Health care to energize Hudson Valley job market, experts say
The life sciences and health care industries will be pumping up the job market in the Hudson Valley in 2013, regional employment experts say.
"Next year is going to be the year of mind and body," said Laurence Gottlieb, director of the Westchester County Office of Economic Development. "It will be health care, health care, health care. You'll continue to see explosive growth in the health care industry."
Gottlieb said high-wage health care jobs have a powerful ripple effect on the economy overall.
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"The great thing about health care is it lifts a lot of boats," he said.
Ambulatory health care services, a category that includes all outpatient services provided by doctors and dentists, was one of the brightest spots in the Hudson Valley's jobs picture in 2012.
Jobs in that segment increased by 6.8 percent in the Westchester-Rockland-Putnam region for the 12-month period that ended Oct. 31, according to state Labor Department statistics. That compares to a 1.1 percent increase for total nonfarm employment overall.
Helping to fuel growth in the region's health care industry is the migration of medical information from paper to digital forms.
"Medical records, telemetry, communications. All of these areas are moving data around and are becoming more critical to the medical industry," Gottlieb said.
Economic professionals expect the biotechnology and life sciences industries to add additional momentum to the valley's economy. Companies like Acorda Therapeutics, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and HistoGenetics Inc. have turned the Westchester County corridor from Irvington north to Ossining into a petri dish of innovation and job growth.
"In this region, health care and biotech are dominating now," said Richard Greenwald, president of Concorde Staffing Group in White Plains.
Greenwald remarked that, in an ironic twist, superstorm Sandy is giving at least a temporary lift to the woefully depressed construction sector. He said builders are seeking accountants and administrative and support staff through his agency as they tackle major cleanup, repair and reconstruction projects.
"We've had a lot of construction clients because of their ability to do cleanup and new building," he said. "A lot of it is temporary employees. Unfortunately, this is a byproduct [of Sandy]."
Greenwald said businesses continue their efforts to reach customers online and are hiring technology professionals to gain traction.
"If somebody wants to increase their footprint on the Web, they need to redo their websites," he said.
Bars, hotels, restaurants and food services were one of the fastest-growing sectors in the Westchester, Rockland and Putnam region in 2012. Leisure and hospitality jobs grew a hefty 6.5 percent for the 12 months through October, state Labor Department statistics show. That momentum will continue into 2013, Gottlieb said.
"Hospitality will continue to grow in the region," he said.
By contrast, in the Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and Middletown metropolitan area, leisure and hospitality jobs shrank 3.3 percent for the 12 months ending Oct. 31. That area also had a harder time generating new jobs in general, with a meager 12-month increase of 400, or .2 percent.
Though more than one in 10 workers in the Kingston area remained jobless as of October, that region also was a leader in creating jobs, with nonfarm employment rising 1.5 percent in that 12-month period.
In the Hudson Valley overall -- as defined by the Department of Labor, that's Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Dutchess, Ulster, Putnam and Sullivan counties -- the jobless rate stood at 7.4 percent for the October period. Total nonfarm jobs increased .8 percent in October, but the government sector shrank 1 percent.
Experts see two wild cards that might affect the employment picture in 2013: the impact of the so-called "fiscal cliff" deadlock over federal spending and the federal health care legislation that begins phasing in after Jan. 1.
Greenwald believes that the fiscal cliff negotiations have injected uncertainty into the calculations of businesses. He said the new federal requirement that companies with more than 50 full-time workers provide health insurance or pay a fine could prompt some companies to cut workers' hours below 30 hours per week, making those workers part time.
"I think companies are still trying to figure out what they're going to do," Greenwald said. "That will have an impact on staffing."
Looking beyond 2013, what careers would Gottlieb urge students to pursue?
"Bottom line, what you're hearing over and over is a STEM education," he said, referring to the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. "Having some STEM skill set will make you most competitive."
Those careers pay a median wage of about $75,000, he said, nearly double the pay of Hudson Valley jobs overall.