Archive for September, 2015

The Southern Tier: Struggling but Proud

The Tuesday September 29 issue of the New York Times contains a piece by Albany Bureau chief Susanne Craig that paints an unfairly gloomy picture of the Binghamton area. Here is the email exchange I had with the author of the article:

 

Me: Instead of focusing your hatchet job on the benighted burgh of Conklin, perhaps you might have come into Binghamton and seen the revival taking place there. Just in the past few years dozens of restaurants have opened and thrived. Young people who graduate from Binghamton University are staying in the area and starting businesses. Instead you chose to highlight the gloom-and-doom in which old timers in the area wallow. In fact, the Southern Tier has hundreds of unfilled high-skill jobs because unfair negative reporting keeps people away. We in the Southern Tier deserve more than an occasional drive-by hit from the NY Times.

 

Her: Thanks for the note. I live upstate and have traveled extensively in the Southern, including Binghamton. Sadly, the numbers don’t support the rebirth. I am sure people are staying. However, the Southern Tier broadly is experiencing an exodus of people. And workers are not moving there. We write about job announcements in the area, the recent GE / Utica facility for example. I think it is also fair to look more broadly at the region, and its struggles.

 

Me: Numbers do not tell the whole story. The economy of the Binghamton area is in the midst of a transition from light manufacturing to the knowledge economy. Binghamton University is playing an ever greater role in the community both in terms of job creation and of cultural renewal. And one bright spot on the horizon for the Southern Tier is that the industry that we do have is far less dependent of Pentagon spending than that in many other areas. Furthermore, while people are moving from the Southern Tier, the population has not changed very much over the past twenty years. As someone who moved to Binghamton from the DC area in 2000, I can assure you that the area is much better today than it was then. And like most people I know who have moved here I am convinced that the biggest problem facing the area is the crushing negativity of the local natives. Albany won’t save Binghamton and neither will Washington. We need to help ourselves and that starts with a positive attitude. But we could use a bit of help from the statewide press. For example, there was a piece in yesterday’s Times about breweries in the Finger Lakes region but no mention of the four in the Binghamton area. Nor has there been any mention of the LUMA festival that brought more than 20,000 people to the streets of Binghamton earlier this month. Oh, and have you ever heard of the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally in August? More than 100,000 other people did. The simple truth is that the NY Times has little interest in exploring what is really happening upstate beyond Duchess County. And more is the shame because we would really use an upstate edition of your paper.

Vox populi, vox demens

Letters to the editor in a local newspaper are, in a small way, the voice of the people—vox populi. And sometimes that voice is more than a bit crazy. Take, for example, a letter in today’s Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin about the forthcoming closure of the Broome Developmental Center. The author, who I shall leave unnamed, claims to be in the Human Services field but a two-minute session with a search engine reveals her to be a long-time secretary currently employed as a membership sales person at the YWCA. A worthy occupation to be sure, but hardly one that confers special insight into matter. But my real issue is not with her misrepresenting her background nor with her assertion that there is no plan in place to care for those displaced by the closure. On that she is spot on. No, my problem is with her assigning of blame for these problems. She says:

“This cut was made on the federal level to save money. Our country is already badly divided by our current presidential administration…Our country is more divided now by the President enforcing this law.”

Now, this woman claims to have a college degree. One would think that somewhere along the way, she would have learned that the president cannot spend any money not authorized and appropriated by Congress. And, since she wrote a letter to a newspaper, I assume that she has some passing familiarity with current affairs, to whit that the US Congress is controlled by the Republican Party and that the funding cuts she decries were enacted by Republican majority in the Congress. Her attempt to blame the closure of a local mental health facility on President Obama because he is “enforcing this law” is ludicrous. But she is right about one thing: the country is badly divided. That is not the fault of the current administration; it is the result of a concerted disinformation campaign by the right wing that leads people like her to write crazy letters to the editor.