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What happened to our vibrant, regional economy?

By Norman Poltenson


I hear it all the time. Our region was once the manufacturing hub of America, which created wealth and employment. Our children remained in the area because of the abundant opportunities and family ties.

No more. Today we have lost our industrial base and replaced it with institutions of higher education and health-care facilities.

A glance at The Business Journal’s Book of Lists from 1993 confirms the rapid transformation. Two decades ago, manufacturing powerhouses like Carrier; Oneida, Ltd.; New Venture Gear; Syracuse China; J.J. Pietrafesa; and Syroco filled the pages of the area’s largest companies. A review of the 2012 Book of Lists “largest companies” is headed by Upstate Medical University, Cornell University, United Health Systems, Faxton St. Luke’s, Syracuse University, and Binghamton University. Of the first 25 on the current list, only four companies are manufacturers.

The despondency over the loss of our local economy reminds me of how America must have bemoaned the loss of our rural way of life. In 1900, half of all our citizens still lived on farms in order to feed the other half. Today, the ranks of our farmers represent less than 2 percent of the population, but the agricultural community not only feeds all of America but also the rest of the world. I’m not aware that anybody still lies awake at night bemoaning the transformation.

While large institutions of education and health care, better known as “eds and meds,” occupy the ranks of the area’s largest employers, our region today also supports a beehive of activity of companies which drive the new economy. Central New York, the Mohawk Valley, Greater Binghamton, the Finger Lakes, and the North Country encompass hundreds of mid-size companies, which are growing rapidly both in revenue and in employment. Names like Bankers Healthcare Group, BlueRock Energy, Byrne Dairy, Agro-Farma, Upstate Shredding, Polaris, PPC, and Usherwood are examples of dynamic companies that are driving the growth.

Because most of these new companies are privately held, they often operate under the radar, unknown not just to the local citizenry but also to the business community. No longer — it’s time to shine a spotlight on the new economy. On July 20, The Business Journal will release the first, comprehensive listing of the largest 500 companies in a 16-county region surrounding Syracuse. The publication is designed to highlight those firms that represent half of the area’s GDP and half of its employment.

Taking a page from the annual Fortune 500, we have dubbed the new publication the Business Journal 500. The Business Journal 500 will contain an alphabetical listing of the companies with valuable information about each company’s size and its key management team. The publication will also contain cross-reference lists of the companies in descending order by annual revenue and by number of employees.

The information contained in the Business Journal 500 is compiled by our staff of researchers, reporters, and editors, who update the information continually. The publication includes all corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, which are headquartered in the area or which have a substantial presence.

The Business Journal 500 tells an important part of the story of what happened to our regional economy. We are convinced that the community will find it a valuable resource of companies which range in size from multi-billion dollar entities to those generating less than $20 million.

It’s not often that we toot our own horn at The Business Journal, but the Business Journal 500 heralds a new direction in our continuing commitment to gather and disseminate valuable news and information about the business community. July 20 is the start of a new annual publication. We trust you will find it valuable as a resource in explaining our vibrant, regional economy.    


Norman Poltenson is publisher of The Central New York Business Journal. Contact him at

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