The jobs picture

Not so much down looks like up.

Ulster County lost 100 jobs in August, according to preliminary state labor data released late last week. Because the county lost 500 jobs in August last year, however, this August’s total of 59,700 allowed a year-to-year gain of 800 jobs over last August’s 58,900. These numbers of non-farm jobs still lag behind the 60,200 jobs county employment statistics recorded in August 2009 and the 61,700 recorded a decade ago in August 2004.

Which sectors have gained jobs in the last decade and which have lost jobs?

The 47,100 total private jobs in August were within 400 of the 47,500 number recorded in August a decade ago. Like so many other parts of the country outside the big metropolitan areas, in economic terms Ulster County has experienced a lost decade.


Government jobs in Ulster County, which were 14,200 a decade ago, have dropped 1600 to 12,600 this August. But the numbers have been shifting within those titles. Other than government, the sectors that have declined in Ulster County in that ten-year period include construction (-200 jobs), manufacturing (-1100), and financial activities (-500). The three supersectors where we’ve seen the most growth in the decade have been professional and business services (+500), private education and health services (+700), and leisure and hospitality (+700).

Though it’s a reasonable conjecture that the losses in the declining sectors have by now bottomed out, I don’t expect that any of these categories are about to make substantial gains in the near future. So let’s focus on the three supersectors where Ulster County jobs have increased in the teeth of the Great Recession.

As if this August, New York City boasted 517,100 more jobs than it had a decade ago (4056.2 million versus 3539.2 million). The experts say the Big Apple is on track to adding 100,000 jobs just this year. So let’s take a look at how New York City is doing in the three supersectors we’ve identified as Ulster County job-growth categories.

Unsurprisingly, Gotham’s been doing very well in all three. Employment in professional and business services have increased from 544,500 a decade ago to 663,100 this August, a growth of 118,600 jobs. Educational and health services have increased from 641,400 to 824,300 (That increase of 182,900 is roughly the number of the entire population of Ulster County). Finally, the leisure and hospitality supersector, which reflects tourism-related employment, increased in the past decade from 271,200 to 399,300, an increase of 128,100.

By my calculation, the 429,600 additional jobs generated by these three supersectors represent 83 percent of all the additional New York City jobs created during the decade.


Closer targeting needed

How does Ulster County, which is hungry for jobs, position itself to benefit from being 80 miles away from the enormous, sprawling job machine that the Big Apple has once again become? Ulster County government believes that the solution is to hire a marketing firm to conduct a couple of focus groups and spend money on an ad campaign. That’s a foolish and time-wasting effort. I believe that closer targeting should precede throwing money at the problem.

Clearly, Ulster County cannot and should not compete as a location for some categories of professional and business services. Yes, some lawyers, accountants and architects might be happy to leave the big city to make a living instead in a greener and poorer world. More likely, they’ll buy second homes here and scheme unsuccessfully how to relocate.

One category within business services, computer systems design and related services, does not require the same physical presence in the big city as the other categories do. It’s provident that this category has grown from providing 35,200 jobs in New York City a decade ago to providing 65,000 this August. Other niches in the business services described as part of the “knowledge economy” should be explored as well.

Education and health services is a sprawling and varied supersector. Healthcare is experiencing cataclysmic change. Though it’s hard to say where Ulster County would have a comparative advantage in this space, the experience of the amazing Westchester County pharmaceutical firm Regeneron, a research and manufacturing company, provides an inspiration that anything is possible. In private education, expansion of the established colleges plus nearby places like the Culinary Institute of America and Omega Institute show the possibilities of tapping the New York City market for both money and customers.

Certain elements of heritage tourism, such as historic sites, agriculture and outdoor recreation, are naturals for Ulster County. There’s a big area for job creation here. But not all leisure and hospitality is desirable. I must confess a personal distaste for one category of potential tourism job creation: gambling.

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