Upstate New York is home to some of the nicest people on the planet. They’re also hard working and pretty well educated. They live with some of the worst winter weather in the lower 48 followed by summer infernos. Maybe that’s why they are so nice, they’ve learned that complaining is futile.
This happened there the other day: My bent-over 95-year old cane-in-hand, 4’ 11” mother in law, arrived at the post office in Pittsford [Rochester area] to mail a package. There was a line of about 10 people waiting. At her age and bent status she doesn’t do lines very well. A younger lady at the head of the line noticed the little old lady in distress. She went back to my mother in law and said, “I’m going to trade places with you, and walked her up to the head of the line, then dutifully went back to the end. Upstate New York is a place where that sort of thing happens.
Albany is kind of in upstate New York and it’s a hotbed of corruption on the order of New York City during the Tammany Hall Era. I often wonder why the nice people of New York State vote for scoundrels. I’ve found, however, that the problem is only partly of their own making. The liberals of New York City are also to blame and their ability to infect their own city with maladies seems to extend Northward as well.
Upstate New York, the portion that lies beyond the New York metropolitan area, has become “The Land That Time Forgot,” a broad swath of depressed cities and low-profit farmlands that stretches from Newburgh and Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley through the old manufacturing centers of Schenectady and Troy, across the Allegheny Plateau to Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, all the way west to Jamestown, the city with the lowest percentage of college graduates in America.
For more than half a century, this huge region — once the nation’s breadbasket and a manufacturing capital — has been losing jobs, dollars and people. “It all began in 1959 when the interstate highway system was completed,” says Carl Schramm, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. “That was also the year commercial jets went into service and half the homes in Florida were air-conditioned.”
Weather was certainly a contributing factor. Of the country’s 12 medium- and large-sized cities with the heaviest annual snowfall, nine are in upstate New York, with Syracuse on top of the list at 115 inches. Not for nothing is the 363-mile long corridor of the old Erie Canal called the “Snow Belt.”
But other states — New Hampshire, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Colorado — have similar weather and have not seen mass evacuation. The difference is that upstate New York is tethered to New York City, whose residents overwhelmingly support higher taxes, stricter regulation and bigger spending than the national averages. Those policies are blamed for upstate’s economic woes by many in the region.
“Basically what you’ve got in New York is a state tax code and regulatory regimen written for New York City,” says Joseph Henchman, vice president for state projects at the Tax Foundation in Washington. “Legislators say, `Look, New York is a center of world commerce. Businesses have to be here. It doesn’t matter how high we tax them.’ I hear that a lot. But when you apply that same logic to upstate, the impact is devastating.”
Kodak is dead. Xerox is on life support. But they’ve still got Wegman’s to be thankful for.