President’s Letter: Tompkins County: NYS Bright Spot

Jennifer Tavares, CEcD, President & CEO

Jennifer Tavares, CEcD, President & CEO

In March, the Chamber and Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) partnered to host the 2016 Economic Summit. In a slight departure from the way the event has flowed in the past, we chose to share information and insights gathered from local business owners and non-profit leaders on an array of topics related to economic climate and outlook, as well as policy proposals related to minimum wages. The program also included insights on New York’s economic development funding process, the Southern Tier Regional Council, and the opportunities presented by the Upstate Revitalization Initiative award to the region.

Key takeaways from our local business owners and managers participating in a nationwide survey about economic outlook of their local community, region, and state (orchestrated by the Baker Group), indicated that our county is perceived to be a bright spot in our region and state. We fared far better than the state or nation in terms of overall economic outlook. Factors which led to this positive response were: our entrepreneurial culture, being viewed as a “tech hub”, our high quality of life, top notch educational systems and institutions, community collaboration to facilitate progress, and our skilled, talented, and educated workforce. The bottom line was that respondents recommended doing business in Ithaca & Tompkins County.

The economic region and state did not fare so well, however. Compared to other survey respondents nationwide, our local businesses and organizations did not feel that New York State was business friendly, had a “vibrant” economy, was a great place to grow a business, was good for young professionals, or was a good place to raise a family. Though this only confirms what many surveys and most business owners have already told us, New York State still has much work to do to make the state attractive to new investment.

We also discussed four key issues currently impacting economic development in Tompkins County, and which Michael Stamm (TCAD President) and I—as well as the Chamber and TCAD Boards—believe will continue to impact our economic outlook in the short and long term. Those key issues included workforce development (attracting and retaining a qualified and skilled workforce in a low unemployment environment), transportation infrastructure (most notably air service, which continues to require community support in a changing market), energy infrastructure (primarily that our infrastructure is not meeting the needs of our growing local economy fast enough), and housing (an issue which permeates nearly every other topic we discuss in Tompkins County).

I shared the results of the Tompkins Chamber’s survey of our membership in late 2015 regarding New York’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15, as well as some quotes from respondents regarding the projected impacts to their business. Though about 25% of those taking the survey felt the wage policy would not impact them directly, or were supportive of the Governor’s proposal, over 60% were opposed and highly concerned, and an additional 15% or so were unsure. Numerous businesses and non-profit organizations were concerned about the impacts of a nearly 67% increase in the minimum wage in such a short period of time, as well as the related wage compression impacts which businesses quantified to be anywhere between $10,000 annually to over $1 million annually, depending on their size.

The event wrapped with Michael Stamm explaining the New York State Regional Economic Development Council process which has been the standard for four years; the Southern Tier Region and Tompkins County’s historic successes; and the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, which resulted in the Southern Tier Region “winning” a few months ago, and which promises opportunities for local businesses and organizations. TCAD stands ready to answer your questions and support your business, organization, or municipality as you navigate the complex process of seeking a state investment in your upcoming project.

For those who could not attend but are interested in our presentation, please contact the Chamber office. As always, feel free to contact me regarding our Economic Summit or any specific Tompkins County Chamber policies or positions.

April 2016