The information industry

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 Some parts of the dynamic American economy are growing very rapidly, and others are shrinking just as fast. The mission of economic development should include positioning one’s region or locality to be as much as possible where the positive action is. In a place like Ulster County, so close to New York City, that shouldn’t be impossible.

That means knowing about what’s happening, where it’s happening and why it’s happening. To get from where one is to where one wants to be, a well-thought-out business strategy is needed. That strategy has to be based on real numbers, the very latest available.

Last week the federal census bureau released another of its periodic reports about employment growth by industrial sector, ranking states and large counties. “The 2013 County Business Patterns provide the first snapshot of business activity locally since the 2012 Economic Census was conducted,” William Bostic, the census bureau’s associate director for economic programs, is quoted as saying. “Its findings show the extent to which high-speed global communications and networking drives our economy.”

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Change based on information and communications technology is one of the great disruptors of the American economy. Its effect is felt across the whole scope of the economy, including, of course, the information sector. According to a census analysis, national employment in the information sector of the economy rose 4.1 percent between 2012 and 2013 to 3.3 million, besting every other sector in rate of growth. The sector also saw its payroll rise 7 percent to $273.3 billion and its payroll per employee climb 2.8 percent to $83,677.

 

If the information sector is growing, however, it’s also shrinking. Its legacy industries, and in particular print publishing and broadcasting, are facing serious survival issues. In the New York metropolitan area, the center of this country’s information sector, job losses in the print publishing sector exceeded gains in the other information subsectors (320,250 jobs five years ago compared to 296,479 in 2013).

According to the census bureau, the information sector’s gains were propelled by the data processing, hosting and related services subsector, which grew by 22 percent from 2011 to 2013, adding more than 87,000 employees nationwide. This subsector includes establishments that specialize in application and Web hosting, video and audio streaming services, and application service providers.

A related subsector, “other information services,” saw national employment levels rise 22.4 percent over the 2011-2013 period, adding more than 40,500 employees. Other information services include establishments such as news syndicates, firms that publish and/or broadcast exclusively to the Internet, Web search portals, libraries and archives.

A more traditional information subsector, broadcasting (except Internet) experienced a 5.7 percent employment gain over the 2011-2013 period, adding just over 15,000 employees, the census bureau said.

 

What do the statistics for Ulster County’s information sector tell us? Ulster County has not been where the action is. The local job losses substantially exceeded the gains. In the past decade, the Ulster County economy, which registered 1057 information-sector jobs in 2003, was down to 809 in 2013. The publishing subsectors were down and the subsectors growing nationally did not grow enough in Ulster County to offset those losses.

Manhattan, the center of New York’s information sector and the hub of the nation’s publishing, experienced a loss of seven percent of its information jobs during the decade from 2003 to 2013 (from 164,563 in 2003 to 153,911 in 2013). But the switch within the sector into digital technologies from print publishing and telecommunications has paid off in the most recent period for which data is available. The subsectors involving data processing, Internet publishing and web search are thriving in Manhattan while employment in the other information subsectors have stabilized. Employment in the entire sector increased more than 11,000 from 2011 to 2013.

Recently Ulster County government seems to be rethinking the marketing fetish that characterized its efforts in 2014. It is looking for the services of a consultant to guide it toward a more focused strategy. At a couple of recent meetings, county executive Mike Hein’s business service director, Suzanne Holt, mentioned starting an initiative to attract what she called “technopreneurs” to Ulster County. Some of these people spend their weekends in Ulster County, and of those visitors many are employed in the information sector in New York City. Others work in the closely related business services sector in Gotham.

Ulster County has been late to the table in its understanding of the strategy of targeting businesses in growing industry sectors. But hope is not lost. Late is better than never.

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