Fairfield County gains ground in economic recovery
Published 12:09 pm, Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Fairfield County appears ready to take on the world again as its economy made big strides, outranking New York City and 79 other metro regions in the world for performance after the recession.
The Brookings Institution released its Global MetroMonitor report on Tuesday, gauging the economic performance of 150 of the world's largest metro areas. The Bridgeport metro area, which encompasses almost all of Fairfield County, including Stamford, Norwalk and Greenwich, ranked 70th in performance based on income and job growth. The Fairfield County region saw its economy rise from a rank of 110 prior to 2007, to 91 during the recession of 2007/2008, and finally to 70 during the recovery period.
New York City's metro region ranked 77.
The Brookings report combined with the State of Connecticut's own Economic Digest indicate the region and state are making strides towards economic recovery and are in decent position to compete globally.
Brookings, with its partners in research, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Alfred Herrhausen Society, said the fundamental importance of this report goes beyond just how these metro regions did, but instead "provides important evidence on emerging shifts in the location of global economic resilience and future growth." Simply put, it illuminates who is declining, who is stagnating and who is rising in prominence.
Christopher Bruhl, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Fairfield County, was not surprised by the region's ranking, nor that Brookings said the area was not yet on a path to full recovery.
"Being kind of middle-of-the-road in the world intuitively makes sense to me," Bruhl said, explaining the 8 percent unemployment rate for the county stands in contrast to the continued recovery in equity markets and salaries in the financial sector.
Brookings listed Bridgeport among the metro regions that are showing a mixture of recovery and decline following the recession. San Antonio was the only American city that was listed as fully recovered, though it did not have the highest ranking for a U.S. metro. San Antonio ranked 51 in the world and 11 in the U.S. There were 12 U.S. metros listed as being on the road to full recovery. Boston and Providence were the only regions in the Northeast to get this designation.
Income and job growth were the determining factors for the rankings, and the U.S. struggled in the job growth category but saw increases in income. The Bridgeport region saw income rise 3 percent from 2009 to 2010, but job growth was nearly flat for the same period as the area notched a loss of 0.9 percent. There are implications for our future fortune, Bruhl and others said.
"It's useful and appropriate to compare Fairfield County and all of Connecticut on a global scale," Bruhl said, because that's who we are competing against.
Bruhl said one reason the region has done well is that the county has a well-educated population, and a mature economy that is focused on innovation and knowledge. He pointed out the unemployment rate among people with college degrees is around 4 percent while those without a degree is double. While the recession has been rough here, it has not been as hard as in other parts of the country. Las Vegas has been hammered and fell from its rank of 14 in 2007 to 146, according to Brookings.
Emerging industrial economies dominate the top of the Brookings rankings, but Bruhl said it would be a dead end for our economy to try to compete for the kinds of industry those countries are living on. He said the way forward for Connecticut and other mature economies is to invest in education, especially in areas that foster innovation like science. A failure to do so could leave us on a tough road, he said.
Doing that will require some rethinking of our profit-driven university model, according to Patrick Flaherty, a Connecticut Labor Department economist. He said it's more cost effective for a university to train lawyers and finance workers than it is to teach engineering and sciences that require expensive equipment and labs. He said balancing the needs to make a profit and providing the jobs that can carry the future will be difficult for the nation.
On the economic front, Flaherty sees reason to hope the state is moving toward recovery and is ready to compete globally, mostly because of its diversity.
Flaherty just published a review of employment performance of state communities during the recession in the Connecticut Economic Digest, found on the department's website.
"There is no theme," he said of a review of sectors that added jobs in cities between first quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2010. "There is no one industry or sector that's going to save us."
In Bridgeport, the city saw growth in grocery store employment, motor and generator manufacturing and in hospitals. In Stamford, job gains were seen in commercial banking and pet supplies. Norwalk saw gains in shell fishermen. Danbury saw increases in irradiation apparatus manufacturing and janitorial services, according to Flaherty's report.
The communities saw losses in temporary jobs and many of the sectors that were hard hit in the recession, such as finance.