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Economic survey reveals staying local and rental housing availability are of concern

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Keeping Northern New Yorkers living and working in the area is a key concern for residents of Jefferson and Lewis counties, according to a regional economic survey undertaken recently by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College.

Joel F. LaLone, the center’s research coordinator, and Raymond E. Petersen, the center’s director, presented the findings of the first biennial Regional Economic Tracking Survey at the October meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators Planning and Development Committee on Tuesday.

The survey found that 80 percent of area residents believe that keeping residents local is “very important” while only 32 percent are satisfied with the local economy’s ability to keep college graduates in the area.

According to the survey, in Jefferson County, 43 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think they will be living in the county five years from now. In Lewis County, that number rises to 86.5 percent.

The difference could be attributed to the large number of young soldiers that are stationed at Fort Drum, though the researchers did not isolate that particular variable in the survey, according to Mr. LaLone.

Residents were asked about their household’s affiliation with the military and survey results could be cross-tabulated to reflect that information, researchers said.

The availability of early-childhood education also is rated to be of prime concern to economic development.

Four of every five residents — 82 percent — said that the addition of local child care and preschool services would be key to supporting new local businesses.

Those services were rated above cultural and entertainment facilities, bookstores, restaurants and clothing stores in terms of its ability to support new business.

More than 86 percent of adult residents report having Internet access at their home, according to the survey — a number that has climbed steadily since the years when the Center for Community Studies first started measuring it, according to Mr. Petersen.

In 2000, the center’s first annual survey estimated that only 56.8 percent of the total population of Jefferson County had an internet connection in their homes.

And local agricultural products were rated highly, with nearly two-thirds — 63 percent — of residents indicating a satisfaction level of either “excellent” or “good” for local businesses that process and/or distribute local agricultural products.

But if staying local is important, residents face challenges in the housing and job markets, according to the economic survey and the center’s annual survey, released in June.

Consistent with the center’s findings regarding community perceptions about housing, only one-third of participants in the economic survey indicated a satisfaction level of “excellent” or “good” on the availability of rental housing in the region.

The center’s annual survey revealed that 58 percent of respondents said lack of affordable housing was a major issue and that jobs and the economy were the number one issue for Jefferson County residents.

According to the annual survey, 53 percent of respondents perceived that the availability of good jobs was getting worse, while only 13 percent said it was getting better.

Despite the dismal numbers, researchers noted that dissatisfaction seemed to have stabilized compared with the much higher numbers posted in previous years.

In Lewis County in 2012, no residents surveyed identified the availability of good jobs as excellent, while only 13 percent indicated it was good and 44.2 percent rated it poor.

A small percentage of Jefferson and Lewis residents said they would be interested in starting a business in the near future.

A total of 15.7 percent of Jefferson County residents and 18.6 percent of Lewis County residents said they would have an interest in owning or operating a business in the next three years, according to the survey. Among those who might be interested in owning a business, 4.6 percent are definitely interested in purchasing an existing business or starting their own business, according to the survey.

Though the percentages seem modest, the actual numbers are much more impressive, according to Mr. LaLone.

Projected onto the population of approximately 110,000 adults in the two county region, that 4.6 percent rate of interest suggests that there are 5,000 very interested potential entrepreneurs living locally, the survey said.

More than three-fourths of all interested entrepreneurs — 76.3 percent — said that a business incubator would make them more likely to start a business and nearly three-fourths of potential business owners plan to start a business that would employ six or more people.

These responses make the idea of creating an incubator “unignorable,” according to Mr. LaLone.

Approximately one-third of participants in the economic survey have completed at least one type of specialized or technical training. The two most commonly reported types of specialized training were “health care” and “construction,” according to the survey.

58 percent of respondents said they felt underemployed, according to the survey.

To conduct the survey, JCC statistics students completed 684 telephone interviews on the evenings of April 3 to 9 under the guidance of research staff.

The entire survey is available at http://wdt.me/4dRw4X.

Following the presentation, the Board of Legislators held a special meeting to set a public hearing on the tentative budget for fiscal year 2014. The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12 in the Board of Legislators Chambers on the second floor of the Historic County Courthouse, 195 Arsenal St.

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