Mid-Hudson Bridge, Poughkeepsie, New York
Our economy, whether viewed in terms of jobs, workers, or commerce, literally drives transportation activity in our county. As we have seen with the COVID pandemic, when the economy is not healthy, people commute less, make fewer shopping trips, and refrain from leisure travel, while businesses require fewer workers, demand fewer materials, and move fewer products. Assessing economic trends helps us understand how our transportation system might be affected in the future. This is challenging because our economy is currently in flux and is intricately linked to the economies of the region, including the greater New York City metro area.
For Moving Dutchess Forward, we sought to answer two main questions:
- How will our labor force (working population) change? Will we have enough workers with the necessary skills to expand the economy?
- What are the trends in the county’s economy, in terms of job types, industries, business locations, and wage rates? What do we expect in the future?
We reviewed data from a variety of sources to identify economic trends in Dutchess County. Below is a summary of key trends, their implications, and ideas for how we might address them.
Trend 1. Aging labor force and slow labor force growth
Pre-COVID forecasts show population growth in Dutchess to be flat or slow, our residents aging, young people leaving the area, and older adults delaying retirement (see Demographic Trends). These trends point to an older labor force and slow labor force growth. Some estimates indicate that the county’s core labor pool, those aged 16-54 years old, will decline by seven percent by 2040. This could mean that more workers commute into Dutchess to make up a shortfall in local employees, adding traffic on our bridges and key commute routes. It may also require companies and municipalities to work harder to attract and retain younger workers, such as by developing mixed-use, multi-modal communities. However, these projections may change as families and working people move to the area due to COVID and the nature of work evolves to incorporate more remote employment.
Trend 2. Growth in self-employment & shared-economy employment
According to forecasts developed by our sister MPO in New York City (the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council), total employment in Dutchess is expected to increase by less than seven percent from 2020 to 2045, while self-employment over the same period is expected to increase by 10 percent. Though statistics on the shared economy are hard to pin down, a 2014 New York State Department of Labor report estimated that the shared economy was growing more than 25 percent per year nationally and that the travel industry is most affected.
It is likely that self-employment in Dutchess will grow faster than overall employment, potentially accelerated by COVID-related job losses. Shared-economy employment (such as TNC drivers, Airbnb hosts, personal delivery persons, etc.) will also continue to grow, though COVID may disrupt some of this growth in the short-term. These trends may result in more off-peak trips and short, local trips. This could help reduce peak period traffic and create opportunities for non-motorized trips.
Trend 3. More people working multiple and/or part-time jobs
Before the COVID pandemic, unemployment in Dutchess County was low—just over four percent. But even with low unemployment, wages did not keep pace with inflation. In fact, median incomes for lower-income households declined. While the accommodation, food services, agriculture and tourism sectors were strong (pre-COVID), jobs in these industries have low wages and are often seasonal and/or part time with few benefits. Healthcare and education are also strong and growing with the planned Marist/Vassar Brothers Medical School, the Vassar Brothers Hospital expansion, and other developments; however, healthcare jobs are also often part-time and low wage. Job losses due to the COVID pandemic added more stress on residents trying to make a living wage.
Given these trends, we expect more people will work multiple jobs, including part-time and non-traditional hours. This could result in more trips, especially during nights, weekends, and other off-peak times. We can also expect traffic to grow substantially in the City of Poughkeepsie’s downtown, due to the planned medical school, hospital expansion, and other development. Once tourism and agriculture rebound and continue to grow, so will the need for reliable transportation options to various (often remote) destinations, both for visitors and workers.
Trend 4. Continued growth in e-commerce
The growth in e-commerce (described in detail under Freight Trends) means that local delivery trips are replacing some personal retail trips – but traffic on our roads is not decreasing: e-commerce tends to create more total trips, as well as more congestion and more pollution (though the industry is gradually shifting to electric vehicles). More truck traffic between warehouses/distribution centers and homes/businesses also increases wear and tear on our roads. E-commerce has grown in Dutchess during the COVID pandemic, and we expect it to keep growing. This means that we will need to work with freight operators and communities to find ways to accommodate e-commerce.
Trend 5. Companies retrofitting existing spaces and relocating into infill sites
While some development continues on greenfield or vacant sites, there is a trend towards retrofitting existing spaces, such as the former IBM East Fishkill campus now known as iPark 84 and smaller spaces in our city and village centers. This presents an opportunity to improve walking, bicycling, and transit options – including by working with public transit providers and private transportation operators to improve access to these sites.
Based on what we’ve learned about future economic trends, our role could include the following:
- Help municipalities plan mixed-use, multi-modal communities to attract and retain younger workers.
- Work with municipalities to improve walking and bicycling infrastructure to encourage local trips by foot and bike.
- Work with transportation providers to expand options for off-peak trips, including to key employment centers.
- Work with our cities and other municipalities as needed to manage traffic and parking, particularly in city, town, and village centers.
- Work with Dutchess Tourism, Think!Dutchess and others to identify and implement transportation improvements to support the tourism economy.
- Work with the County’s Agricultural & Farmland Protection Board and others to identify and implement transportation improvements to support the agricultural economy.