Harquin launches Westchester Putnam One-Stop website & campaign
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October 4, 2010
Westchester's economy may have weathered the worst of the recession, but it's still a long way from the healthy job gains and robust activity of past years, state employment numbers and the region's top Federal Reserve economist agree— accounting for a recent overhaul by an agency charged with linking jobseekers and employers in Westchester and Putnam counties.
Westchester's unemployment rate stands at 6.9 percent as of August, the most recent available month according to state Department of Labor figures, from 7.0 percent the previous month and 7.2 percent a year earlier. Those rates are better than the 7.7 percent recorded for January and February—but still about double the 3-to-4 percent rage of past years when the economy was healthy.
Westchester accounts for 70 percent of the jobs in a three-county region that has continued to shed jobs year-to-year. (The state labor department stopped collecting sector-by-sector numbers from individual counties about five years ago).
In the 12 months ended in August, state figures show, Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties lost a combined 8,300 nonfarm jobs, the largest number of any region in the state, and a 1.5 percent drop. The biggest losers by sector were manufacturing (down 800 jobs during the period); trade-transportation-utilities jobs (down 2,500 jobs), professional and business services (down 1,100 jobs) and construction, which shrunk the most with 3,400 fewer jobs, as home builders and commercial developers wait for the real estate and financial markets to improve.
"The construction sector has really taken it on the chin, to say the least," Johny Nelson, labor market analyst for the state labor department's Hudson Valley region consisting of Westchester and six neighboring counties, told Patch. "Managers are still a bit hesitant to go out and do a lot of hiring. There's still a lot of uncertainty over what this economy is going to do.
"But the three-county market has seen several encouraging year-to-year increases in jobs in two key sectors — namely leisure and hospitality (up 2,000 jobs, a 2 percent gain) and education and health services (up 800, a 0.8 percent gain). The three counties outpaced the overall Hudson Valley region — the three counties as well as Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties — where the sectors saw job gains of 1,500 and 700, respectively.
During the most recent month, 300 new jobs in professional and business services were added, as were 600 construction jobs, respective gains of 0.3 and 2.1 percent. Nelson said the numbers reflected, respectively, the onset of a recovery he acknowledged was slow, and warm-weather work on road projects, some funded by the federal stimulus law. A government website credits the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with generating 451 projects totaling $341.2 million and employing "372.65" people in Westchester.
"You're looking at industry sectors that are very sensitive to economic trends. So if they're improving, it has to mean that this economy is about to turn around. As you get to the past three months, we've seen very much a positive trend," Nelson said. "For eight consecutive months, although we haven't seen any positive growth in total private [employment], the deceleration has slowed down considerably, which leads us to believe that there is light at the end of this tunnel, and maybe this economy is going to turn around and the job market is very much going to improve."
Speaking Thursday in Yorktown, the region's top federal economist told an audience of business leaders there are signs of new job growth in Westchester— but the level of growth seen in better years won't happen for some time.
"It will take several years for us to get back the unemployment rate that we are comfortable with, so it is like a glass that is half full," Rae Rosen, senior economist and assistant vice president with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "We're making progress, but things are still difficult."
Rosen spoke Sept. 30 during a meeting of the Westchester/Putnam Workforce Investment Board held in Yorktown, at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Tropical Storm Nicole kept the audience down to about 30.
Those who did attend saw the WIB formally launch www.westchesterputnamonestop.com, website designed to attract jobseekers—and especially employers—to the board's programs. Harquin Creative Group of Pelham redesigned the website, with the firm's Fred Bruck, a Harquin co-founder and VP of account services, in attendance.
"We want to make it user friendly. We want businesses to search for jobs, post job openings or find applicants. All the grants and all these funding streams that are available, I want businesses to know about this stuff. I don't want it to be like it was for me, where I had no idea this existed for 20 years," WIB Chairman David Singer told Patch.
Singer said the rise in unemployed professionals with skills wrought by the recession — and the change in county administrations from Andrew Spano to Rob Astorino — have prompted the board to rethink how it serves those who need jobs and those who can provide them. During his two years as chairman, Singer said, the WIB has evolved from a purveyor of general job-skills programs for people long out of the job market, to a facilitator of more industry-specific training programs designed to create jobs for professionals in four growing employment sectors — finance, healthcare, hospitality, and "green" or sustainable energy jobs.
Programs will be created for at least two additional sectors, biotech and information technology.
Among employers creating green jobs with the help of WIB is Elmsford-based Robison Oil, a family-owned seller of residential and commercial fuel oil whose president is Singer. Robison has grown its 200-person workforce with three professionals trained to conduct energy audits the company hopes will persuade customers to undertake energy-efficient retrofits to their homes or businesses, in return for long-term savings on energy costs.
For Robison and other participating green employers, WIB offers an up to $15 per hour per trainee wage subsidy to employers. After the training period, employers commit in return to hire their trainees and pay them the same wage as during the training period, at least $10 an hour.
"They actually created their own jobs by being here without costing the company money those first six months they were able to work into the system. They are actually productive employees doing stuff for us. It wouldn't have happened any other way. Every company today, the last thing an employer is looking to do is hire someone.
"WIB also obtained a $200,000 federal stimulus grant to pay for 2,000 home energy audits free to owners of homes up to 4,000 square feet, under a program also involving the county and Business Council of Westchester. The program ends when the 2,000 audits are carried out or on May 31, 2011, whichever comes first.
To date, almost 500 such audits have been scheduled, with almost 300 of them completed, Singer told Patch: "We're expecting one third of those to generate work for various vendors.
"That program has generated demand for additional training, for which Robison and other green employers will seek funds for customized sales training through Westchester Community College. "The auditors who are doing these 500 [scheduled] audits, they understand energy and they understand homes, but they didn't understand how to talk to homeowners, necessarily. We felt that they needed more training in follow-up and, I guess you can call it sales," he added.
Singer, a Bedford Hills resident, said that WIB has moved away from simply running training programs with no input from employers and thus, no concept of their needs.
"My feeling, coming from the private sector, is that the best way to help employees is to create stronger employers," Singer said. "Employers hire and train people. We do it all the time. We don't need people doing that for us. What we need are jobs. We need work, so we can hire people. And we need subsidies to help us work our businesses so that we can hire and train people.
"Hospitality employers, he said, recently worked with WIB to develop a program in English as a Second Language for workers in 11 participating hotels.
WIB began reaching out to employers in growing industries as the economy soured, Singer said. The change in the board's programs has gained the support of Astorino, who assigned his economic development director, Laurence Gottlieb, to work with the board — and also retained a Spano administration holdover, Donovan Beckford, as WIB's director.
Beckford told Patch the One-Stop Employment Center finished the year ending June 30 serving 14,000 Westchester and Putnam residents — of which more than half were "dislocated" or idled in the past year — plus another 12,000 people carried over from the previous year.
The center operates on a $6 million annual budget, half of which comes from federal "program" funds, and the rest from federal and state grants tied to specific programs. Washington created the WIB and boards like it nationwide as part of the 1996 welfare reform law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.
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