A plan ‘to enhance quality of life and accelerate economic growth’ in Albany County

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin

The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority generally makes between 90 and 100 economic-development announcements a year. “You do that hundreds of times, and you rebuild your economy,” said Ray Gillen, the authority’s chairman. Metroplex awarded two grants totaling about $40,000 to help convert the former Labor Temple on Clinton Street in Schenectady into apartments and retail space. Development is a momentum business; the more projects you do, the more projects you can do, Gillen said. ​

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County is “at a disadvantage for attracting private investment, business, and talent attraction, along with retaining businesses within the county,” according to the findings of a county-commissioned report released last week. 

Although the county has a “stable, consistent economic base,” due in part to a “a state-of-the-art healthcare system, world-class educational institutions,” and being home to the country’s second-largest state government payroll, challenges exist. 

Challenges include: “The county’s ability to attract professional talent and retain young people to support future economic growth, a lack of strong identity and overall negative image, aging infrastructure, and a disconnected economic development system lacking strong leadership and clear, well-defined roles and responsibilities.”


Four goals

The four-goal strategy put forth by Albany County “to enhance quality of life and accelerate economic growth” county-wide are:

— The development of an economic agenda for county leaders to follow and the establishment of a new public authority to oversee that development; 

— The creation an Albany County Comprehensive Plan, “a critical first step in defining economic development priorities and identifying critical infrastructure projects to support these priorities,” according to the report; 

— Plans to attract emerging industries like cybersecurity; financial and insurance technology; and advanced transportation and logistics — for example, doing more to create work and business opportunities at the Port of Albany; and

— Transforming Albany’s image as the home of one the country’s last urban political machines.

Successful capital cities and counties in the United States, the report notes, have become “more than just centers of government,” in part by taking advantage of all the trappings of home. Capital cities and counties are often home to major hospitals and universities, and professional services, the report says; the successful ones “have managed to diversify their economies to a greater degree and leverage educational assets … .”

Albany County has about 245,000 jobs, according to the report. About a quarter of those jobs are in government; careers in healthcare and social assistance account for 14 percent; and another 7 percent are employed in   professional, scientific, or technical services.

The largest growth is expected in healthcare and social assistance; administrative and support services — for example, human resources, and waste management and remediation services, all of which are considered by the federal government to be part of the same job sector; finance and insurance; and educational services.


Toward a 21st Century innovation economy

The country’s economic recovery in the wake of the Great Depression was, to say the least, disproportionate — it took six years to gain back the 8.7 million jobs that were lost, and about half that growth occurred in just 2 percent of United States counties; those 73 counties are home to about one-third of the nation’s population and about 40 percent of its jobs. 

But it’s in the nation’s innovation sector  — “comprised of 13 of the nation’s highest-tech, highest R&D ‘advanced’ industries,” according to the Brookings Institution — the sector of the economy that Albany County has chosen “to draw attention to and build a workforce development pipeline for,” where the gains made since the Great Recession have been relegated to just a handful of “superstar” metro areas.

Five cities — San Francisco, San José, San Diego, Seattle, and Boston — accounted for more than 90 percent of the nation’s innovation-sector growth between 2005 and 2017, according to Brookings.

While Albany County’s chances of achieving “superstar” metro-area status may be slim, the county is well-positioned to succeed in the innovation economy. 

Data released by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics in June 2019, said that the Capital Region had been one of just 50 metro areas in the United States where businesses spent more than $1 billion per year on research and development, according to the Albany-based Center for Economic Growth. 

The December 2019 Brookings Institution study assessed 382 metro areas across the country — outside of  San Francisco, San Josee, San Diego, Seattle, and Boston — to determine which had the greatest potential for innovation-sector growth. 

The Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area came in third out of 382, behind Minneapolis-St. Paul, and the first place finisher, Madison, Wisconsin. 

And the region’s drug-manufacturing industry, according to the Center for Economic Growth, “is rapidly becoming the one of the nation’s largest.”

Over the past five years, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area’s drug-manufacturing industry “national ranking for jobs” went from 20th to 13th, according to the Center for Economic Growth. 

An analysis performed for New York State by Deloitte Consulting to determine what role building a new $750 million Wadsworth Center laboratory “could play a role in the broader Life Sciences Initiative and stimulate life sciences industry cluster growth in the Capital Region,” found that the academic medical centers, and biopharmaceutical and medical-devices companies that make up the region’s life-sciences industry cluster directly contributed $16 billion to the Capital Region’s economic activity in 2015.

Deloitte estimated that, coupled with hundreds-of-millions of dollars in private-sector investment, a new $750 million Wadsworth Center could attract 1,200 life-sciences jobs — Wadsworth currently employs about 700 people. 

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