Southern Tier Economy Growing, But Help's Wanted
Micatu is growing fast, The Horseheads start-up has over 20 employees right now and wants to expand to more than a hundred. “Started in my garage with $75 and, you know, five years later, here we are," co-founder Mike Oshetski explained.
Oshetski credits state economic development money for helping Micatu grow. The company makes a device that tracks energy usage. It sells the device to utilities.
Oshetski’s a young guy, in his mid-30’s. He grew up in the Southern Tier and came back to his hometown to start Micatu. “I’m from Horseheads and most of the people here are from New York," he said. "We’re excited about that and we’re excited to get people to come back, right? That’s what it’s about.”
Job openings at places like Micatu are expected to pop up across the Southern Tier over the next decade and that's led to an effort to fight the economic narrative of the region.
Betsey Hale is President of Three Rivers Development Corporation. The firm is helping bring more manufacturers to the Southern Tier.
Hale knows the history of the region. She knows businesses used to flourish here, but manufacturing loss has led to decades of decline. “We got complacent, we thought we were going to have it forever," she said. "Some things changed, but now we’ve got everybody’s attention."
Hale's group is at least trying to get everyone’s attention. That’s difficult because the problem doesn’t lie in the number of jobs. It lies in the number of people.
“We are projecting some significant gaps, predominantly in healthcare [and] on the production line,” Hale explained.
Specifically, there are gaps in young workers.
Between 2000 and 2010 the median age in Steuben and Chemung Counties rose three years. It rose five years in Tioga County and two years in Broome County. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates each county has lost thousands of residents this decade.
So, people aren’t staying.
“We see a lot of our talent kind of move to where it’s easier,” said Christian Harris, who analyzes statistics for the U.S. Department of Labor.
Harris said the number of jobs are projected to go up in the Southern Tier over the next decade, but at a slower rate than elsewhere in the country. “Unfortunately, our local area hasn’t been at the forefront of the recovery in the past and typically, we kind of come online toward the tail end,” he said.
However, there’s a difference between slow growth and decline. If the area is growing, but at a slower rate than another part of the country, it can feel like it’s falling behind.
“Sometimes we have a tendency to put our communities down. Our own communities that we live," Hale said. "And we always look for the negatives.”
Getting young people to stay could grow the economy. Hale said the first step is for folks in this area to tell a good story, knowing large scale growth will take time.
“The economic downturn that the Southern Tier saw from the 1990’s into the early 2000’s didn’t happen overnight. The economic recovery will not happen overnight,” Hale said.
But small successes like Micatu are a positive sign for the region. A sign that young people may like it here, and maybe even decide to stay.