By ASHLEY CHU
Between 2002 and 2012, jobs grew faster in Ithaca than in any other area in New York State, including New York City, according to a report released Friday by the state’s comptroller.
City Controller Steven P. Thayer said he was not surprised by the report’s positive findings.
“Tompkins County has always [had] one of the lowest of unemployment rates in the state. I’m sure a lot has to do with the relationship that we have with Cornell University and Ithaca College,” Thayer said.
Over the last decade, total employment in Ithaca rose 12.42 percent. In comparison, New York State showed a total increase in jobs of 3.99 percent, and the U.S. as a whole showed an increase of 2.52 percent.
Ithaca stood out as the only region in New York that saw private employment grow more quickly than the national average over the last two decades, according to N.Y. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s report. The city also showed an upward trajectory in private sector employment and government employment over the past 10 years, logging an 11.96 percent and 15.12 percent increase in jobs in those industries.
Prof. Victoria Prowse, industrial and labor relations, attributed part of Ithaca’s relatively high employment to a recent slew of construction projects that have taken place in the city.
“We can all see that there’s a lot of construction going on downtown,” Prowse said. “In the Commons, there’s a renovation project involving a lot of the sewage pipes, which is going to be great for the city in the long term. It also means that in the short term, there are a lot of construction jobs. There’s also a new hotel and a sequence of apartment buildings being built downtown, and that obviously creates a lot of employment.”
While the construction has created new jobs, Prowse said that such jobs may only exist over the short-term.
Jobs created by “something like Cornell is probably very stable, but construction is one of the more volatile industries,” Prowse said. “If something is being built, there are a lot of new jobs, and that can be something that explains why there is an upswing in employment in one particular area.”
Even after construction on several projects downtown ends, however, Prowse said she does not think employment in Ithaca will be negatively affected.
“One thing about the construction that is happening in terms of it being apartments and a hotel is that it will bring more people into the area,” Prowse said. “You can imagine more businesses, shops, service industry jobs and more restaurants coming in and there actually being more activity here.”
As people are drawn to Ithaca, Prowse said she thinks it is possible the types of jobs that are available in the city will change.
“People may move away from construction into other types of employment. It’s an open question as to what happens in the longer term with the actual level of employment in this particular area,” she said.
Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said DiNapoli’s reports mirror findings from previous years.
“Traditionally, Ithaca has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state; it always has,” Ferguson said. “Our economy generally leads most portions of the state in terms of its robustness.”
In Ithaca, the educational sector has been critical to bolstering the economy, Ferguson said.
“The educational sector certainly has a lot to do with [the low unemployment rate]. That’s our driving industry here,” Ferguson said. “The combination of the educational sector and all the spinoffs that come from that, [such as] the tech industries that are here and the associated service and hospitality industries, have really done well.”
Ferguson also said he is optimistic about the employment outlook for the future.
“There’s certainly more development happening, and that can only mean that there will be additional growth that will go along with that,” Ferguson said. “We have no reason to believe that there’s significant problems confronting us in terms of job losses.”