Statistics such as job creation, household income and number of employers can provide an objective assessment of Schenectady County’s progress in the past 20 years. (See accompanying chart, “Economic Indicators in the Metroplex Era,” below).
Not surprisingly, Schenectady County has outstripped its smaller neighbors (Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties) during this period. Schenectady County also outperformed counties elsewhere in upstate New York (Broome, Niagara and Oneida) that are demographically similar but do not benefit from being part of the perennially strong Capital Region economy.
What may be surprising is that Schenectady County has performed significantly worse on most measures than its three large neighbors: Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, none of which has the equivalent of a Metroplex.
Job-creation numbers are particularly unexpected, given all the work Metroplex has done: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a net gain of just 742 jobs between 2001 and 2017 in Schenectady County, which is not quite 1.2 percent. This compares with 27.1 percent in Saratoga County, 11 percent nationwide, 10.1 percent statewide and 5.9 percent in the Albany metropolitan area.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said he had no insight as to what is driving those economic indicators.
But Schenectady County’s job-creation numbers are likely skewed by job cuts at General Electric. Even after multiple rounds of cutbacks, it is still the county’s largest employer, with a bit more than 5,000 workers in Schenectady and Niskayuna.
Exact statistics can be hard to obtain from the corporate giant, which often provides round numbers or no numbers at all, or from state and federal regulators, which are bound by confidentiality rules.
Daily Gazette coverage from the era indicates there may have been about 7,000 GE employees in Schenectady County 20 years ago.
State Department of Labor data indicate the loss of more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in Schenectady County from 2001 to 2017. (See graph below.)
It’s also worth noting that Schenectady County’s population has increased 6.2 percent while its unemployment rate is about the same as in the region as a whole. So there are a lot of commuters living here.
Sean Maguire, director of economic development at the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, said a telling comparison is between Schenectady County and the three similar upstate counties: Broome, Niagara and Oneida, each of which has a large industrial city that has lost population and business over the last half-century.
“I think you can look to those similar upstate counties to see how Schenectady County would have fared without Metroplex,” he said.
But that raises another question: How have Saratoga Springs and Troy experienced downtown renaissances of their own without the help of a Metroplex?
More on Metroplex at 20:
- Downtown greatly changed after 20 years of Metroplex
- Ray Gillen is county's tireless development leader
- Over $140 million invested so far by Metroplex
- Galesi Group is Metroplex's biggest collaborator
- Photos: 20 years of Metroplex: Before and After
Because Troy has a Victorian charm that survived the Urban Renewal era and Saratoga Springs has a ready audience from the Saratoga Race Course, Maguire said.
“The capital projects that Metroplex undertook really changed the streetscape,” he said. “Troy didn’t need to do that. Saratoga Springs didn’t need to do that. Saratoga can attract its own investment.”
Downtown Schenectady lost some of its historic buildings to 1970s concrete architecture, he added, but not as many as were bulldozed in downtown Rome or Amsterdam, for example.
“I think downtown Schenectady has respected the urban fabric,” he added.
The result is what’s called revitalization.
“Cities across the country, especially across the Northeast, struggle to come back,” Maguire said. “Schenectady has come back faster than it declined.”
Data compiled by the New York state Department of Labor provide a good picture of county-level job growth and loss. But it is not a complete picture, as some industry sectors are excluded for regulatory or confidentiality reasons. Here is a closer look at sectors showing some of the largest job growth and loss in Schenectady County during the Metroplex era, from 2001 to 2017, with number and percentage of job change: