N.Y. Fed president praises Fairfield County, but cites its struggles
Updated 6:17 pm, Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Fairfield County has more finance and insurance workers per capita than does New York City, but that wealth of money men and women could be hampering its economic recovery, said the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at a luncheon in Stamford on July 2.
That point was one of many made by William C. Dudley, one of the most influential voices in the United States on the global economy.
In his half-hour speech before about 60 members of the Business Council of Fairfield County, Dudley praised southwest Connecticut's educated workforce and its collection of corporate headquarters and universities as reasons to be optimistic about growth. But citing a host of statistics, he also underscored the region's slow rebound from the recent recession in relation to many of its neighbors.
The speech came at the Sheraton Stamford Hotel -- fittingly enough -- less than a mile from the Americas hub of RBS and the trading center for UBS.
"Roughly 35,000 jobs in the county, about 9 percent of total employment, are in the finance and insurance industry," Dudley said. "That's a share almost twice as large as in the nation and even slightly higher than in New York City, which surprised me."
He noted how important the high-paying jobs are to the local economy. But later, during an interview with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, he doubted that recent years of downsizing by big banks and hedge funds would likely reverse itself.
"The finance sector got very big in the run-up to the housing boom," he said. "I hope it won't go back to that."
Dudley's visit itself reflected one monkey wrench thrown into the local economy: He was supposed to deliver the address in early 2012, but a snowstorm prevented that. He was then supposed to come in October, but Superstorm Sandy walloped the region, leaving its own sizable imprint on this region's winter economic statistics.
"My meeting with you today," he said, "is part of our continuing efforts to understand what is going on at the grass-roots level."
To that effect, he outlined his whirlwind visit, which included meeting with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch to discuss redevelopment; visiting Joan Carty, president and CEO of the Connecticut Housing Development Fund to hear about the foreclosure crisis; heading to Stratford's Sikorsky Aircraft, which the week before laid off about 200 employees, to hear how federal budget sequestration is hamstringing private companies; and talking with Joseph Carbone, president and CEO of The Workplace Inc. in Bridgeport about workforce development and an innovative program for the long-term unemployed.
Then came the luncheon, after which Dudley planned to talk with staff from the University of Connecticut-Stamford about local economic development, and finally with Gov. Dannel Malloy about statewide issues.
During his speech, Dudley noted that two in five adults in Fairfield County have a college degree, about twice the national average. He also praised this region's collection of corporate headquarters and its manufacturing base of pharmaceuticals, electrical equipment and aerospace. But then came the bad news -- a gloomy collection of statistics:
Fairfield County has recouped just about 60 percent of the 36,000 jobs lost during the last recession. Meanwhile, the country at large has recouped about 75 percent and New York City has more than fully rebounded.
Home prices here -- after falling 25 percent between 2006 and early 2012 -- have risen 3 percent across Connecticut and 5 percent in Fairfield County, both considerably weaker than in many parts of the New York City Metro region and across the country.
In early 2013, the average debt per person was about $60,000 in Connecticut, but more than $90,000 in Fairfield County. However, the Fairfield County delinquency rate of 5.7 percent is similar to the national picture.
In his final remarks, Dudley emphasized Fairfield County's competitive advantages. He later voiced optimism that this region can capitalize on the sort of tech-sector growth that's contributed to New York City's rapid rebound.
"Absolutely," he said. "The value of Fairfield County is you can attract people from all over the world who want to be close to New York City, but may not want to actually live there."
For Dudley, the talk came at a high-profile period. He and several other presidents of the 12 Federal Reserve districts -- as well Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke -- have in recent days sought to reassure markets that the Fed won't abruptly halt its aggressive stimulus policies, such as its $85 billion in monthly bond buying.
Questions from the audience seeking more specifics on that point, however, failed to shine too much light.
Dudley took over the reins of the New York Fed in January 2009, after his predecessor, Timothy F. Geithner, was appointed U.S. secretary of treasury. Before joining the Fed in 2007, Dudley was a partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs, where he was the firm's chief U.S. economist for a decade.
In his post, Dudley is vice chairman and a permanent member of the Federal Open Market Committee, the group responsible for formulating the nation's monetary policy.
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