ITHACA, N.Y. — When it comes to economic matters, Ithaca’s the shining star of upstate, according to a press briefing by the New York office of the Federal Reserve Bank Thursday morning.

The New York office handles all of New York State as well as Northern New Jersey and Southwestern Connecticut, since they’re a part of the New York City metropolitan area. The New York office also handles economic analyses for Puerto Rico.

The report was generally positive – New York City has sustained strong economic growth, with upstate and New Jersey growing at a slower pace. Growth in middle-wage ($30,000-$60,000) professions, such as construction work, teaching, and administrative support, saw substantial gains, something that has generally been missing since the official end of the Great Recession.

Looking more closely at upstate, however, job gains were uneven. The Ithaca metropolitan area (Tompkins County) showed strong private-sector job growth in 2015, but its Southern Tier neighbors, Elmira and Binghamton, have continued to see economic losses, having yet to recover from the recession several years ago. Growth in Albany was also noted, mainly due to employment increases in its health, education and technology/manufacturing sectors.

“A place like Ithaca stands out as being particularly strong, this is a fairly small metro area that’s dominated by higher education, higher education has been on a fairly strong growth trajectory and that’s helped boost growth in that part of the region,” said Jaison Abel, a Research Officer with the Federal Reserve Bank.

Is Ithaca’s growth related to Cornell’s growth?

Abel said, “that’s a hard question to answer without any type of quantification, [but] I think it’s fair to say that Cornell’s a very important part of that regional economy, and that the extent that it continues to hire, that it would be good for region.”

“Ithaca has a very well educated workforce, and as Bill [Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank] was pointing out earlier, locations that attract highly-skilled, well-educated workers, have been very successful in this recovery and over the long-term period in growth,” added his colleague, Research Officer Jason Bram.

A look at Cornell’s factbook indicates the university added only 25 jobs from 2014-2015, but these are positions directly employed by the university. The Ithaca metro added about 700 jobs from 2014-2015.

From 2005-2015, the Ithaca area has grown 13.7%, almost 8500 jobs. Early indications suggest 2016 is continuing the trend in job growth, with the preliminary July report from the NYS Department of Labor giving Ithaca/Tompkins County the highest year-over-year job growth in the state. However, if one looks at the Southern Tier as a whole, Ithaca’s growth is not enough to offset Binghamton’s and Elmira’s job losses, either in the past ten years or in the latest jobs report.

Job growth is generally a positive, and should be taken as a sign of the area’s desirability, but it’s not without its complications. The growth in local employment is the single biggest factor in the area’s continuing housing affordability issues, outnumbering the increases in college students and relocating retirees by a wide margin.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.