The Upstate Economy

Business and economic developments affecting the central and northern regions of upstate New York.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

Empty and abandoned houses, known as zombie homes, are a big problem in the North Country. The State Attorney General has awarded a total of $13 million to cities and towns across the state to help tackle the problem.

Watertown City Planner Mike Lumbis says right now the office is notified about a new vacant home in the city only if a neighbor complains about it. The $150,000 grant will allow Watertown to create a database of all the homes that are empty or going into foreclosure. That database will have information on the homeowner, Lumbis says, usually a bank.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Tax breaks from New York state are helping Welch Allyn add jobs to it’s Skaneateles Falls factory, and ensure that the company stays in central New York.

Nine hundred people currently work at Welch Allyn in Skaneateles Falls, creating the medical technology found in many doctor’s offices. The company’s been a central New York mainstay for a century, but when Hill-Rom Holdings of Chicago bought Welch Allyn 18 months ago, there was concern it would leave the area.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News

Local and state labor groups rallied in the Village of Liverpool outside of Syracuse Tuesday for a $15 an hour minimum wage in upstate New York. The state approved an increase to the minimum wage earlier this year that will bump it up to $12.50 an hour in upstate in five years. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he eventually wants upstate to reach $15 an hour.

Oliver Hine / via Flickr

Newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau finds that Syracuse is among the top 30 American cities for poverty rates, 29th to be exact. More than a third of its residents and nearly half of its children live below the federal poverty line.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

After the $76 million renovation of the former Hotel Syracuse, which is now the Mariott Syracuse Downtown, developer Ed Riley is planning on renovating another vacant Syracuse hotel.

New York State Comptroller's Office / New York State Department of Labor

A recently released report from the New York state Comptroller's office finds that upstate is lagging behind the rest of the state in recovering the jobs lost during and after the Great Recession. 

Marriott Syracuse Downtown

It’s taken 12 years, but the former Hotel Syracuse is once again open to the public. Rebranded as the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, visitors began staying at the historic structure in downtown Syracuse on Friday. It means a huge boost not only economically, but to the psyche of central New York, a region battered by a faltering economy and dwindling population in recent years.

Marriott Syracuse Downtown

Operators of the new Marriott Syracuse Downtown  opened the former Hotel Syracuse to the public last week, and are looking forward to their first full house this week.

Sasha-Ann Simons / WXXI News

On a cloudy summer morning, Rochester Institute of Technology professor Carl Salvaggio and a student from the school’s Center for Imaging Science stood in an open Pittsford field, eyes fixed on the sky. They were flying an unmanned aircraft system — also known as a drone — with the help of a longtime pilot.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has finished a dredging project at the Oswego harbor, resulting in the removal of 175,000 cubic yards of sediment. That will allow the Port of Oswego to accommodate bigger ships with more cargo.

At a press conference marking the project's completion Wednesday, Port of Oswego Authority Chairman Terrence Hammill said the port is on track to create an economic impact for central New York worth $50 million, a record amount.

Julia Botero / WRVO News


There are more than 150 abandoned homes in Watertown.  A report put out by the city assessor finds homes in the city can be empty for months, even years, before the bank takes them over.

Vacant homes have become such a problem in Watertown, the city council has had trouble wrapping their head around what to do.

Brian Phelps, the city assessor, visited hundreds of empty homes and poured over stacks of paperwork to figure out why these homes were abandoned.

 “As many vacant homes as there are, are as many individual stories.”

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

New York state has been able to offer enough incentives to keep one central New York company from moving part of its operation to South Carolina.

Tessy Plastics has two plants in Onondaga County -- one in the town of Elbridge, another in the town of Van Buren. It makes plastics products for the medical industry, but half its business is manufacturing the five plastic pieces that make up underarm deodorant containers.

Julia Botero / WRVO News


A German-owned manufacturing company in Watertown will expand its facility and add jobs to its workforce. Roth Industries only plans to add 12 jobs as of now, but any job growth in Jefferson County is positive news.

Roth Industries is in the plastic processing business. That means they use heat to mold plastics into different forms -- like into those orange rectangle-shaped traffic barriers at highway construction sites. They also make oil storage tanks and other products.

Coyote Moon


Coyote Moon Vineyards, in the Thousand Islands, has won New York Winery of the Year. The family-owned business from Clayton has earned hundreds of awards in the eight years it’s been making wine.

Coyote Moon is the winery that first brought canned wine to the North Country. Owner Tony Randazzo said the decision to can their wine illustrates the family's mission behind their company. They aim to be creative and unpretentious.

17th Annual Jefferson County Survey of the Community

A survey released this week by Jefferson Community College asked a sampling of county residents what effect they think the increase in the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour will have on their lives.

Research Director Joel LaLone says, while half of those surveyed said the increase would have no impact, 23 percent said it would make their standard of living worse.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has signed a Syracuse resident hiring ordinance into law. Officials have high hopes that this legislation can cut into the city’s high poverty rate.

The law will require contracts in excess of $100,000 dollars issued by the City of Syracuse, guarantee that at least 20 percent of the hours worked on a job will be done by city residents.

Miner signed her name to the legislation at Syracuse’s Southwest Community Center, saying these opportunities will go a long way in attacking poverty, and its side effects.

St. Lawrence Spirits

The Clayton Town Planning Board will allow St. Lawrence Spirits to launch their distillery on Route 12E in the Thousand Islands.

The decision comes days after a state Supreme Court ruled that the proposed location for the distillery does not violate zoning laws.

The lawsuit against St. Lawrence Spirits and the town of Clayton was filed by neighbors who claimed the business was too close to their homes. They fear noise from the planned inn, restaurant and distillery would be a problem.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News

A convention on the traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems will be held in Syracuse and Rome this fall. The state’s commitment to fund drone programs helped land central New York the convention.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

At its annual meeting Thursday, Operation Oswego County, an economic development organization, said it helped create and retain about 386 jobs over the past year. But, the focus of the event centered on saving existing jobs that are at risk.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

New York State Fair officials say the first half of a massive redevelopment project at the fairgrounds in Geddes will be done by the end of June.

It was just last summer that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state would sink $50 million into the aging fairgrounds -- half this year and half next. Acting Fair Director Troy Waffner says the project has come together quickly, and it will mean big changes at the facility by the time the Syracuse Nationals car show comes to town in mid-July.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

Novelis, the aluminum manufacturing plant in Oswego County, unveiled a new $120 million addition to its operation Monday. The "automotive finishing line" takes strips of aluminum through furnaces, coolers and chemicals to strengthen the metal. It was designed specifically for the 2017 Ford Super Duty truck.

Kevin Schutt, the Novelis plant manager in Oswego, said with more aluminum, trucks can increase their payload and towing capacity. It's part of an industry-wide shift toward more lightweight vehicles for superior fuel efficiency. 

Julia Botero / WRVO news

The Hounsfield Town Planning Board voted unanimously last night to allow Dollar General to build a store on Route 3, near the village of Sackets Harbor. Residents who both oppose and support the development came to the meeting to voice their opinions Tuesday evening. After a heated exchange of viewpoints, many residents walked out. Others stayed and interrupted the board’s review of the Dollar General's site plans.

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

The Jefferson County town of Hounsfield, near Sackets Harbor, may allow a Dollar General store to move in later this year, despite opposition. The town's planning board will meet Tuesday to consider a proposal to build the store at the intersection of Route 3 and County Route 75.

More than 100 residents have signed an online petition to stop the development.

Julia Botero / WRVO news

Two weeks ago, more than 150 workers at the Climax Packaging plant in Lowville were told not to come to work the next day. The plant was closing immediately and everyone would lose their jobs. Thursday, a job fair in Watertown attracted many former Climax workers looking to get back on their feet.

It was hard to find a place to park outside the Bruce Wright Memorial Conference Center. Inside, people milled around a room sometimes stopping to introduce themselves to a local employer looking to hire.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Now that a higher minimum wage is coming for workers in New York state, nonprofits plan to begin lobbying the state for more funding, in order to keep their agencies afloat.

At Access-CNY in Syracuse, the biggest number of employees are direct support professionals. Hundreds of these workers provide hands-on support for more than 3,000 central New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, acquired brain injuries and mental illnesses. They make $10-dollars and 25 cents an hour.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is introducing a new Hunger Games-style competition, this time aimed at downtown revitalization. Struggling communities in regions across the state will compete for their share of $100 million. Watertown’s mayor thinks his city has what it takes to compete.

A shrinking population? Check. A struggling economy? Check.

But Watertown’s' downtown development hasn't been all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite. The old Woolworth building was renovated into apartments. Mercy Hospital was torn down and a mixed-use building is going up in its place.

Julia Botero / WRVO News


Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), sporting protective ear plugs to block out the whirling of machines, shakes hands with workers on the factory floor of New York Air Brake in Watertown. It's the senator's first visit to the company, which has made brake systems for the railroad industry for over a century.

As Schumer pauses to study the heavy metal contraptions that make trains stop and slow down, company officials explain what he’s seeing. 

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The New York State Farm Bureau is among the most vocal groups a proposed $15 dollar minimum wage in the state. They’re asking New Yorkers to put the pressure on state lawmakers who will decide whether to include the increase in the state budget.


Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News

Included in central New York’s upstate revitalization plan is $40 million to develop an inland port that will process international freight containers coming from the Port of New York and New Jersey. The proposed location of the inland port is just outside of Syracuse in Jamesville, but another competing plan in a different location has been under consideration for years.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The wraps are off the early design for a new Perseverance Park in downtown Syracuse. The idea is to create a park with public art that draws people to the area on South Salina Street between Armory and Clinton Squares..

Jerry Van Eyck, of the New York design firm !melk, has been pondering Perseverance Park on South Salina Street for months now.

“It’s a space that’s the epicenter of downtown that is very underwhelmed and underwhelming, and we intend to change that,” said Van Eyck