CLIFTON PARK — Saratoga County’s designated economic development agency gave a snapshot of the county’s economy to a full house of government and business officials Tuesday, unveiling its new Saratoga County Economic Index and explaining why the area does so well on it.
The good news was tempered by the possibility that it’s possible for a county’s economy to be too strong — its employers begin to have trouble finding employees, and housing becomes too expensive for some residents to purchase or rent.
Marty Vanags, president of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, led the presentation at the Hilton Garden Inn in Clifton Park. He explained that the Economic Index is based on several factors:
- Unemployment rates, which are lower in Saratoga County than in the region, state and nation.
- Workforce participation, which is higher in the county than elsewhere.
- Median household income, which far outstrips the region, state and nation.
- Housing construction permits, which are being issued at a faster rate than in the rest of the Capital Region.
- Housing values, which once again are stronger than the region.
All of these statistics reflect a strong economy, Vanags said, but they are a “double-edged sword” in the sense that they can create other problems.
“There may not be enough people to hire, should a company decide to locate here,” he said.
That’s a problem that a lot of places in upstate New York — even neighboring counties — would love to have. But it does present challenges going forward, Vanags said, including:
- The tight labor supply created by 4 percent unemployment can make it harder to recruit new employers.
- A high median household income ($71,496 in 2016) creates a more difficult environment for those with lower incomes and those just starting their careers.
- More multi-unit housing is needed, but historically, there is an aversion to approving apartment construction in an area so full of single-family homes.
- Some companies are doing more but not hiring more, straining their employees.
At Tuesday’s event, Jason Bram, a researcher with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, gave a picture of the nation’s economy and how Saratoga County compares with it.
The short answer: Very well.
The battered manufacturing sector, in particular, is strong here, compared with the rest of the state and nation, due in no small part to the GlobalFoundries computer chip factory.
Private sector investment is also strong in Saratoga County, as are wages and job growth.
He credited a high level of education among the populace for creating an environment in which this could happen.
Bram also said he sees less competition among upstate regions and municipalities than he sees downstate, and said that’s important for Saratoga County, because it does not exist on an island.
“It’s important for the [whole] Capital Region to do well because it’s a unified economy,” he said.
One trend Bram noted in upstate New York is a bit of a resurgence of economic activity in its cities.
“For basically the last 50, 60 years, you’ve had this gradual shift from the cities to the suburbs,” he said. But recently, cities are seeing more development and more interest, particularly among younger adults.
Bram also noted a change in the model of successful economic development: Rather than simply recruiting big companies to set up shop in an area, the strategy is to create an area in which people want to live.
The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership is a public-private effort to facilitate economic development in the county. It is a 501(c)(3) entity that was created by the county in 2014 to be its designated economic development organization.
Vanags painted the mission as a circle of life, a pattern of cause and effect that improves an area’s economy:
Sustainable jobs create disposable income, which leads to demand for retail and services, which generates sales tax, which allows creation of a superior “quality of place,” which attracts new business, which creates sustainable jobs.