Geography. That’s all you need to know about the district of the newly appointed Secy. of the Army, Rep. John M. McHugh — NY-23. If New York State were Italy, NY-23 would be the top of the boot, snuggled up against Switzerland and Austria. Only in NY-23’s case, it’s the part of New York State that snuggles up against Lake Ontario and Quebec, Canada.
Buffalo, NY might get all the Weather Channel coverage, but NY-23, especially the part that is to the east of Lake Ontario, Watertown, Fulton, Oswego (and points north and east – the Tug Hill Plateau), get snows that make Buffalo look like Florida in comparison. When storms get stuck on the lake, Watertown gets 6’ of snow. . . in four days.
People in NY-23 understand the cold and love of snow machines a lot.
Now that President Obama has put McHugh’s seat into play by nominating him for the top Army slot, it might be interesting to take a look at the area. Politically, it’s a swing area – George W. Bush took it twice, but Obama took it in the last election. Democrats are not strong here, but the military is. Fort Drum’s unit has been in and out of Iraq ever since the very beginning. People in NY-23 understand "coming home."
Here are a few demographics for the region, which runs from Watertown on the west all the way to the Vermont border and from Oneida and Madison County on the south to the St. Lawrence River – the Canadian border with Quebec – on the north, with large chunks of the Adirondack Park contained within it. Demographic estimates courtesy of Census.gov, the 2007 estimates.
Households: 248,829, 168,437 families.
Education: 85.4% with a HS diploma or better; 7.7% have at least a BS
Sales and Office: 23%
Employment within industries:
Median Household income: $42,473
Per Capita Income: $20,541
% of Families under the poverty line: 11.2%
% of Homes as mobile homes: 14.1%
% of Homes built before 1979: 69%
Fuel Oil/Kero: 40.2%
% of Homes under $150,000: 78.3%
Median home value: $88,100
Of the four military bases that used to exist in Upstate New York, three (Plattsburgh, Rome and Fort Drum) were located in NY-23. Plattsburgh closed in 1995, and is now a fairly successful airport and commercial development (Pratt and Whitney, Bombardier, and Westinghouse Air Brake are there). Rome has not been successful at developing at all; the USAF has a research center there employing almost 900 people. The largest employer in that county (Oneida) – not healthcare related – is the Oneida Indian Nation with their casino operations. Fort Drum is a major employer and influence in their Lake Ontario region.
As can be seen from the percentages of employment, education is a huge employer in the North Country, both from a public and private college standpoint:
Potsdam: SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson College
Plattsburgh: SUNY Plattsburgh
Canton: SUNY Tech College and St. Lawrence University
Oswego: SUNY at Oswego
Plus such smaller institutions as Paul Smiths College and the various community colleges.
One industry that used to be huge in this part of the state is lumber and furniture. Two factors have come together which have squeezed these out. NYS has made huge efforts to buy up all the acreage in the Adirondack Park to save it from development and furniture companies have been moving their manufacturing offshore for years. In March of this year, the last piece of private lumber company land, 92,000 acres, was purchased as an ecological investment by the government of Denmark to save it. The last paper mill, in Glens Falls (Finch Pruyn) has an agreement with NYS that they will be furnished with wood harvested from the Adirondacks for at least 20 years. There are still some furniture manufacturers in the district (Harden Furniture in McConnellsville is one), but they will no longer be able to obtain their wood from lumber company lands in the Adirondack Park and will be sourcing their wood from other areas in Upstate NY (which is OK since 70% of the state is forested and hardwood supplies are very good).
So, what we have with NY-23 is a district which is not only rural, but heavily dependent on seasonal tourism, government spending, and institutional spending. The traditional, natural resource based economy has basically been supplanted with tourism, but there is still some manufacturing in the area.
Whoever replaces McHugh has to be very cognizant of the role of the military in the area – and how the military abandoned two major bases which caused large economic upheavals – and must be prepared to deal with a district whose interests are in protecting what they have and getting development dollars in a big way.