March 25, 2011

Tech Sparks Capital Region Population Growth

By: by Justin Mason, Gazette Reporter



Eight years ago, Greg Denbeaux saw his future in the Capital Region.

While employed as a research scientist in the San Francisco Bay area, he saw an exhibit on the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Like many others, he was attracted by the world class facility being constructed on the outskirts of the city and decided it posed a good enough opportunity to resettle in upstate New York.

"There was no way to say no to the opportunity," said Denbeaux, 39, who now lives in Guilderland.

Denbeaux now works as an associate professor of nano engineering at the college. He is among roughly 2,600 people employed at the campus and living in the area, a dramatic increase from the 72 workers that were building the state-of-the-art complex in 2001.

Figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday reflect this growth in population throughout the Capital Region. The eight-county area grew by roughly 49,000 people since 2000, population growth that has outpaced the state average.

"We more than doubled the state increase in our region, which is great for us," said Joanne King, an assistant planner with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission.

Capital Region cities seemed to finally reverse a decline.

Schenectady's population of 66,135, for instance, reflected an increase of 4,314 people or 6.98 percent over the 2000 Census figures. Albany's population of 97,856 grew by 2,198, or 2.3 percent, while Troy added 959 people to account for a 2 percent gain for a total population of 50,129. Rensselaer's population of 9,392 was 21.02 percent or 1,631 people over 2000, reflecting the largest percentage of gain by any city in the state.

"What we're really struck by is the positive trend in the cities," said King.

Cities in the eastern Mohawk Valley and also saw slight increases. In Montgomery County, Amsterdam grew to a population of 18,620, reflecting a 1.44 percent increase; in Fulton County, Gloversville increased by 1.63 percent to 15,665 people, while neighboring Johnstown grew to 8,743, a 2.73 percent increase.

Capital Region counties also reflect growth. The greatest increase among the state's top 20 most populated counties was reflected in prospering Saratoga County, which added 18,972 new residents for a growth of 10.7 percent.

Schenectady County reversed a period of population decline by adding 8,172 new residents, a 5.58 percent increase over the 2000 Census. County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage credited economic development and strategic planning for growth that has brought the population to a 40-year high.

"Our hard work has paid off as more people have found out what a great place Schenectady County is to live, work, and raise a family," she said in a statement.

Other Mohawk Valley counties saw slight gains. Fulton County increased by 458 people for a population of 55,531, while Montgomery County added 511 new residents for a population of 50,219.

Schoharie County population grew disproportionately to other areas in the Mohawk Valley. The county added 1,167 people for a population of 32,749.

Albany County's population increased by 9,639 people, or 3.2 percent, for a total population of 304,204.

high tech spark

Nano college spokesman Steve Janack said the high tech development in Albany has led to a ripple effect throughout the Capital Region, which has led to a growth in population. He said the area has benefited from public and private partnerships, which have helped foster the nano college or the GlobalFoundries chip-fab plant under construction in the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta.

"This is ‘exhibit A' of the success of public and private partnerships," he said.

Albany economist Hugh Johnson said the 2010 Census figures reflect the efforts of economic development planners. He said the jobs created by the rise of high tech industry coupled with the relative stability of the Capital Region economy appear to have generated the growth.

"The Capital Region is experiencing some good things and it's showing up in these numbers," he said.

Johnson also warned this growth could change with layoffs in the state work force. With a looming $10 billion budget deficit, thousands of state jobs could be eliminated in the coming months.

The trend of growth in the Capital Region is also in stark contrast to a pattern of decline in the western part of the state. Buffalo lost 31,338 residents to account for a population decrease of 10.7 percent over the past 10 years.

"The Census figures released today offer stark evidence of the lack of growth in certain regions as well as ongoing stagnation," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement released Thursday. "We must correct the trajectory of the state by changing the financial and operational paradigm of our government."

Blair Horner, the legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the shift in the state's demographics also means changes in store for the political influence. The population losses in the central and western regions of the state will end up being political gains for the areas that did see increases.

The shift in population also dispels the notion that upstate is one region. Horner said the gains seen in the Southern Tier and Capital Region clearly make both areas distinct.

"Upstate is not one place anymore than downstate is just New York City," he said.