Seeking workers

Corey Kane adds his name to the list of applicants for the Greater Binghamton Health Center at a recent Binghamton region job fair. The 24-year-old will be graduating from the Utica College nursing program in the spring, but has no intention of remaining upstate to look for a job.

BINGHAMTON — As Corey Kane scoped out the more than 50 employers pitching their openings at a recent Binghamton region job fair, he knew, in the back of his mind, this was merely an exploratory venture.

The 24-year-old, who will graduate Utica College in the spring with a nursing degree, has no intention of returning to his hometown of Horseheads, despite a host of healthcare facilities eager to have him stay and join their team.

Instead, he’ll head to Long Island where wages, based on his estimates, are 30% higher than he has been offered upstate.

“I just don’t want to be in the area,” the trim young man dressed in khakis and a blue blazer said during a break from his tour of the job fair tables at a shopping mall.

Kane reflects a widespread dilemma: A declining upstate workforce bedeviling prospects for the economic rebound the balance of the nation has been experiencing for most of the past decade.

Thinning worker poolThough New York’s recent unemployment rate stood at 3.6% in November, a more than 40 year low, the rate actually disguises a troubling scenario in every metro region north of the lower Hudson Valley.

Years of upstate economic woes and a rising cost of living have sent workers elsewhere, mostly out of state, to pursue job opportunities that up until recent years were lacking across wide swaths of the state.

In sharp contrast to national trends, state Labor Department statistics show the labor force in upstate — all counties north of New York City — declined 3.2% since late 2010.

The state’s labor force numbers are down in 12 of 13 upstate metro regions, with the only exception Westchester, Rockland and Orange.

Across the U.S., the labor force count has risen by more than 6%.

The latest figures come as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to lay out his 2020 priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday.

The economy is certain to be a top focus as New York leaders grapple with a $6 billion budget gap and seek to revitalize upstate through new initiatives.

Leaving New YorkAiling totals are partially the product of New York’s population flight.

New York lost more people than any other state in the nation for the second year in a row in 2019, according to new federal estimates.

The data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed New York with an estimated population of 19.5 million people as of July 1, 2019, making it the fourth-largest state in the country.

But the data showed the state’s population dropped 76,790 over the prior year, far more than the 51,250 lost by second-place Illinois.

The drop was in contrast to the U.S. as a whole, whose population climbed to an estimated 328.2 million — an increase of 1.6 million from 2018.

Since 2010, the state’s population grew by a scant 0.4%, with virtually all of the increase occurring in New York City and Long Island.

Compare that to the 16% increase in Utah and 14.5% in Colorado, not exactly warm weather enclaves.

“We can’t attract people,” said Gary Keith, regional economist with M&T Bank in Buffalo.

Based on IRS data examined by the Empire Center, New York has lost 1.4 million people to the rest of the country since 2010.

Private-sector jobs in every metropolitan region of New York, with the exception of New York City, have failed to keep pace with the national increase of 19.5% since 2010.

That has presented a critical dilemma for companies now desperate for staff. Employers are dealing with a thinned talent pool in most regions north of the five boroughs.

“You definitely have to dig deeper to deal with the shrinking labor force,” said Christian Harris, a labor market analyst for the Southern Tier.

“We’ve seen a substantial drain,” Harris said.

Jobs cannot be filledEmployers are left trying to poach from others in the region, or embark on an expensive recruitment campaign to convince workers to return.

“Right now, the economy is going nuts,” said David Jones, general manager of Custom Systems Integration Inc., a test equipment manufacturer in Endicott.

Jones wants to add people to his 28-person staff but can’t find the people with the hands-on manufacturing skills needed.

They were once here, he said, but “people had to leave the area” to find work.

He’s not alone. Harris estimates 4,200 open positions in the 10-county Southern Tier region alone. Corning Inc. lists 110 job openings on the Department of Labor site.

Lockheed Martin sites in Syracuse and Owego are combing applications to fill 120 openings; Oracle in Rochester lists 54 open positions; Sirius Computer Solutions in Albany has 38 spots, the labor department says.

“The demographic with most of that loss is coming from mid-career to older workers,” Keith said.

As for Kane, the young man from Horseheads, he has his sights set on downstate, despite seemingly bright job prospects in the region he is most familiar.

“There’s just more to do (downstate),” he said.

(Jeff Platsky covers transportation and the economy for the USA TODAY Network New York.)

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

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