Ithaca Jobs Numbers Revised – Vindication Feels Good

19 03 2015
I predicted between 69,600 and 70,100. Looks like I’m right, for now.
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March is an important month for the Bureau of Labor Statistics; it’s the month where the previous three years’ of data are revised. For Ithaca, it’s yielded some very interesting results.

First off, the 2013 numbers have been revised from a yearly average of 69,000 to an average of 69,400, a 2.8% increase or 1,900 jobs more than the 2012 averaged job total of 67,500. The 2012 data were not changed.

Secondly, the 2014 total job numbers have also been revised upward, from an initial estimate of 69,150 jobs, to 69,650 in the Ithaca area in 2014. The gain seems paltry compared to 2013’s gains. 250 jobs, a 0.4% increase.

Looking at the data more closely, the 2014 data is, at a glance, alarming – November 2014 lost 1,000 jobs when compared to November 2013. December 2014 lost 1,500 jobs when compared to December 2013.

However, these results aren’t the result of changes in 2014. The Voice looked at archived reports of the initial jobs numbers for 2013 and 2014, which we’ve included below (values shown are in thousands – for example, 69.0 equals 69,000 jobs).

Now here are the revised 2013 numbers and 2014 numbers:

For visual reference, here’s a lne and bar plot of the numbers.
The large drop last Spring has been erased. The drop of 1300 jobs last May is now a gain of 700. Pretty big difference. Spring 2013 job numbers decreased slightly in the revision.Summer employment values were also decreased in both years, which means there is more seasonality to the Ithaca employment cycle than previously estimated.

Fall 2013, by the BLS’s account, had tremendous job growth, with November and December 2013 now tied at 73,700 jobs, the record employment figures in the Ithaca metro. A revision such as December 2013’s, where 2800 more jobs were added, is highly unusual. It is because of this revision that the 2014 numbers look so poorly – compared to the initial fall 2014 values, they were actually increased a little bit, just not as much as 2013’s were.

So what can we expect from the 2014 numbers moving forward? Being the “freshest” data, there is a very good chance they will be revised again next March. For the sake of example, the 2013 numbers were initially 68,000 at the end of 2013, then 69,000 in the March 2014, and now 69,400. We will need to wait and see if the fall 2014 figures are adjusted, and by now much.





Poking At the Jobs Numbers, Again

9 03 2015

11-24-2012 195

Talk about doom and gloom. One look at the Journal’s webpage and the pessimists are in for a treat. It’s no secret that Binghamton, Elmira and to a lesser extent Syracuse and Utica-Rome have suffering, declining economies. Upstate was the factory of the nation a hundred years ago. Now, for a number of reasons, manufacturing has shifted to the south, or more commonly, overseas. Ithaca’s neighboring metros are suffering.

I’m personally not a fan of the way the article is presented. It’s the highlighted piece of the Journal. But the title doesn’t really apply to Ithaca, and they acknowledge that if one reads the article. A lot of folks will only glance at the title, think it applies to Ithaca, and think that the Ithaca economy is tanking. Question dear reader, how many times have you read an article online, scrolled down to the comments and clearly see the comment of someone who read only part of the article, if any of it at all?

Here’s the Ithaca excerpt, which they title the “Ithaca Oasis”:

“Ithaca is the sole economic oasis in central New York. Since the recession, Ithaca’s private-sector jobs have grown by 10 percent. Only New York City has done better in the state, with nearly 15 percent more private-sector jobs in the same period.

“We have come back in terms of jobs in this most recent recovery,” said Elia Kacaypyr, who follows Tompkins County conditions as an economics professor at Ithaca College. “Things are better here than many of our neighbors.”

The reason for Ithaca’s resilience: an economy heavily dependent on education services and far less reliant on manufacturing. Education and health services alone added 6,800 jobs in the Ithaca region over the past 10 years, with 4,600 of those since the recession in 2008.

But that belies some underlying weakness, Kacaypyr said, notably in housing and retail sales.

Median home prices in Ithaca declined slightly in 2014 compared to 2013, and 2014 retail sales increased just slightly ahead of a 1.6 percent inflation rate. Also, the pace of Ithaca’s job growth is slowing.”

I guess if it was me, I’d have pushed for “Ithaca An Economic Oasis in Sputtering Upstate Economy”, or “Upstate Economy Suffers, Ithaca Rare Exception”. But what do I know; I’m a blogger, not a professional journalist.

Anyway, that last paragraph stands out to me – the IJ ran an article about that a couple of days ago, here. The report, prepared by Elia Kacapyr of Ithaca College, is mostly disappointing news, 0% growth in the local economy with most indicators staying steady with inflation. But I do want to make a couple of contrasting points to some of the data.

The jobs number stated in the article, which seems to be a major swaying factor in the ecnomic report, is a net gain of 100 jobs in 2014 (a 2013 annual average of 69,000, and a 2014 annual average of 69,150, which is rounded down). The data comes from the Federal BLS website here. I don’t fault working with the data in it current form, but I will note that the numbers are suspect.

All of the year-over-year job losses are in a period of February to May 2014. I’ve written about this before. This was covered on the Voice. You can darn well bet that a loss of 1300 jobs like the one reported last May would make the news. Then the Voice ran reaction articles from city officials and county officials.

The BLS numbers are up for revision. And because the numbers are generated via random sampling, that for a small community like Ithaca, may not be statistically significant, and the potential for misleading data is large. In Spring 2012, initial reports of a 4,100 job loss were revised to a gain of 1,100, a nearly 10 percent change to the overall total (I made note of the steep drop that time as well). Revisions to the 2014 data haven’t been fully implemented yet, and there’s still no evidence of large layoffs in the education and healthcare sector. Latest numbers from Cornell’s factbook show the university added 73 faculty and staff from November 2013 to November 2014 (1% growth), and Ithaca College’s headcount decreased by 18 (1% loss). No large layoffs in the Ithaca area were noted in the state’s WARN act database.

My honest expectation is that when the numbers are completely final, the number of jobs averaged out over 2014 will come out between 69,600 and 70,100. It still won’t be as much growth as 2012-13, but it’s a roughly 1% increase for the year. I could be wrong, but we’ll see.

The report suggests 400 jobs will be gain in 2015, and economic growth of 0.3%. I think that with Cornell’s recent budget issues, and the resulting slowdown in hiring it may cause, that’s a fair estimate.





The Dark Days of Dryden

3 03 2015

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In the 1990s, Dryden had a reputation for being the “Village of the Damned“.

That unpleasant moniker was received about fifteen years ago, when the town was afflicted with heinous, blood-chilling crimes. It’s like something Stephen King would have conjured up, as if Dryden was just down the road from Castle Rock. A description of the crimes in Dryden from 1989-1999 would be enough to fill a sordid crime novel. Needless to say, long-time residents of the town don’t take too kindly to the name.

Sometimes the moniker is applied to the Ellis Hollow murders of December 1989, to which I’m just going to supply the New York Times summary:

…a gunman tied up four members of a suburban family on Dec. 22, put pillowcases over their heads, shot them two or three times in the head and then set their bodies on fire.

After the state police rushed into a home on Feb. 7 to arrest two people in connection with the slayings, there was an initial sense of relief, mental health experts in the area said. But because the prime suspect, Michael Kinge, 33, was killed by the police in a shootout, many county residents now feel they will never learn why the Harris family was singled out.

A more explicit New York Times article can be found here. Making the event even worse, an investigator planted Kinge’s mother’s fingerprints at the crime scene, and she was in jail for 2.5 years until she was exonerated. She later sued the state, although the judge only awarded $250k of the requested $500 million because she was guilty of using the Harris family’s credit cards. The details and aftermath of the Ellis Hollow murders could fill a book.

The New York Times noted that it was part of a series of untimely deaths at the start of the 1990s – 9 fatalities in 3 months, 7 of which were homicides. The Ellis Hollow murders were the only cases in Dryden, and are separated from the other killings by a few years.

Dryden’s dark days began in earnest during the mid 1990s. Nothing I write will surpass E. Jean Carroll’s “The Cheerleaders,” a piece detailing Dryden’s suffering in those years, and well worth the read. But I’ll offer a quick rundown here.

– On December 29, 1994, 19-year old J.P. Merchant, angry at his ex-girlfriend, breaks into her family home and shoots her father dead. After the rest of the family escapes his attempt to kill them, he drives to a cemetery and shoots himself. Although in Cortland County, the children attended Dryden High, where the father was a football coach.

– On September 10, 1996, high school senior Scott Pace dies in a car accident. His brother Billy had died in a car crash the previous year.

– On October 4, 1996, High school juniors Jennifer Bolduc and Sarah Hajney are kidnapped, murdered and dismembered by the Hajney family’s next door neighbor, John Andrews. Although he was eventually caught, Andrews hung himself in his jail cell.

– On June 11, 1999, a drunk driving accident claims the life of 19-year old Katie Savino, a classmate of Bolduc and Hajney. Three months later, former classmate Mike Vogt commits suicide.

There’s nothing about Dryden that made it any more or less likely to suffer these crimes and losses; just an unfortunate series of events. The constant loss must have taken quite a toll on the town’s morale. By the end of the 1990s, it’s hard to imagine Dryden had much left in community spirit. Yet, life has gone on, and time has healed the wounds of the 1990s; the scars remain, but today the town is known more for its anti-fracking stance than for tragedies. Today, a memorial garden, scholarships, and a fundraising walk serve as reminders to a dark time the town has thankfully moved past.





Village Solars Apartments Construction Update, 2/2015

11 02 2015

The first three apartment buildings of the Village Solars apartment project in Lansing are fully framed, sheathed (I’m assuming the red panels are sheathing material), roofed, and windows and doors have been installed in most locations. The light-colored material might be a breathable wrap for weather/moisture resistance. It will be a little while before exterior finishes are applied and balconies are installed. When I visited last Saturday, the site was buzzing with the sounds of construction workers busy with tasks inside (probably rough-ins for things like plumbing and electrical), and ’80s hair metal streaming from a radio somewhere from within. Nothing like installing pipes while rocking out to Twisted Sister.

The Village Solars get their name from what the craigslist sales pitch calls “their passive solar design and energy saving features”. As far as I’m aware, they won’t have solar panels. According to Thomas Bobnick, the rental agent for the apartments, the first phase shown here will consist of 36 units (the final buildout will be close to 300 units). The design of the complex calls for at least eight, maybe ten buildings to surround a new pond that will be dug out of the undeveloped middle of the property – the advertisements call it “waterfront”, which it is, technically.

From the craigslist advertisements, one-bedroom units will rent for $1050-$1145 and be ready for occupancy by June 1st, two-bedroom units will rent for $1235-$1369 and be ready for tenants on May 1st, and three-bedroom units will rent for $1565-$1600 and be available on June 1st. These dates are pushed back a little from initial plans, which called for March and April occupancy; no doubt the severe winter has complicated the schedule. Looking at the photos, the two buildings under construction on the west and east ends look to be one style (balconies in the middle), while the center building is a different layout and design (end balconies). The price range for the two bedrooms is a little above the average two-bedroom unit in Ithaca ($1,165), but after accounting for the premium on new construction, the developer seems to be pricing for the middle tier of the market.

The Village Solars are being developed by local company Lifestyle Properties. Lifestyle is run by Steve Lucente of the Lucente family, who have been major builder/developers in Ithaca since the 1950s. No one word on the architect. Upstate Contractors of Syracuse appears to be handling the construction work.

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Boiceville Cottages Update, 2/2015

8 02 2015

It’s been about 2.5 months since my last trip through the Boiceville Cottages, but given that it’s winter (and a particularly cold and severe winter since the jet stream reconfigured in January), there has only been slow if steady progress with its 75-unit expansion. Since December, the timber homes with purple trim have been completed, four houses that were undergoing exterior build-out have now progressed to exterior detailing and interior finishing (the ones with green timber trim), and windows are being fitted into three homes that have sprouted from their slab foundations since the previous visit.

One of the things that stood out on this visit was that it’s now possible to walk all the way through the new phase thanks to the construction. Looking around at the snow on the ground, edges of the blue waterproof covering (which might be the covering of cement board being used to protect the slab insulation) could be seen poking out among the drifts. Using the (gas utility?) loops coming out from the foundations as a guide, there are perhaps a dozen poured concrete foundations, ready for construction as time and weather provide. There were approximately 25 units that were built in 2014, and with probably 10 complete by the end of March, 2015 looks to be on the same construction pace, maybe even greater. It might even be possible that the expansion will be completed this year. Inquiring minds would like to know if Bruno Schickel has any other expansions or colorful villages planned.

The Boiceville Cottages, built and managed by the Schickel family, are rather unusual as apartment complexes go. For one thing, there are the bright paint jobs, a sort of hallmark of the cottage units since the first set of 24 houses was built in 1996/97. The bright paint and the ornate woodwork have led to a nickname, “The Storybook Cottages“, which holds some weight, according to an article in Life in the Finger Lakes:

“Schickel said he was inspired to build his colorful cottages by a children’s book he read to his daughters almost 20 years ago. The book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, tells of a girl who, at her grandfather’s urging, travels to faraway lands seeking adventure. Later she moves to a cottage by the sea and works to make the world more beautiful by spreading seeds of blue and purple lupine. An illustration by the author shows the Lupine Lady’s house on a hill overlooking the sea. The small cottage is replete with finial and gingerbread. Seeing that illustration was the eureka! moment, Schickel recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got to design something like this!’”

Since the initial 24 units were built, a further phase of 36 units was undertaken pre-recession, and in the past couple of years the town of Caroline signed off on the next phase, a group of 75 that would more than double the size of the complex. The cottages have been built out at a steady pace, and at completion of this current phase, 135 units will be present on the Boiceville property. Most of the units are 1 and 2-bedroom cottages, built in clusters of three, although a few “gatehouse” rowhouses offer studios and 3-bedroom units. The Boiceville complex may be the largest population center in the 3,300 person town.

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Tompkins County’s Comprehensive Plan

3 02 2015

5-1-2012 120

In keeping with the recent talk of Comprehensive Plans, Tompkins County has just released their new plan, their first since 2004. That might not seem like a big deal, but in that time period, the county has probably added 4,500 residents and a couple thousand housing units, so it’s more important than it might seem at first glance (for the sake of comparison, every county community except Ithaca city has made a plan since 2000; the city’s dates from 1971). Currently, the plan is in review and up for adoption by the County Legislature at their meeting on the 17th. The 109-page document has been in the works since the fall of 2013.

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Generally, the county doesn’t play a big role in what does and doesn’t get built in its constituent villages and towns. Building projects are required to get county input, but the county isn’t about to stop anything, nor does it have much authority to (unless you’re applying for tax breaks, like Jason Fane’s 130 E. Clinton project). Perhaps the largest point of contention at the moment is the intermunicipal NYSEG natural gas pipeline, which Lansing wants and needs to sustain its growth, but the county has issues with, saying it could upset their green energy goals. On the opposite end of the scale was the Cayuga Ridge project for the Biggs parcel, which the county planned to sell to an affordable housing developer, but received significant blowback from the West Hill community. Cayuga Ridge was later cancelled when a site check by the developer revealed more wetlands than previously thought.

Anyway, back to the plan. It’s available in small chunks on this page, or for those whose internet connection can handle all 109 pages at once, here it is.

The general theme here from a housing standpoint is to fill in the spaces within the city, villages and hamlets. There’s a strong push on the county level to keep farmland from being scooped up for new development – a major threat, considering some of the cheapest land to develop in the county happens to be far-flung agricultural properties, where a relative lack of neighbors and shoestring small town planning boards can make for a quick and easy process. The logic is, if development takes place in communities that are already settled and already have employers and amenities, it limits the need for getting into a car for every trip, and makes for a more “sustainable” environment and stronger communities. Urban/infill development also makes for a lower tax burden per new unit added – there’s no need to pave new roads or extend utility lines.

The county is also becoming a bigger proponent of mixed-use development – apartment buildings with retail on the first floor, projects that have space for both homes and offices, and so forth. The logic is the same as before – if it’s convenient, people are more likely to walk, and patronize their own community. Trends in smaller households leads to the county’s suggestion of smaller housing units, as well as more senior housing for the greying population that chooses to “age in place”.

This all sounds great on paper, but there are many issues in practice. Anti-development sentiment, the ideal candidates for development aren’t for sale, outdated municipal zoning and so forth.

Economically, the county plans on sustaining its biggest contributors, education and healthcare, while making an effort to diversify with incentives towards manufacturing, high-tech/tech startups, food processing, agriculture and tourism. Specifically, they’re hoping to leverage the Cornell tech scene into permanent jobs and new economic development, which has met with some success, though nothing on the scale of, say, Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. The high taxes, isolated location and lack of access to capital are major hurdles in an area that has plenty of brain power to tap into. The county is hoping to alleviate some of the burden by utilizing the state’s STARTUP NY program, and supporting resources like the new Rev business incubator in downtown Ithaca.

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The county only seems to be expecting 3,000-6,000 new jobs in the next ten years – a number that seems a little conservative, if recent growth is any indicator. The county (aka the Ithaca metro, following the Federal BLS) has added 8,400 jobs since December 2004 (63,700 jobs in December 2004 to 72,100 in December 2014).

On an individual scale, the county is seeking to expand broadband internet infrastructure and maintain the airport, which has seen a sharp decrease in travelers over the past year, putting its long-term feasibility at risk. There will also be continued funding towards planning studies (a study examining the NYS DOT relocation from the waterfront is the latest example), tourism advertising and tax abatements when appropriate.

Finally, the county expounds the affordable housing issue, noting that 38% of renters and owners are above the “affordable” threshold, there are over 15,000 in-commuters, and very low vacancy rates creates a disincentive for slumlords to fix up their overpriced properties, which in turn makes communities less energy-efficient. Unfortunately, the county doesn’t offer many solutions. They note an affordable housing fund paid into by itself, the colleges and the city of Ithaca, put the partnership is set to expire this year, and the future is uncertain. The other is “increasing community support for the construction of more housing units”, which is much easier said than done.

There also sections on encouraging mass transit and alternative (non-car) commuting, natural resource preservation and wetland management, but those are too close to my day job for me to want to write about. But in sum, the theme is infill development in the hamlets and established areas, make the area more eco-friendly, preserving farms and green space, trying to expand affordable housing options and continue growing the economy. All of which are great goals, but given that these interests can conflict with each other, there will likely be many debates over the next several years.

 





News Tidbits 1/24/15: Down On the Waterfront

24 01 2015

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1. This week, the county decided to move forward with a feasibility study for moving the NYS DOT site from its current location along the inlet to a site in Dryden. The $78,000 award (of which $56,000 is covered by a state grant) was made to Rochester-based Fisher Associates, who are leading a group that includes NYC-based HR&A Advisors, local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, and Binghamton-based BCK/IBI Group Architects. Seven companies/consortiums vied for the study.

Readers might recall an RFP was issued back in July for the feasibility of moving the NYSDOT maintenance facility, which would make available a large and desirable property that the city would like to see redeveloped. The study is due to be completed in May, and if it looks like the move is doable (i.e. the county and city can cajole the perenially-reluctant DOT), the site could be sold to the highest bidder and begin redevelopment in early 2017.

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2. In keeping with the waterfront theme, here’s a couple interesting chunks of info from the IURA Governance Meeting agenda for the 21st. In a discussion of revenue-generating opportunities,  the IURA notes redevelopment opportunities on some of its parcels – one, 324 E. State Street, is already planned out, it’s the site of the 123-room “canopy Hotel” by Hilton.  Another is 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard (red outline in the above image), which could occur in conjunction with a state-owned neighboring parcel owned at 508 Taughannock Boulevard (orange outline), a property in the process of being purchased by the city. Though 410-426 has been noted to have environmental contamination, the interest in the waterfront and Inlet Island recently (323 Taughannock, Lehigh Valley House, 206 Taughannock) leaves the door open to a developer with the means and interest. This will be a site to keep an eye on in the long-term.

Also worth a brief mention is the planned purchase of a small vacant lot at 420 N. Plain Street. The house on that site was demolished after it was sold to NYSEG in 2011. What will most likely happen is a transfer of the property to INHS for redevelopment into a 1 or 2-family home.

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3. The first run of the December job numbers are out, and Ithaca is sitting pretty. When compared to December 2013, the Ithaca metro added 1,200 jobs, an increase of 1.7%. For the month, Ithaca’s growth in New York State was surpassed only by New York City’s 2.3%. For the whole year of 2014, preliminary figures suggest that Ithaca’s 1.8% job growth was the fourth-greatest of the 14 state metros, following NYC’s 2.7%, Kingston’s 2.2% and Albany-Schenectady-Troy’s 2.1%. Kingston is an even smaller job market than Ithaca, Albany is nearly 6x larger (and is growing thanks in large part to its tech boom), and NYC is NYC, dominating the state with nearly 100,000 more jobs year-over-year, thus solidifying control over the state, northeast, USA and perhaps in their minds, world and universe.

The federal BLS website has yet to be updated as of today, so I can’t give the breakdowns on what market sectors gained jobs.

On the one hand, the numbers are auspicious, the region is growing economically. On the other hand, when the entire county adds a couple hundred housing units per year, this is exacerbating the housing problem. At a glance, I’d suggest there are more commuters from the surrounding counties than there were in December 2013.

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4. I stumbled upon these a couple of weeks ago, but they keep slipping off the radar. The above images are samples of the work being done by local architecural firm STREAM Collaborative for the proposed 130-unit development off of Troy Road in the town of Ithaca. The project consists of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes targeted towards the “middle-income demographic”, according to the architect’s website. I don’t know how relevant these drawing are the current design (the site plan looks current), but the images make for some nice eye candy.

I think it would be really cool if the apartment buildings rotated between the four styles in the last image – one craftsman apartment building, one stick victorian, and so on. Variety is the spice of life, the old saying goes. What say you, dear readers? Any one design more preferable than the others?

5. It is a sad day – not a single new sketch plan is schedule for next week’s Planning Board meeting. That’s the first time that’s happened in several months at least. This week’s town of Ithaca Planning Board meeting was cancelled, and the town of Lansing is only reviewing 7 lots of a new lakeside housing development (Novalane). It has all the makings of a dull week ahead. A shame too, given that a developer usually has to have several meetings with the Planning Board, it would make sense to propose something now if they wanted to get started during the warmer months of 2015.

But not all is doldrums and scanning news feeds. From an IURA meeting, the Dept. of Planning, Zoning, Building and Economic Development released its annual report. There were a couple projects I was not aware of, that have yet to go under review but are nevertheless out there for analysis, and one of those will be shared here on Tuesday.

A few brief notes:

*The city noted that TJ Maxx is moving into the city, so I’m making an educated guess that the Lansing location will be shutting down once the new space next to Hobby Lobby is ready.

* The Ithaca Gun apartment proposal, while not under any formal review at the moment, is described as having 50 units.

*The department still considered 130 E. Clinton an active project – although it is approved, don’t expect much.








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