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Business Leaders Discuss Strong Saratoga County Economy

Lucas Willard

Local business leaders from across Saratoga County gathered Thursday to get an economic update on the county, which is experiencing increased investment and growth.

Saratoga County is the fastest-growing in New York. Its unemployment rate is below the national average. Median household income and home building are up.

The county has stayed above the fray as much of upstate New York is losing population.

At the forum organized by the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, local business leaders offered their ideas for what makes the county successful and how to keep growth sustainable.

Over the decades the county has transformed from a largely rural one with a vital summer tourism season to a home for a large high-tech economy and fast-growing suburbs. 

Marty Vanags, President of the SCPP, said one crucial key to the county’s economic success in recent years is diversification.

“If you looked at just hospitality and horse racing, that’s a huge thing. But when you add in GlobalFoundries, that’s 3,000 employees. That has a huge impact. And 3,000 employees with an average salary of $90,000 and $100,000 a year, that’s an enormous economic impact,” said Vanags. “If we can leverage that investment I think we can add even more fruitful things happening in the economy.”

Chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries recently announced its new CEO as Dr. Tom Caulfield, who for the last several years has served as vice president and general manager of the company’s Fab 8 facility in Malta.

But the place where the plant is located, the Luther Forest Technology Campus, aside from GlobalFoundries, remains largely empty.

Charles Wait, Chairman and CEO of Adirondack Trust Company, one the county’s largest banks, said more investment would be needed at the Malta tech park to attract more high-tech companies, including increased supply of natural gas and a new electric substation to provide power.

“The substation that is there now is adequate for the industry that’s there. But if we want to create more industry and more jobs in this county, we need to get power and gas,” said Wait.

Wait judges the region’s economy through the numbers seen at Adirondack Trust Company. For example, last year, deposits from customers were up 8 percent over the year before, while loans were up 5 percent. So far this year, deposits are up 6 percent.

Wait said money is no longer just changing hands seasonally.  

“Now there are three spikes, August is still a spike, but the tax collection periods in the spring and the fall are also, and that’s an indicator of a well-rounded, growing economy that’s balanced,” said Wait.

But Saratoga County, home to large suburban areas, also has a large percentage of its residents commuting to neighboring counties.

County Administrator Spencer Hellwig says officials should continue to look for ways to keep the workforce local.

“The 65,000 residents that commute outside the county: we’d like to find a way to get them back into the county because clearly there are employers within the county that are looking for new bodies,” said Hellwig.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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