Ithaca, N.Y. — Officials remain bullish about the local economy despite an Ithaca College professor’s recent report that “economic growth” in Tompkins County fell to a disappointing zero percent in 2014.

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Elia Kacapyr, of IC’s Department of Economics, found that last year the number of local jobs barely increased; that help wanted postings had flatlined; and that travel through the Ithaca airport had plummeted.

Using those metrics, and others, Kacapyr concluded that growth in Tompkins County fell to zero percent from over 2 percent annually in 2012 and 2013.

From the IC index

Kacapyr’s findings, however, don’t square with the statements of local officials, who have pointed to other indices that they say show the county and city’s growth must be much stronger than zero percent.

For instance, Kacapyr says that the “big surprise” in 2014 was that only 200 jobs were added to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the Ithaca area. That number is based on comparing the annual average for each month in 2013 to the same for 2014.

But one could also look at different sets of numbers. Martha Armstrong, of Tompkins County Area Development, points to BLS data that show employment jumping from 65,500 in January 2014 to 66,900 in January 2015 — a strong and healthy growth surge of 1,400 jobs.

“It’s one view into the black box into how the economy is doing,” Armstrong says of the IC report. “None of us can say, definitively, ‘This is how the economy is doing,’ because the economy has so many moving parts.”

BLS data also show unemployment in the Ithaca region dropping from 5 percent in 2013 to (an extremely low) 4.3 percent in 2014.

“We look at the (Department of Labor) numbers and feel the economy is doing well,” Armstrong says.

Similarly, Mayor Svante Myrick said in a statement that he couldn’t speak to the “accuracy of the projection” or “for the broader county,” which is the subject of Kacapyr’s study, rather than the city.

“But,” the mayor added, “we know that inside the city we are adding jobs at places like rev, Coltivare, new downtown businesses and construction jobs all over the city.”

Like Armstrong, Myrick pointed to other signs that the economy was in fact performing strongly.

“Home sales are extremely strong and building starts are very strong. Right now we have construction all over the city. Cayuga Green II, the Carey Building, Marriott Hotel, Eddy Street and the continued work at Collegetown Terrace are a few examples,” Myrick’s statement said.

Other local officials also stressed that Kacapyr’s report represents just one snapshot of the broader economic picture.

“I’m bullish on Tompkins County’s future – it’s a great place to live; and it’s a great place to start and grow new businesses. Over short periods of time the statistics may ebb and flow, but I believe that looking over multiple years into the future the best is yet to come,” said Tom Schryver, executive director for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement at Cornell University.

“While the revision of the figures leading to the conclusion of low growth in 2014 is a disappointment, it’s important to look at the longer term trend – the local economy did not seen the downward volatility of the rest of the country in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, but has had solid and consistent performance since.”

Kacapyr didn’t disagree with those points.

“City officials are right to tout our relatively healthy local economy,” he said, adding that without the work of local officials, the Chamber of Commerce and TCAD, “IC’s index would be showing negative growth in 2014.”

Still, Kacapyr held to his conclusion that local growth had sputtered.

“Employment growth in health and education services was impressive coming out of the 2008-2009 recession and that helped our cause here in Ithaca,” he said in an email.

“That growth dialed back in 2014 and the result was a regional economy that merely held it’s ground.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.