
And while the Southern Tier will no doubt continue to attract the occasional new employer, the thrust of the state’s major policies has been to discourage existing employers from expanding or remaining upstate.