Upstate as the World's Back Office

8 Jan

I recall that as George W. Bush advocated for the passage of “No Child Left Behind”, he used a term that I thought was quite clever : the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

After decades of Governors and other political leaders and candidates extolling the virtues of upstate New York, and promising money, positions, tax breaks, and incentives to enable upstate to become an economic powerhouse in one 21st century technology or another, we have Governor Paterson jettisoning all of that.

During his state of the state address, Paterson said:

Also, we want to make Upstate the back office for corporate America – particularly the franchises that are located downstate.

This region is clearly one that has demonstrated that they have what the rest of the country doesn’t have, which is available housing stock, with close-by schools, natural beauty, and the untouched small towns that families would cherish. We have to go back to promoting it that way.

Also, the effort we are making for sustainable communities, with thousands of housing stock laying dormant in cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. We will develop that housing stock into affordable housing – starting with Buffalo, which right now has 23,000 vacant units.

Note how the passage begins with “also” – like, “oh, yeah – I should mention that part of the state north of Albany and west of the Hudson.” It’s an afterthought. And there was no flowery talk about the quality of our labor force, the beauty of our landscape, the gritty determination of our citizenry.

Paterson didn’t talk about the medical corridor or nanotechnology. He didn’t talk about UB 2020 or entrepreneurship. He didn’t talk about venture capital or business incubators.

He basically acknowledged a hard truth about most of upstate: you have no hustle. You will never have any hustle. And what of that? You might as well do what you’re good at, and do some menial service jobs; you can be America’s Bangalore. You can be America’s phone-answerers.

Relegated to economic serfdom and mediocrity.

That’s what we’ve become, after all. With the demise of manufacturing we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, of people. We make all kinds of excuses about it all, but fundamentally the world changed, and we didn’t change with it. Not half as fast as we should have, and our attitude sucks.

And yes, there is potential to do great things here. Government and a complete vacuum of leadership at all levels of government (a vacuum that only gets worse) keep us cranky, but lazily satisfied.

The people with hustle mostly leave.

So, I’m insulted by Paterson’s suggestion that phone banking and customer service is all we’re cut out for. You never tell your kids to settle for the bare minimum, do you? So why does Paterson advocate the bare minimum for us Orcs living in the hinterlands of New York’s Appalachia?

I want political leaders to call for entrepreneurship and excellence. I want the state, county, and municipalities to examine the way they do business – the way they tax and regulate – and help spur, enable, and incentivize investment and innovation.

I don’t want another Albany or downstate hack telling us that we’re lame and weak, or that we suck. Any local political “leaders” want to call out the governor for his offensive remarks?

After all, it’s an election year. We should all put our big boy pants on, and demand better from everyone.

8 Responses to “Upstate as the World's Back Office”

  1. jesse January 8, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    “back office” operations are more than just call centers. See the Yahoo data center in N County for an example.

    Just sayin’. Our climate and alleged proximity to cheap hydro power should make WNY a prime candidate for relatively inexpensive data centers. If we can get Albany the hell out of the way.

  2. Chris Smith January 8, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    Jesse, do you know what happens in a datacenter? Do you understand that they are not engines for economic growth, but simply a place where transactions are processed and database queries served for the benefit of a corporation based elsewhere? I happen to design datacenters for a living and they are simply large metal buildings which draw an excessive amount of power with little human interaction. At best, a datacenter employs 30-35 people, most of the system maintenance and administration is handled remotely either at the corporate headquarters or in offshore locations.

    With the incentives we’re giving to Yahoo, it works out that New York State would be spending roughly $1.35MM per job created or $90,000 per job, per year. If the job number is more in line with industry standards, it will work out to nearly $2.6MM per job created or $175K per job, per year. Yeah, that’s a good bet for NY State.

    • jesse January 11, 2010 at 7:28 am #

      You aren’t building big enough data centers. 🙂

      I have been in a few in my time. Horrific fan whine notwithstanding, multiply 35 jobs per center by a few of them, and suddenly it adds up to what you guys really want: tax dollars.

      Pay companies to locate here? Goes against everything I believe, so go ahead and rail on the cost per job if you want.

      Only some kind of snob would complain the jobs aren’t the “right kind”.

  3. Eisenbart January 8, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    I’m not sure I understand what your reference to “hustle” is.

    This is pretty much what the direction that scumbag Richard Florida is going in. Before he said he knew how to turn rust belt cities around. And those cities paid him a pretty penny for this information. Some cities did exactly what he told them to do. After attempting to make a city “cool” with little to no success and being completely proven wrong that all cities need is affluence he’s saying we should completely abandon rust belt cities and focus on sunbelt cities and shouldn’t waste any resources or funds because we are completely hopeless.

    He’s given up on changing the way things are ran here and instead trying to make what works up here work. Which is not much.

    • STEEL January 8, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

      You are confusing Florida with another guy from Harvard who has always been pro sprawltopia

  4. Buffalo Hodgepodge January 12, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    It is hard to disagree with anything the Governor said.


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    […] British-owned and TARP ineligible HSBC owes $100 million a year . . . for the privilege of having suddenly unpopular back office operations in […]

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