Think national, act local

What a diversity of regions are encompassed within the New York City metro area! Each often seems a planet of its own orbiting that vast central source of energy, New York City. There’s Long Island (Levittown, the LIRR, Jones Beach), northern New Jersey (the Sopranos, Big Pharma, the Jersey shore), western Connecticut (Fairfield County, old factories, hedge funds), and the Hudson Valley (Rip Van Winkle, Pete Seeger, the Hudson River and the Catskills). 

Though these regions are all parts of the immense agglomeration that constitutes the most influential of world cities, each has a distinctive character of its own. Each region has different contributions to make and different roles to play. Each faces its own strengths and weaknesses, has its own distinctive style, and searches for its own opportunities both as part of the larger metropolis and within its own boundaries.

Economists, who rarely use a shorter form of expression when a longer one is available, term the search for the right mix “spatially targeted policies.” The federal government doesn’t use this approach much, explains an influential 2018 economic paper authored by three Harvard economists. Traditionally, economists Benjamin Austin, Edward Glaeser and Lawrence Summers explain, government has adopted “policies that target poor people not poor places.” In their article on place-based policies in America, they express skepticism about whether the more traditional approach is the best way of dealing with America’s profound spatial economic disparities. Would not spatially targeted policies in many cases be more successful?


The Harvard trio is not trying to replace America’s free-market system. Glaeser is a member of the conservative Manhattan Institute. Former Harvard president Summers is a former World Bank chief economist and holder of high positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Austin’s a graduate student.

What place-based policies would make the most sense in the Hudson Valley? I’ve chosen four situations where I think that targeted policies could be appropriate:

1) Hudson Valley residents commute much longer distances to their places of work than they used to. Many young people of working age have to move to New York City or leave the region altogether. Could better-focused efforts at integrated economic development reduce this often-involuntary mobility? 

2) The Hudson Valley has many population pockets of chronically non-employed persons left out of an economy of otherwise high labor demand. The inner cities of the Hudson Valley’s small cities provide many case studies of this seemingly intractable problem. So do some of our isolated rural communities. What kind of targeted, multi-faceted approach would be successful in reducing the number of the non-employed? 

3) Capital spillover from the urban core, both private investment and philanthropic sources, creates considerable economic opportunity in the Hudson Valley. When combined with more targeted governmental initiatives, how could these financial resources be more effectively utilized?

4) Many mismatches persist in the provision of appropriate education and workforce training for the region’s workers. How could this system be improved?

The good news is that non-farm employment in Ulster County has increased two and a half percent from 64,100 jobs in June 2018 to 65,700 in June 2019. The bad news is that 1300 of the 1600 new jobs in the past year are in leisure and hospitality (tourism), traditionally among the lowest-paid and most seasonal industries.

The total number of Ulster County jobs has been increasing slightly but steadily in recent years. But it’s been a long slog. This year’s total exactly equals the number recorded in June 2003. By contrast, New York City’s jobs total increased by 1.1 million during that 16-year period..

County executive Pat Ryan has promised to build on Ulster County’s economic progress while “not leaving anyone behind as we grow.” He says he wants to protect safety-net programs, encourage affordable housing, expand local skills training, and invest in the technology and creative communities.

While Ryan has already taken specific steps toward realization of his other four announced major goals, he’s not yet done much when it comes to economic development. He’s going to form a committee in the next week or two to make recommendations to him. Ryan also told me to expect more at that time. Though this approach may not constitute a flying start, it does recognize the relative complexity of the problems to be solved.