Normal. Do you remember that?
It was probably one year ago when you last experienced it. And it was on February 11, 2020 when we learned the name of what would take normal away. That was when the World Health Organization declared the name for the disease caused by the coronavirus then ravaging China: COVID-19. That February, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties’ private sector employment levels were the highest they have ever been for that month.
On March 7, the Capital Region saw its first two positive COVID-19 cases. Two weeks later the region had more than 100 positives and the state implemented its lockdown of nonessential workplaces. By May there were three times more unemployment insurance (UI) beneficiaries in the Capital Region than what the eight counties had at the height of the previous recession. Without more than $2 billion in federal relief the region received via the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Assistance Loans, the unemployment toll would have been far higher.
By the end of 2020, the region’s number of UI beneficiaries had fallen by two thirds from its spring peak, but 21,300 people remained on unemployment. The leisure and hospitality, retail trade and health care and social assistance sectors continued to have the slow recoveries.
The Capital Region’s economy has been pushing through this economic tumult, with several industries actually expanding. But we won’t turn the corner without the recovery of our hardest hit sectors, and that will largely hinge on widespread vaccination and governmental support. Congress is already working on another stimulus package that promises to provide this financial lifeline. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office is even projecting the economy to recover in mid-2021.
Last March, the Brookings Institution ranked the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area better positioned than most regions to withstand a COVID-19-related recession. That was partly because of the region’s technology clusters: advanced manufacturing, semiconductors, life sciences, R&D, and software-IT. These are the tech clusters the Center for Economic Growth has spent the last two decades supporting by preparing our workforce and infrastructure, marketing the region globally to attract investment, and helping businesses already here grow by tapping new markets and operating more efficiently.
These tech clusters, which will soon include offshore wind thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership, provide good-paying jobs with upward mobility. The people who work in them have been helping to support our restaurants, theaters, hotels, and resorts, and they will flock to them once they are fully open. I don’t know when we will get back to normal, but because of our region’s collective resiliency, we will be ready for it.