New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, lower right, speaks at Cornell’s Upstate and Western New York Economic Recovery and Economic Development Conference on Jan. 26. Zoe Nelson, associate director for state government relations, clockwise from lower left, Gary Stewart, associate vice president for community relations, and Charlie Kruzansky, associate vice president for government relations, presented on the call.

Hochul sees brighter days ahead for upstate economy

As New Yorkers emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and the resulting economic morass, New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul acknowledged a tough path ahead.

But Hochul also shared a hopeful view of the state’s future Jan. 26 at Cornell’s annual town-gown regional meeting, this year virtually, with a focus on economic recovery and development. The meeting was attended by leadership from upstate and western New York communities and campuses.

The meeting focused on how the state’s college towns may thrive in the post-pandemic era.

Cornell impacting New York State

“There’s a tremendous opportunity,” Hochul said. “How do we tap into the resources we have … and come back stronger than before? We’ve always done that.”

In spring 2020, New York was an early large hub in the U.S. for COVID-19 cases. New York was also the national epicenter of the last global pandemic in 1918-19, she reminded the online audience. “What happened [to the economy] after that?” Hochul asked. “The Roaring Twenties.”

Hochul said the state will continue to invest in economic development and to improve high-speed broadband for community access. She also suggested that more upstate towns and cities develop incubator space for fledging entrepreneurs.

“This is in our DNA as New Yorkers,” Hochul said, “to take adversity and turn it around to our advantage, and that’s the premise behind [New York’s] continual investments in communities.”

Early during the conference, Elia Kacapyr, Ithaca College professor of economics, presented a snapshot of pandemic-related unemployment in upstate college towns.

Nationally, employment in college towns is down 6% over the past year, Kacapyr said. For Tompkins County, higher education employment is down nearly 4%, while places like Otsego County (State University of New York at Oneonta; Hartwick College) and Madison County (Colgate University) are both down 7%; and Dutchess and Putnam counties remain down 8%, he said.

The local transportation sector has taken a hit due to the pandemic. Mike Hall, director of Ithaca Tompkins International Airport, noted the sharp decline in the concentration of airline passengers that has occurred mostly on the U.S. coasts. But with more people getting vaccinated, Hall said, the airline industry should see more passengers in the late spring and summer.

Bus ridership in the Ithaca region dropped 75% in 2020, from well over 4 million passengers in 2019, according to Scot Vanderpool, general manager of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Inc. (TCAT). He said the challenge will be getting people back on the bus and feeling safe, but the dynamics of ridership – such as people not needing to return to their offices daily – may linger.

Anne Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy of New York, said the state’s green future could mean jobs for tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

“I’m hoping that 2021 is a year where we’re actually getting steel into the ground, cutting ribbons and getting some construction projects,” she said.

Reynolds described several solar projects in the pipeline that will be built to ease the electricity demand, and noted five new contracts for offshore wind projects off Long Island – totaling about 9,000 megawatts – that will go through Long Island to New York City and beyond.

“When it happens,” she said, “it could be nearly a quarter to a third of all electricity used in New York state.”

Dana Miller, deputy commissioner of Neighborhood and Business Development for Rochester, and Josh Farrelman, associate vice president for government and community relations at the University of Rochester, addressed their city’s challenges for economic development and western New York’s next steps. 

The University of Rochester has replaced Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb as that region’s largest employer. The city and university are addressing the revitalization of neighborhoods and have developed seven business incubators, including one in the city’s Downtown Industrial Zone.

Tom Schryver ’93, MBA ‘02, executive director of Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, introduced entrepreneurs Jason Goodman Ph.D. ‘20 and Ashton Yoon, MPS ’17, M.S. ’19. Goodman, CEO of Antithesis Foods and his partner Yoon, the company’s COO, have created the crunchy chocolate snack Grabanzos. They spoke of the role of student entrepreneurs in developing businesses from scratch and how their nutrient-dense chickpea dough is making inroads in the processed foods snack industry.

The meeting was organized by Cornell’s Division of University Relations.

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Abby Butler