Can the Northwest be won again?
Upstate New York has seen its downs. Here's our guide to the key locations in a region teetering on reinvention.
The American hub for Canadian flyers
When the Pentagon shut down the Plattsburgh air force base in 1995, it looked like it would be a disaster for the local economy. But local authorities fought for federal funds to redevelop the site as a commercial airport, and in 1997 opened with the unlikely model of Bellingham, Washington, which is just south of Vancouver and gets most of its traffic from Canada.
Plattsburgh International Airport is 30km from Canada, and does almost all of its marketing north of the border. “Montréal’s US airport” has a handful of discount carriers, led by Allegiant, which target winter destinations in Florida. Of the airport’s 90,000 passengers each year, 85 per cent are Canadian. “We’ve outgrown the airport,” says North Country Chamber of Commerce vice-president Michele Powers. More people work at the airport today than was the case when it was a military base.
A city built on innovation, now having to refocus
In 1888, George Eastman introduced his Kodak camera, which took pictures on film instead of glass. Twelve years later, Eastman Kodak created the first point-and-shoot Brownie camera. It was no accident that Eastman’s inventions – which put photography truly in the hands of amateurs – came out of Rochester: 30 years earlier John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb had opened an optical shop that pioneered lens design.
Kodak, though, was slow to adjust to the digital era, and its one-time blue-chip stock now trades for less than $5 a share. Still, Rochester retains much of the industry infrastructure, cultivated through local universities and George Eastman House, a museum and archive. There is hope that the next great digital breakthrough could come from Rochester: officials say the city produces 2.33 patents for every 1,000 workers, more than five times the national rate. Two-thirds are in optics, imaging and photonics.
The centre for the hoteliers of the future
Founded in 1922, Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration was the first programme in hospitality management made available at university level.
Based in Ithaca, the school approached the city’s historic Statler Hotel to serve as a training ground – a hands-on model that has been replicated in universities across the country. It now has 60 full-time staff and a growing network of influential alumni.
The US hotel industry recovered more quickly than expected post-recession. While the property and job markets struggle, the hospitality sector is on the up, with income predicted to have increased 5.6 per cent in 2010, compared with a drop of almost 40 per cent the previous year.
As a focal point for hospitality research and training — and frequently a host to leading figures in the industry — Ithaca should be able to capitalise on the newfound buoyancy of America’s hotel market.
4. Lake Placid
Ski facilities used for the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics may be shut down due to state budget cuts.
The state’s median per-capita income is $23,389 (€17,671) but in its capital city – where more than a fifth of people live in poverty – it’s only $18,281 (€13,812).
Within the city limits 72 per cent of homes were built before 1940. In its inner suburbs that figure is 16 per cent.
7. Seneca Lake
There are more than 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes region.
In 2009 General Motors closed an outdated plant producing its powertrain engine after nearly five decades, with a loss of 500 jobs.
After major population loss, Utica has eagerly welcomed refugees, particularly from Bosnia, Belarus and Vietnam.
Until recently Elmira had the lowest single-family home prices in the US. But prices have jumped nearly 20 per cent in three years.
The original HQ for General Electric, which once employed 40,000 people. Now just 3,000 work for GE.
The baseball Hall of Fame draws 350,000 visitors annually.
13. Niagara Falls
A major wedding destination.