As upstate New York’s population fell slightly in the first four years of the decade, the Capital Region remained one of its few bright spots.
The region’s population grew by 1.1 percent from 2010 to 2014, faster than all other upstate New York metros except Ithaca (3 percent) and Watertown-Fort Drum (2.5 percent), according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The only other metros to see gains were Rochester and Buffalo, and they were slight at best.
The most recent annual data show the Capital Region maintaining its lead, with 0.2 percent growth from July 2013 to July 2014. It trails only Ithaca, an Ivy League metro that grew by 0.3 percent.
By the numbers
A look at population changes in local counties, based on figures from the U.,S. Census Bureau
Net change: +1.3 percent or 3,963
Natural increase: 1,967
Net migration: 2,351
International migration: 5,277
Domestic migration: -2,926
Net change: -2.6 percent or 1,426
Natural increase: -280
Net migration: -1,134
International migration: 112
Domestic migration: -1,246
Net change: -0.9 percent or 457
Natural increase: 62
Net migration: -489
International migration: 417
Domestic migration: -906
Net change: +2.4 percent or 5,308
Natural increase: 2,111
Net migration: 3,198
International migration: 1,540
Domestic migration: 1,658
Net change: +0.7 percent or 1,010
Natural increase: 1,820
Net migration: -750
International migration: 1,813
Domestic migration: -2,563
Net change: -3.6 percent or 1,181
Natural increase: -3
Net migration: -1,136
International migration: 69
Domestic migration: -1,205
While the rest of upstate was losing people to other states or New York City, the Capital Region was able to hold on to its slowly but steadily growing population thanks to private-sector job gains, said Rocky Ferraro, executive director of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, which studies and predicts population and demographic trends in the region.
“It’s the job opportunities, plain and simple,” he said. “We’ve seen growth in the private sector, in the health care industry, in nanotechnology, in manufacturing jobs and research related to activity at SUNY. Certainly, the new technologies are contributing to it and the ancillary activities they bring. So we’re fortunate in that regard, because employment in the government sector has declined, but the private-sector increase has made up for it.”
The Capital Region can also thank Saratoga County, which continues its reign as one of the fastest-growing counties in the state and the Northeast. Saratoga County’s population grew 2.4 percent over the past four years to 224,921 as of July. The most recent annual estimates show a gain of 0.4 percent from 2013 to 2014, making it the fastest-growing county in upstate New York.
It was also one of only three upstate counties to boast a positive domestic migration rate, gaining more residents from other parts of the state or nation than it lost. Since 2010, the county gained 1,658 residents from domestic migration and 1,540 from outside the U.S.
The most obvious impetus for the growth was the 2009 arrival of GlobalFoundries. The semiconductor giant is so far responsible for 3,000 permanent new jobs in the Saratoga County towns of Malta and Stillwater, with more on the way. That’s resulted in a residential construction boom in towns like Halfmoon and Clifton Park that shows no sign of slowing down.
“I don’t know if anybody could tell you this growth is squarely on the shoulders of GlobalFoundries,” said Mike Valentine, the county’s senior planner. “There is a reason they came here, after all.”
The county’s phenomenal growth of late could be owed to any number of things, he said, including low taxes, Saratoga Race Course, proximity to the Adirondacks, recreational opportunities, the Northway, the growth of mixed-use developments, high wages and nearby colleges.
“The interconnectedness of them all makes it very, very difficult to pinpoint one thing and say this is what’s causing the population to increase,” he said. “It’s just amazing how they all revolve around one another.”
Upstate counties that did see population growth in the last four years typically owed it to natural increases, the number of births minus the number of deaths. Aside from Saratoga County, Albany County was the only other county in the Capital Region to see migration gains outweigh natural increases. Even though Albany County lost 2,926 residents to other areas within the U.S., an influx of 5,277 immigrants helped boost growth to 1.3 percent over the last four years.
That, again, is likely due to the boost nanotechnology has given the region, Ferraro said. Albany is home to SUNY Polytechnic Institute, a hub for nanobioscience and nanoeconomics research.
While the Capital Region as a whole has fared well over the past four years, population estimates within its rural counties show the struggle that remains following years of industrial decline and the fear Mother Nature can leave in her wake.
Schoharie County, already sparsely populated, had the largest population loss in the state (3.6 percent) from 2010 to 2014. The county was one of the hardest hit by devastating 2011 flooding as a result of tropical storms Irene and Lee. Net migration was down 1,136 over this period, the result of 1,205 residents fleeing the county for other regions of the state or country.
“The biggest factor was, without a doubt, Irene and Lee,” said Schoharie County Senior Planner Shane Nickle. “It’s probably also the lack of jobs in the county, but we had a lot of people who suffered damage from those floods who moved out of the area, who had not only the stress of what they went through, but then the fear of it maybe occurring again.”
Longtime residents appear to have been more resilient, or more loyal, or some mix of both, he said. Many rebuilt or bought new homes to stay in the county. The county also has a bevy of programs to help residents rebuild smarter, at higher elevations and with flood mitigation in mind. The ones who left were mostly those who hadn’t lived in the county for long when the flooding happened, he said.
For a while, the county pinned some hope on the possibility of winning one of three casino licenses from the state, but the state picked Schenectady in December. Now, Nickle says they’re hoping the arrival of new jobs from the governor’s tax-free Start-Up NY program will give the county a boost.
“Until we start seeing some new businesses coming in, our population’s not going to change by very much,” he said.