The Cost of “Economic Development”: Temporary or Long-Term Job Creation?

 By: Hernando del Pueblo

The much anticipated but still imaginary SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant states: “this [project] will enable… cutting-edge research and economic development initiatives to jump-start a new era of powerful and productive returns to the local community and New York state”. The last part is what concerns us here, namely how and what kind of “economic development initiatives [produce] powerful and productive returns to the local community”. We then have to ask: what does “economic development” mean and how it happens in practice? A simple phrase can have major implications for what local communities have dealt with historically. In the above mentioned case, the central initiative around which the grant revolves in Broome County has been labeled by our current County Executive Debbie Preston as the “20 Million Job Creation [High-Tech] Incubator”, during her 2013’s budget address. But should we trust such overblown estimates? Is this going to be the  job making machine or a source of jobs if it actually materializes? And if so, what kind of jobs? 

Fully supported by current top government representatives (i.e. County Executive Debbie Preston, Mayor Matthew Ryan, and Governor Andrew Cuomo) this project has brought an interpretation of “economic development” which, contrary to its promises, actually focuses on passing activities. The current state policy for “economic development” equates university growth with local development. This understanding of economic development activities with the university as the center for these brings with it a particular vision of the jobs created by such actions which do not correspond to the socio-economic reality of Broome County. This is so, since the nature of jobs to be created is not focused on long-term permanent stable positions but temporary, flexible, part-time and seasonal instead.

An actual example of this version of “economic development” is the student housing-apartment complexes in downtown Binghamton. The promised economic activity created by these university-centered projects and the jobs associated with it will be at best temporary and seasonal in nature. This type of interpretation of “economic development” is what we as community members should be wary of every time it is presented. It is being presented as if it will bring in [powerful and productive returns to the local community] tremendous benefits for the county, school districts, etc. Again, the point in question is that these “economic development” initiatives, no matter how well intentioned they sound, end up being short-lived, and whose positive effects are limited to a small subset of county residents. Which leads us to whom and how this “economic development” actually happens and who funds it?

One of the government tools to put in practice such policies is Industrial Development Agencies. We’ll like to present a brief historical overview of these in our next piece. Have these worked for immediate gains for a few or long-term economic stability for communities throughout New York State history?





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