President Donald Trump this week suggested people should consider leaving a blighted "upper New York" for jobs elsewhere — a comment that struck a nerve with lots of people who live in upstate New York.
The comments seem to contradict much of what's happening in the Capital Region — a low 4.3 percent unemployment rate, and the development of Tech Valley, anchored by the $12 billion GlobalFoundries Fab 8 computer chip factory in Saratoga County.
Trump, however, seemed to imply the part of the state he referred to as "upper New York" had few prospects, a day before he went to Wisconsin on Wednesday to announce that Taiwan manufacturer and Apple supplier Foxconn would built a flat-screen manufacturing plant in southern Wisconsin, in House Speaker Paul Ryan's district.
It is typically years before such announcements turn into actual factory jobs, if they ever do.
Trump said upstate New Yorkers should pick up and move to states with better job prospects.
"You're going to need people to work in these massive plants," Trump told the Wall Street Journal in a story published Tuesday. "I'm going to start explaining to people, when you have an area that just isn't working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you'll have another area 500 miles away where you can't get people, I'm going to explain, you can leave. It's OK. Don't worry about your house."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office was quick to take issue.
“We deal in facts — not fake news," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. "The facts are, unemployment has been cut nearly in half and private sector jobs are at an all-time high in New York. We may not be a swing state, but New York — upper and otherwise — has every industry, every culture and everything else to offer.”
Azzopardi said there are currently more than 8 million private sector jobs in the state, and the unemployment rate has dropped from 8.4 percent in December 2010 — just before Cuomo took office — to 4.5 percent in June.
U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, called Trump's comments misguided and uninformed, even right down to his reference to "upper New York."
"As a New York state resident, everyone knows the nomenclature, and he got it wrong; it shows the disconnect and the weakness of his roots," Tonko said. "The people of upstate New York are proud, hard-working people, and all of us are working together to build the future. Just the impact of these unnecessary negatives, while he may try to undermine the good work we are doing, we are not being affected."
He pointed out that billions of dollars are being invested in developing an advanced manufacturing corridor between Utica and the Capital Region. In Malta, GlobalFoundries has 3,000 employees, with hundreds more working in its supply chain; Utica's Marcy technology campus has been a contender for a similarly large tech plant, though it hasn't yet gotten any commitments.
"New Yorkers are fighters, and I think the president is underestimating us," Tonko said.
Trump's perception of upstate in decline isn't totally without basis, others pointed out. Upstate areas generally supported Trump in the 2016 election.
Upstate counties have generally lost population in recent decades, with people making the decision to leave for employment, tax or weather-related reasons.
The U.S. Census in a report last winter estimated only 16 of New York's 62 counties grew between 2010 and 2016, and most of the growth counties were in New York City or the southern Hudson Valley. Saratoga and Albany counties were the only Capital Region counties with significant growth. Upstate now has about 6.3 million people, down about 60,000 from a year ago, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy in Albany.
In a report last week, the Empire Center found that though other job sectors have growth, New York lost 16,300 manufacturing jobs over the last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics — while the nation as a whole gained 46,000 manufacturing jobs. Some argue that that divergence shows Trump isn't totally off-base.
"The arrows are pointed in very different directions," said Ken Girardin, the conservative-oriented think tank's director of communications. "It's hard to deny there is less opportunity than there is in other places."
Empire Center research director E.J. McMahon wrote on Twitter:
The president's statement was dismaying to the people at the state and county level who work to bring new companies to upstate.
"There are more jobs in the Capital Region than ever before and many employers are expanding and looking to hire new staff. The quality of these jobs and rate of pay is quite good," said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.
"To suggest that people move from upstate New York for lower-paying jobs in another state that don't exist right now is not sound financial or career advice in our opinion," said Gillen, who previously worked in state economic development.
And "don't worry about your house" isn't really good advice, a Realtors' organization noted.
"He says things like that that would require some kind of explanation, but I guess the press just gets tired of asking (for clarification)," said Laura Burns, executive director of the Greater Capital Association of Realtors.
While the presidential comments paint upstate with a broad brush, Burns said the Capital Region is in fact doing quite well, both in terms of the economy and real estate, and high-tech jobs are replacing those in traditional manufacturing.
"It's just another absurd open-ended comment," Burns said. "Hello, it's not the 1940s and 1950s, we need to move forward."
When traveling around the country, she noted, it's already difficult to counter the perception that all of New York isn't like Manhattan.
"When you get upstate, it's beautiful," she said.