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Top 10: Job hunting

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New York State Department of Labor
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November 2011 unemployment was down from the previous year in New York State - but for those without work, the picture is still bleak.

If you didn’t have a job in 2011, it doesn’t matter what the other top stories of the year were. For families dealing with unemployment, finding work is the above-the-fold headline. 

And there were lots of families in that situation this year.  

The most recent data from the state Labor Department shows that unemployment in New York in November was 7.9 percent. That’s better than the national average for November, and for the November of the prior year for New York (both of which were 8.2 percent). But “better” doesn’t mean anything if things aren’t getting better for you.

So we spent much of the year looking for hope: hope that the job market would get better, hope that people could start successful businesses, and hope that upstate might one day be a place that people want to go to – instead of flee from.

Here’s where we found some.

Education

Institutions of higher education spent 2011 trying to cement their role in economic development, in a variety of ways.  SUNY in particular worked to enumerate its value with a June report entitled “How SUNY Matters.”  The state-supported school system also began issuing report cards for itself, finding in September that New York is lagging behind the nation in producing students with science, technology, engineering, and math degrees.

But the good news is that colleges and universities are working to course correct.  In April, WNED’s Daniel Robison reported that the University at Buffalo is working to counteract the trend of western New York biotech companies hiring from out-of-state, by creating a pipeline of able workers.  In October, Robison showed us the earliest phase of that pipeline, at a Catholic high school, where students are offered Mandarin and bioinformatics classes to give them an edge in the modern economy.  At SUNY Fredonia, Robison reports, students have access to a business incubator, to give them entrepreneurial experiences before they even graduate.

In September, WRVO’s Emma Jacobs reported that the City of Syracuse had begun the second phase of its “Say Yes to Education” program, designed to prepare students for college and work – and then fund that education with free tuition.  In December, Robison reported that Buffalo would be the second city in the U.S. to offer the same “Say Yes” free tuition deal to all city school children.

Feeling neighborly

Another bright spot in New York’s jobs picture was  its relationships with its neighbors.  In Buffalo, Accelerate Upstate’s August conference highlighted the potential for New York to do more business with Canada, and create more jobs on both sides of the border. 

Kevin Johnson, the U.S. Consul General, told Daniel Robison:

“The Canadian dollar is strong, meaning their purchase power is strong. Canadian unemployment is lower because of their welfare state. An unemployed Canadian still has more purchasing power than an unemployed American in many parts of the United States,” Johnson says. “I think the single biggest thing is to say that Canada is open for business. It’s a place where you can look to invest, to sell and to buy things.”

Robison also reported, in July, that western New York’s Seneca Nation is seeing so much growth at its casinos that it’s now looking outside of the nation to hire jobs in technical support and cyber security.

Clean and green jobs

Politicians continue to pin their hopes on “green jobs,” like installing solar panels, building wind turbines, and rolling insulation to make homes energy efficient.  But according to a report released by the state Labor Department in July, that last (and less sexy) type of job dominates the green jobs sector.  That means that existing industries, like construction, still comprise the majority of green jobs.

But a report from the Brookings Institution points out that, compared to its peers nationally, New York is doing well in the “clean economy.” The state comes in second, for the number of green and clean jobs per capita – even if those jobs may be in existing industries - reports WMHT’s Marie Cusick:

The work of the state's Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) also gets praise from the report's authors. Frank Murray heads the authority, and says the study is a validation of what New York is already doing. "If you look at the specific recommendations that the Brookings Institution report has, every one of those policies has been embraced and promoted here in New York State," says Murray. The report's policy recommendations include increasing government funding for innovation, and focusing on developing clean economy clusters (like New York's Capital Region).

Entrepreneurial spirit

But by far the most hopeful stories we covered this year were the stories of individual people who are carving out a place for themselves in New York’s economy.

WXXI’s Zack Seward profiled a series of Rochester-area entrepreneurs who’ve broken free of the city’s “company town” mentality

And we took our listening booth on the road to BarCamp Rochester and TEDxRochester, to find out what people make.

The result of those conversations was a series of postcards from the front lines of the economy, with interesting people doing interesting things – like giving us hope.

Your turn

Did you lose or find a job in 2011? What gave you hope? Let us know in the comments, or talk back to us on Facebook.

 

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