Business owners and operators throughout upstate New York agree with State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer: This is not the New York we dream of either.
Our New York, the 47,000 square miles north of Westchester and Rockland counties, has lost more population during the last decade than most of the Appalachian states. More people left our communities than did in Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Upstate is bleeding people because we're hemorrhaging jobs. While the nation experienced 21 percent job growth between 1990 and 2004, we had only a 3 percent increase. In the same time frame, we lost 33 percent of our manufacturing jobs. No, this is not the New York we dream of. Our children are following jobs out of town. Our neighbors are getting laid off. And we're having an increasingly difficult time making payroll for our employees, who make up one of the most talented and high-skilled work forces in the nation.
And while we thank Spitzer for bringing attention to our plight, we need a lot more than a fleeting campaign-season spotlight. Incumbents of both parties at the state and local levels need to act now to reverse this anti-business climate.
The gross value of all goods and services produced in upstate in 2000 was $262 billion. We're important contributors to the economy. If upstate were its own state, that figure would put us in the company of North Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts and would have us out-producing states the size of Washington, which is home to companies such as Microsoft and Boeing.
That's why business organizations across upstate convened in Albany in mid-March to urge the state's elected leaders to help.
Speaking on behalf of the thousands of companies we represent, and the hundreds of thousands of people these companies employ, we asked Albany to "Unshackle Upstate" and set us free from uncompetitive laws and regulations that create a debilitating business climate.
The burden of the nation's second-highest workers' compensation costs are felt more in upstate New York. We can't overcome the 200 percent to 500 percent increase in insurance costs that come from the Scaffold Law, which makes owners and contractors liable for every gravity-related work-site injury regardless of worker negligence. Other laws and regulations add to the nation's highest combined state and local tax burden, which makes it harder for us to price our products competitively or to reinvest here. They make upstate New York unattractive for new businesses, which are potential customers for us, to move here.
We asked Albany for help and we are continuing to ask for help via the Web site www.unshackleupstate.com -- you can go there to join our campaign.
This is not the first time we've sought relief. But we hope this time that the incumbents in Albany are listening.
Perhaps they will, once they realize that Appalachia is actually doing better than we are.
Andrew J. Rudnick is president and chief executive officer of Buffalo Niagara Partnership.