Governor Paterson’s annual S.O.S. (State of the State) was given yesterday. You can read the address here; and more about the plan. A lot of attention has been given to the reform angle of his speech, but I’m feeling very out of touch with reform sport these days (it’s kind of like “dance sport” – but even though it’s not allowed in the Olympics there’s still always gold involved). The big story, for this blogger, is how Paterson seem to abandon all rosy rhetoric about reviving Upstate economically as a green-tech or higher-educational-research hub. Very little new said about that. No, those halcyon days are past:

New York State is home to an estimated 60,000 back office jobs. The Paterson Administration will focus on expanding the State’s back office opportunities by making Upstate New York the preferred back office for corporate America. There is no denying that we have the workforce, space and livable communities to support these office operations throughout Upstate New York.

For those of us with unglamorous back office careers in Upstate New York — getting up dutifully, eating our thin morning gruel, slogging through the snow each dawn to serve our daily 9 to 5 sentences — it’s comforting to know that soon we’ll be joined by thousands of economic refugees eager to compete with us for our Bartleby the Scrivener jobs. Because you know, in all seriousness, the Creative Class b.s. was getting hard to stomach (even the Creative Class itself can no longer stand it). Nice to see that our governor isn’t into selling snake oil either.

However, if this is what the governor means by “back office operations,” I really must protest:

When Tobias “Bags of Money” Boyland went looking for a new career after serving 13 years in prison for armed robbery and drug dealing, he quickly found something that suited his sensibilities: He opened a collection agency.

It was, in some ways, a natural move for a young man in Buffalo. Desperate for jobs, this chronically depressed Rust Belt city has become home to one of the biggest concentrations of debt collection businesses in the U.S. “Collections is the Bethlehem Steel of Buffalo,” said Boyland, 44, recalling the industrial giant that once employed 20,000 people in the region. “You can make a decent living in a town where there isn’t a lot of opportunity.”

Yet, law enforcement and consumer groups point to a dark side: Buffalo, they say, has also become a center for some of the worst elements in the business. Debt collectors, some of them convicted felons, have illegally posed as lawyers or unlawfully browbeat people — threatening to have them arrested or stripped of custody of their children — to scare them into making payments.

“Get some clean clothes because you’re not coming home any time soon,” one debtor was told.

Such a deal! Wall Street gets to remain the head of the business operation, while way way on the opposite end of the state, Buffalo gets to be its asshole. (As for the new revival of “Upstate’s traditional manufacturing industries,” as Paterson mentioned in his plan, there certainly will be an increased need for brass knuckles and tire irons.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it actually does. Wow. Why are we staying with this guy? Maybe the plan is not so bad. Is it?

The only other thing Paterson had to say about Upstate was highlighting Buffalo as the starting point for a Sustainable Neighborhoods Project:

“There is no other region of the country with the affordable housing stock, the close-by schools, the natural beauty and the untouched small towns that families would cherish.”

Yes, after a long hard day on the phone chain-smoking and threatening to take people’s kids away, you too can go home to your picket fence.

Oh, and he also mentioned the Erie Canal. Gotta do that, or else it doesn’t count as a State of the State.


9 thoughts on “S.O.S.

  1. sean

    i have nothing to add. this is brilliant. throw-your-self-over-niagara-falls brilliant, but brilliant nonetheless.


  2. Robinia

    Not sure that you are reading “back office” quite the way that they are envisioning it. At least, if it is the same thing that the Binghamton Econ Dev folk were all talking about– it is also, in that respect, not all that new…. although, new since 9-11 new.

    Here’s the deal, as I understand it. After 9-11, a whole passel of the Big Biz decisionmakers came to the patriotic decision that NYC was not, you know, all that “safe.” So, lots of them proceeded to consider which aspects of their operations actually NEEDED the Manhattan address and access, and which could move, say, to Jersey. Lots of “back office” operations were moved. This was a big hit to NYC/NYS tax collections, because it also made it easier for some of those employees to live in Jersey, or even PA.

    But, what you are describing is not really the stuff, as far as I can tell. It’s not collections– its more like bookkeeping and data warehouses. Esp. data warehouses– let’s put all that computerized record storage somewhere where the rent is way cheap, lots of empty commercial buildings… and no terrorist would even think of bombing. But, while these facilities use up a lot of space and pay real estate taxes (maybe through rent), they don’t really have much in the way of jobs. A couple of tech guys, a few guards, a custodian… and lots of servers. Heck, Binghamton could be the new, automated back-office capital… few messy and inconvenient human workers needed.

    Makes collections or call centers look attractive.

  3. Phil

    I survived six years in a “back office” job–my first real job out of college. I rated fire insurance and assigned risk auto policies at a regional processing center for an insurance company that no longer even does business in the United States. By the end of my tenure I seriously thought I was losing my mind–nothing postal mind you, just a constant angst-filled dread of another day (especially painful on Sunday nights.)

    When I left that job, I went to work as a VISTA volunteer (the domestic Peace Corps–called Americorps since the Clinton years) at Auburn Correctional Facility. Believe me, this humanities schooled college guy wrote many a horrible poem, short story etc. on the irony of having to go to a maximum security prison to become free and the similarities between wage slaves and and prisoners of the state.

  4. Phil

    As an upstate NY community organizer working on issues of vacant housing, I am ecstatic that Gov. Patterson has committed himself to do something about the issue. For too long, NY State governors, if they thought about housing at all, only saw a bunch of NY city folks browbeating them about rent control.

    Maybe the funding we get to help families stay in their homes and change local housing policy to reflect low income families needs will not be cut too drastically. Maybe there will be more funding for low income families to get loans to repair their homes (since mainstream banks redline us.) Maybe non-profit housing agencies can get financing to repair abandoned homes for new owner-occupants–since the private market has walked away from low income neighborhoods (no Parade of Homes on the Southside!)

    Of course, the big question is will any of these plans survive the Patterson administration–quite possibly less than a year from now.

  5. Ellen

    “In Paterson’s plan, local officials will designate blighted homes for rehabilitation and sale to first time homeowners; houses will be marketed as long-term affordable housing and homeowners would be selected through a lottery process.”

    (from http://www.buffalorising.com/2010/01/paterson-on-sustainable-neighborhoods-project.html )

    Are they going to designate these homes clustered together (I suppose in Buffalo you could do that), or are they just going to scatter these first-time homeowners all over the place?

  6. Phil

    So much for hoping Patterson cared about housing. Latest budget cuts Neighborhood Preservation and Rural Preservation programs by 29% Back to the bad ol’ Pataki days.

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