As the national economy struggles to bounce back from the recession, income growth has slowed to a crawl.
The state average income growth has slowed to 1.1 percent for the second quarter of 2011, down from 2.1 percent in the first quarter, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. New York is near the back of the pack, in 48th place, with a growth of 0.9 percent in the second quarter, down from 2.8 percent in the first. Only Georgia and Washington are lower. Nebraska had the highest growth at 2.2 percent.
Finding a way to grow the income levels in Fulton and Montgomery counties was a priority of a team of business, economic development and education officials who got together recently to create a regional business plan for the bi-county area.
The clean room at Fulton-Montgomery Community College is shown above. Local officials say the college’s high-tech programs can help prepare students for good-paying jobs.
The Leader-Herald file photo
"We'd love to bring in some higher-income jobs," said Ken Rose, Montgomery County director of Economic Development and Planning. "It's one of the forefronts of the regional plans. We just don't have that demographic out there that is attractive to some of those companies."
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's New York Works website, the Mohawk Valley region, which includes Fulton and Montgomery counties, is challenged by personal-income trends that trail other areas in the state. It also notes a decline in manufacturing.
"Those are the concerns that we have," said Wally Hart, president of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "With the average income being lower, what does that mean? How can we change that and how do we make those incomes rise?"
The simple answer, according to Hart, is jobs.
Some of the concerns of the team developing the bi-county plan also were shared by at least one business that moved into the area bringing more than 100 full- and part-time retail jobs.
"Kohl's was a little higher end, and they were concerned with the income levels and concerned with some of the demographic information," Rose said.
According to the plan, the area has a lack of shovel-ready sites for businesses to build on quickly.
Two popular options among Fulton County officials have been the former Tryon campus on Route 107 in Perth and a proposed business park on the city of Johnstown and town of Mohawk border.
Progress on the two-county park has been stalled by a breakdown in revenue-sharing talks between Johnstown and Mohawk.
The state recently vacated the Tryon youth detention campus.
"We're proposing the redevelopment of the Tryon campus," said Jim Mraz, Fulton County planning director. "That's 500 acres of total land, and a portion of that is suitable for the redevelopment as a business park. If we can convince the state to do that, that would help deal with the economic impacts from the local jobs that were lost when Tryon closed."
Still, if the sites were ready and companies ready to hire, they would need a trained work force, officials say.
Mraz, Rose and Hart all pointed to the area's educational system to lead the way.
"That cannot be stressed enough, the critical importance of getting yourself an education and positioning yourself eligible to get into high-income jobs. You don't just walk into those. Those require you to have certain skills and training, and you only obtain those by going to school."'
According to Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger, the college has answered the call.
"I think it's important for us to stay on the cutting edge of technology for those career programs, and we've done that," he said.
Over the past several years, FMCC has developed a clean room to educate students on how to work in a static-free environment. Swanger said the college also expanded its nursing program to meet the ongoing need for nurses, and added an automated manufacturing lab where students learn pneumatics and hydraulics.
"When you do see manufacturing moving into the area, they're using high-tech equipment to manufacture their products," Swanger said.
The college has received a $2 million health grant, which improved the nursing program. The school plans to bring in simulated mannequins that will simulate diseases and accidents. These mannequins will respond to how the nursing students treat them, Swanger said.
"The college, without question, is probably the most important situation to us in the business community," Hart said. "They have been and will continue to be a tremendous resource to the community to be able to make immediate changes to the needs of the business community."
Mike Zummo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.