PEARL RIVER – The decline in America’s workforce “is the economic issue of our time,” Jonathon Drapkin, president of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress told the Rockland Business Association on Thursday.
Drapkin said that the greatest challenge to economic growth is the aging of the American workers and a shortage of skilled laborers. Drapkin and his team presented a brief summary of the economic progress in six Hudson Valley counties, detailing the growth and challenges experienced by each community.
One of the common trends in each county surveyed was a severe lack of skilled labor, he said. Sullivan and Orange counties reported a severe lack of workers as well as rapid growth in the number of residents over 50, a trend dubbed “the silver tsunami.” To compound the problem, the biggest growing job sector in both counties is in the tourism industry, where many of the jobs simply don’t pay very well.
Orange County is also facing slow population growth, their public school
enrollment rate is now down seven percent and their growth rate of 10
percent over 16 years was deemed “stagnant.”
Ulster, Rockland, and Duchess counties are having their own workforce
issues, he said. Up to 70 percent of Putnam residents work outside of
their county, while a third of Ulster residents, and 40 percent of Rocklanders
leave their community to go to work. Dutchess County is also
reporting under employment in its population.
Fortunately, all counties discussed are taking action to revitalize their communities.
Sullivan County is facing a renaissance, said Drapkin. “The borscht belt is over and yet borscht belt 2.0 is back. My county has a once in a two-generation opportunity to get it right.” Drapkin pointed to the recently opened casino, three hotels, the waterpark and upscale YO-1 wellness center. In Sullivan alone, there is $2 billion in development underway, he said.
Ulster and Rockland counties are focusing on the film industry while
Dutchess County is growing its craft beverage and agri-business.
Ulster and Rockland have been able to attract several new film productions to the area while Dutchess has opened 19 new craft beer distilleries and the Culinary Institute of America is teaming up with a Japanese company, which is building the biggest sake distillery in America right in their backyard. Also in Dutchess, Vassar Brothers Medical Center is building a new hospital center on its Poughkeepsie campus.
Westchester County is constructing new residential buildings to combat the rise of housing prices. Pattern noted 27 percent of renters and 18 percent of homeowners in Westchester spent over 50 percent of their income on housing last year; new projects like the 28-story apartment building under construction in downtown Yonkers will no doubt improve the situation, the planning officials said.