After New York City, more people are moving into the Capital Region than any other part of the state.
Area officials, leaders and planners have a few theories as to why the region is experiencing population growth, pointing to everything from GlobalFoundries to the construction of the Northway in the 1950s to the promotion of the region as Tech Valley and even to good sewer and water hookups.
While no one could pinpoint a single cause for the growth, everyone agreed it’s a good thing for upstate New York, which has had its battles with manufacturing decline and subsequent population loss over the decades. Saratoga County, in particular, is leading this growth.
By the numbers
Saratoga County: 1.2 percent growth
• Census 2010: 219,607
• Estimate 2012: 222,133
• Difference: 2,526
• Due to natural increase: 1,074
• Due to net migration: 1,486
Albany County: 0.4 percent growth
• Census 2010: 304,206
• Estimate 2012: 305,455
• Difference: 1,249
• Due to natural increase: 1,005
• Due to net migration: 324
Schenectady County: 0.3 percent growth
• Census 2010: 154,727
• Estimate 2012: 155,124
• Difference: 397
• Due to natural increase: 775
• Due to net migration: -441
Montgomery County: -0.6 percent growth
• Census 2010: 50,219
• Estimate 2012: 49,941
• Difference: -278
• Due to natural increase: 32
• Due to net migration: -282
Fulton County: -1.1 percent growth
• Census 2010: 55,531
• Estimate 2012: 54,925
• Difference: -606
• Due to natural increase: -88
• Due to net migration: -537
Schoharie County: -2 percent growth
• Census 2010: 32,749
• Estimate 2012: 32,099
• Difference: -650
• Due to natural increase: 14
• Due to net migration: -650
“Upstate New York is not a region for population growth,” said Ray Bromley, a University at Albany geography and planning professor. “That’s the South or the West. It’s not upstate New York. But within this area — which is, at best, stable — you do have some specific areas of growth. And one for quite some time has been Saratoga County. And that’s linked to a desirable image. It’s a place that people are proud to live.”
The U.S. Census Bureau published new population estimates for the state Thursday, showing that 35 of the state’s 62 counties lost population between 2010 and 2012. Locally, Saratoga, Albany and Schenectady counties all gained population, while Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie counties saw theirs decline.
Schenectady County had 0.3 percent growth, adding 397 new residents to bring its total estimated population to 155,124. Most of this growth was due to natural increases, or births minus deaths. Net migration shows that more people moved out of the county than moved in during this period.
Albany County fared a little better with 0.4 percent growth, adding 1,249 new residents during the two-year period to bring its estimated population to 305,455. Both natural increases and net migration contributed to the growth.
Saratoga County leads the region and, in fact, ranks fourth in the state for net migration. With 1.2 percent growth since 2010, the county that’s home to horse racing and chip fabrication added 2,526 new residents, bringing its total estimated population to 222,133. It’s also one of few counties in the state whose growth is more driven by net migration than natural increases.
“Saratoga County, even before GlobalFoundries, was touted as a place to go,” said Saratoga County Senior Planner Mike Valentine.
The construction of the Northway in the 1950s allowed the region to blossom over the years both economically and culturally, he said.
“This was a corridor that came in and just opened municipalities up to growth,” he said. “Development started first right in that Northway corridor. It picked up some of Saratoga Springs. Malta? Malta didn’t have anything until the Northway. Halfmoon didn’t have anything. Clifton Park grew first as a bedroom community; people slept there and worked in Albany. Then you had the towns in between start to grow.”
Valentine grew up in Saratoga Springs in the 1960s and 1970s, and remembers when paper bags and newspapers covered vacant storefronts. He said it took 20 to 30 years of good development and planning for the city to become what it is today.
The side-by-side towns of Clifton Park and Halfmoon have exactly what Bromley believes is the key to sustained population growth. They have real estate and town officials willing to allow development.
“In the south of Albany County — in Bethlehem, Delmar and Slingerlands — you’ll see something of an anti-growth mood,” he said. “There is certain resistance to real estate development. But in comparison, Saratoga has been much more favorable, especially the southern half of Saratoga County. Whenever developers want to put in new housing there are always spots available.”
In the last two years, Halfmoon and Clifton Park have experienced a residential boom, continually leading the Capital Region in the number of building permits issued and new home construction.
For many people, it’s no secret why. Semiconductor manufacturing giant GlobalFoundries has employed more than 2,000 people since it broke ground on its Malta fabrication plant in 2009. It expects to add another 1,000 employees by the end of next year. Furthermore, it expects this will create an additional 3,000 new direct jobs and 15,000 new indirect jobs.
“When you have an infusion of relatively young professionals move into an area, chances are they’ll have kids,” said Bromley. “So there will be ongoing population growth.”
It’s easy to say that GlobalFoundries has boosted the Capital Region’s population. It’s hard to prove that it’s boosted Saratoga County’s, because the manufacturer does not keep track of where its employees reside. It knows anecdotally that they live throughout the region.
“We do see our employees locating all over the Capital Region,” said GlobalFoundries spokeswoman Jessica Kerley. “We can’t pinpoint where they’re located, but Saratoga County has great school districts to offer our employees and is an attractive place to live.”
The Capital District Regional Planning Commission has analyzed data, trends, opportunities and challenges to the region’s economic development since 1967. It’s also a state data center affiliate for regional demographic information, and provides estimates and projections put out by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Population estimates aren’t perfect, but they’ve proven fairly reliable over the years, said Joanna King, a senior planner for the commission.
“We have a good percentage of state government here, so that already gives us a pretty strong base of employment,” she said. “We’re seeing increases in job growth in the private sector, and we have one of the lower unemployment rates in New York state. So as we see a continual moderate growth in jobs, we will see a continual moderate growth in population.”
King declined to comment on GlobalFoundries’ role in any of it from a purely numbers standpoint. She has no roster of where employees live.
“We don’t have any input on that,” she said.
It’s also interesting to note that Schoharie County had the state’s biggest population loss with an estimated 32,099 residents in 2012, a 2 percent drop from 32,749 residents in 2010. Figures show that a net 650 people moved out of the county over that two-year period.
Schoharie is among a handful of Hurricane Irene-hit counties to experience population loss. Bromley, who has lived in the region for nearly three decades and studies geography for a living, said it’s no surprise to him that the hard-hit county suffered a loss.
“It’s an isolated rural area with a weak employment base, and then something like Irene comes along and it’s the last straw. People just move out, and they don’t want to go back to rebuild.”