Ithaca: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Ithaca, with its ready access to the New York State Barge Canal, is an important inland shipping port. Other industries include agriculture, dairy farming, and business machine manufacturing.

High-technology firms, biotechnology, and electronics represent a rapidly growing sector of the Ithaca economic picture. The research activity at Cornell University is largely responsible for this expansion of "clean" industries. The University's Center for Advanced Technology-Biotechnology offers a wide range of services. In addition, Ithaca has a highly skilled work force. These factors have combined to provide many advantages on which new businesses are able to capitalize.

Traditional manufacturing remains a major industry in Ithaca. Borg Warner Automotive, Ithaca Peripherals, and Ithaca Space Systems have made major investments in technology and facilities in recent years. Local business growth is assisted by Cornell University's Center for Manufacturing Enterprise and the National Nanofabrication Facility, also at Cornell.

Agriculture represents a $90 million export industry that makes a significant contribution to the local economy. Agriculture research, plant science, and other research facilities attract start-up companies to the area. Tourism, especially prevalent in summer, adds another dimension to the local economy. The lakes, gorges, bed and breakfast inns, and wineries attract visitors from many parts of the world.

Ithaca has developed a local currency program called HOURS. Members of the local community can use HOURS bills to pay for rent, food, child care, and car and home repairs. While the currency is taxable income when it is used for trades that normally would be taxed, HOURS income does not reduce a person's eligibility for Social Security benefits. Supporters of the program say that it brings the community together and that the money supplied by the program is not tied to federal conditions. The program is so successful that as of 2004, at least 27 other communities in the United States had established currency programs modeled after that founded in Ithaca.

Items and goods produced: textiles, metal products, salt, electronic items, automobile and engine parts, scientific instruments, shotguns, chain drives, stokers, dairy, grain

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

In order to assist new and expanding businesses, the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency offers a variety of loans, including Community Development Revolving Loans that provide below-market-rate financing to businesses throughout the city to fund activity that results in creation or retention of jobs; very low interest rate loans to encourage investment in the West State Street corridor, West End, and Downtown areas; and Community Enterprises Opportunity Micro-Enterprise Revolving Loans of up to $5,000 for persons seeking to start or expand a small business in Ithaca. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) was formed in 1976 to refurbish dilapidated housing and create new rental units and homes for purchase; INHS invested $7.6 million in the community in 2003-04, refurbished 283 units, and assisted 57 families in purchasing homes.

State programs

The State of New York offers a variety of programs to provide financing for new and expanding businesses. They include assistance with site location, new facility construction, existing facility expansion, and modernizing of existing operations. The state also provides tax credits, exemptions, and abatements for business firms expanding in or relocating to New York. They include investment tax credits, research and development tax credits, sales tax exemptions, real property tax abatements, and economic development zone tax credits. The State of New York imposes property taxes on real property only, and not on personal property. Financial incentives are offered through the Regional Development Corporation, New York Job Development Authority, and Urban Development Corporation.

Job training programs

The Empire State Development Business Assistance Services section refers employers to a source of potential employees, identifies expert instructors, helps the company to develop a training program, and provides funding assistance.

Development Projects

The new $6.4 million Ithaca Public Library was completed in 2001. In 2005 Cornell University completed two new residence halls, the first in the state to earn "green" building certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's status. Under construction is the Ambulatory Care and Medical Education facility, a 330,000 square foot, multi-million dollar project of the Weill Cornell Medical College. Other projects include industrial parks at the Southwest Park and West End Development sites and the ongoing construction of the Center for Enterprise, Technology, and Commercialization. Ithaca's Ecovillage includes two neighborhoods of 30 homes each, built around a common area with emphasis on green construction and social sustainability. The third Ecovillage common house is scheduled for completion in 2005, and two other neighborhoods are planned.

Economic Development Information: City of Ithaca Planning and Development Department, 108 E. Green St., Ithaca, NY 14850; telephone (607)274-6550. Empire State Development, Southern Tier Regional Center, Room 1508, 44 Hawley St., Binghamton, NY 13901; telephone (607)721-8605

Commercial Shipping

Freight service is provided by Conrail. More than one-third of the population of the country lives within a day's drive of Ithaca.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Ithaca has a diverse and highly educated labor force; 26.3 percent of the members of the labor pool have bachelor's degrees, and 31.6 percent have graduate or professional degrees.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Ithaca area labor force, 2004 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 61,300

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 1,100

manufacturing: 3,900

trade, transportation, and utilities: 6,200

information: 600

financial activities: 1,600

professional and business services: 2,700

educational and health services: 31,200

leisure and hospitality: 3,800

other services: 1,300

government: 8,600

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $17.29

Unemployment rate: 3.0% (May 2005)

Ithaca: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Cornell University 8,572
Borg-Warner Automotive 1,400
Ithaca City School District 1,150
Ithaca College 985
County of Tompkins 800
Cayuga Medical Center at Ithaca 800
Wegman's Food Markets 650
Emerson Power Transmission 500

Cost of Living

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Ithaca area.

2004 ACCRA Cost of Living Index: Not reported

2004 ACCRA Average House Price: Not reported

State income tax rate: 4% to 7.7% (corporate business tax rate: 7.5%)

State sales tax rate: 4.25%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: 1.5%

Property tax rate: $2.026 per $100 of assessed value of real property (2005)

Economic Information: Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, 904 East Shore Dr., Ithaca, NY 14850; telephone (607)273-7080