After some difficult years, the direction of the Syracuse economy remains uncertain. There was optimism in the spring. The Syracuse Post Standard reported in April that “Central New York’s Economy appears to be on the upswing.” “Americans spent more on clothing, electronics and other consumer goods in March, making the first quarter the strongest for retail sales growth in years. The rise was matched by surging consumer confidence in Central New York and the rest of the state,” this source noted. The Post Standard noted a study by the Siena Research Institute at Siena College that found confidence “surging among New Yorkers, some of whom are optimistic for the first time in years. The survey found economic confidence grew by 16% in Central New York. The region’s consumers are still pessimistic overall, but just barely. Consumers responding to the survey in the Albany area are right on the line between optimistic and pessimistic, SRI reported, while New York City and Rochester consumers are optimistic.” On the other hand, household-based data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show a rise in the unemployment rate in the year in the year to July 2012, as the number of employed residents of the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) fell by nearly 2,000.
Employment as reported by business establishments in metro Syracuse, on the other hand, is improving—but not quite enough to call it a comeback. The Syracuse MSA lost nearly 15,000 jobs when the Great Recession truly hit home in 2009. Non-farm employment is still not at the level seen before that drop, but the latest Current Employment Survey (CES) data from the BLS show a generally improving job picture. Total non-farm employment is up by 3,100 jobs (1.0%) in the 12 months ending in August, the latest figures available. Total private employment is up by 3,800 (1.5%). The large “Government” employment sector is down marginally, at 700 jobs (1.2%). This sector is important as Syracuse’s largest employer is the State University of New York Health and Sciences Center, which serves the 15-county Central New York region and includes four colleges, according to the Greater Syracuse Economic Growth Council. This institution employs 6,400 persons, who are considered “government” employees. The second largest employer is Syracuse University, with 5,925 employees. Under the State Government Educational Services and Local Government Educational Services categories, employment increased by 800 (8.4%) and 300 (1.5%), respectively. Local Government overall registered a loss of 1,000 jobs (2.7%). Educational and Health Services employment grew by 900.
Wegmans Food Markets, of which there are 10 locations in Central New York, employs 3,760 people. Retail Trade employment is Syracuse is reported to have increased by 900 jobs (2.5%). The smaller Wholesale Trade sector grew by 300 jobs (2.0%). As for white-collar employment, Professional and Business Services employment grew by 500 jobs (1.4%).
Syracuse finds itself fairly well positioned as the mid-point of 2012 passes. Perhaps a growing sense that the city can do better is the resurgence of serious conversations about the fate of Interstate 81, an elevated portion of which runs through the center of the city and, as a report from National Public Radio (NPR) notes, is seen to divide “the haves from the have nots.” The 1.4-mile long stretch, called “The Viaduct,” is reaching the end of its life span and beginning to crumble. Officials say the roadway is safe, but there is a movement afoot to have the highway torn down and replaced with street-level boulevard that would “breathe life into the city’s withered urban core.” Whatever the city decides, it will not be cheap. “Officials say a plan of action for I-81 will not be in place until 2017. In the meantime, the elevated highway will continue to cast its long shadow,” NPR reported.