In the darkening days of winter, things may be brightening up for the New Haven economy.
The latest jobs report from the U.S. Labor Department released Jan. 6 said that employers across the country added 200,000 jobs in December, pushing the national unemployment rate down from 8.7 percent to 8.5 percent by the end of 2011. In line with the national trend, recent data from the Connecticut Department of Labor shows that New Haven is experiencing job growth, signaling growing momentum in the Elm City’s recovery from the 2008 recession.
Although New Haven employment statistics have not yet been released for December, the DOL’s latest report — released in November — said the city unemployment rate dropped from 13.8 percent to 12 percent between September and November 2011 — an addition of roughly 1,000 jobs.
“While the current economic situation is still shaky, this is an encouraging sign,” said Michael Piscitelli, the city’s deputy economic development administrator. “We didn’t have a huge employment dip following the recession, and we have a high concentration of jobs held by New Haven residents.”
New Haven unemployment remains significantly greater than the national average, Piscitelli added, but given that the jobless rate reached 14.3 percent in New Haven and 17.1 percent in Hartford last January, New Haven’s current 12 percent is a significant improvement.
Piscitelli said the recent economic vitality has been driven by strong manufacturing, health care, education and creative industries. He added that these sectors form the city’s economic base, and that they have expanded hiring over the past few months.
Anthony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said employment statistics for December look as though they will continue the positive trend. At a Dec. 20 press conference, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said December is usually a strong retail month due to holiday shopping, and that 2011 brought the strongest retail market “in recent memory.”
Piscitelli said the city’s economic base and the retail industry are intertwined — when fundamental sectors like health care and education grow, retail tends to expand as well.
Both Piscitelli and Rescigno said the positive employment developments can be attributed to local and state government policies as well as “strategic decisions” from core employers in New Haven. Such policies, they said, include improved incentives for businesses looking to locate in the area as well as more accessible loans and state grant funding.
“Over the past year [Governor Dannel Malloy] has improved the economic outlook for the state and send the message that Connecticut is open for business,” said Rescigno.
Piscitelli added that both Malloy and DeStefano have worked to bring startups and creative industries like information technology and media to New Haven. He said these businesses are attracted to the Elm City because major research universities, such as Yale, allow for “cross-pollination of ideas” and collaborative study.
Rescigno said he predicts that New Haven will see continued employment growth over the next six months, though it will not be the “gang-buster” job creation necessary to return New Haven to pre-2008 employment levels.
Anne Haynes, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, said that some of New Haven’s large-scale institutions and developments are acting as “magnets” for the city, fueling consumer-driven businesses such as restaurants and retain stores. She cited projects including the newly constructed 360 State Street apartment complex and the retail outlets that have sprung up around the building as one example of this phenomenon.
Haynes added that the Gateway Community College campus currently under construction downtown will be a key magnet for new business when the $198 million project is completed in fall 2012.
Nationally, the unemployment rate peaked at 9.6 percent in 2010.