This has got to be the last straw for Utica.
The upstate New York city suffered a pair of public blows this week. On Wednesday, Foxconn announced at an event at the White House that it will site a new tech factory in Wisconsin. Utica had aggressively pursued a $7 billion factory bid with Foxconn, which makes flatscreen components for Apple.
Insult followed injury when President Donald Trump, who announced the deal with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, told upstate New Yorkers that they should simply follow the jobs to Wisconsin.
“I'm going to start explaining to people, when you have an area that just isn't working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you'll have another area 500 miles away where you can't get people, I'm going to explain, you can leave,” the president told The Wall Street Journal. “It's OK. Don't worry about your house.”
This is the second time that Trump has trampled on the city’s ambitions.
Over at least the last decade, Utica has embraced a vision of itself as a “second-chance city,” one that opens its arms to refugees. “The Town That Loves Refugees,” reads a 2005 promotional report on Utica by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This reputation was hard to reconcile with the fact that Oneida County went for Trump by 59 percent in the November 2016 presidential election—and his victory led to soul-searching for Utica’s immigrant and refugee population.
For the president to then tell Utica’s 62,000 residents to sit on it means that he’s curbed the region’s best strategy for growth—resettling refugees—and given them nothing in return. Whether Utica was ever as progressive as some of the literature claimed is an open question, as Kavitha Rajagopalan explained in Next City before the election. The point may be moot now. Utica must brace for worse than shade from Trump.
To lose out on a factory that will now bring 13,000 jobs and $10 billion in development to southeastern Wisconsin comes as a blow, especially after an Australian semiconductor company scotched plans to build a $2 billion factory in Utica late last year.
There may have been a grain of truth in the president’s comment about housing in Utica (“Don’t worry about your house”). Under his proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Oneida County would lose millions in housing aid. Affordable Housing Online estimates that HUD budget cuts would cost the county $7.3 million annually, stripping public housing funds that would affect more than 900 families and eliminating Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) funds that support more than 350 families.Those cuts may sting worst in Oneida County’s three urban centers (Rome, Sherrill, and Utica, the county seat).
About 36 percent of the county lives in rural areas, the kinds of places that floated Trump’s rise to the White House. They won’t be spared, either. Sonny Perdue, secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced in May that he was eliminating the position of the Undersecretary of Rural Development, a first step in reorganizing the department and slashing its funding by 21 percent.
“We are seeing an unfortunate trend with the Trump budget and the USDA reorganization to disinvest in rural communities—even at a time when rural communities are facing economic challenges beyond those in the rest of the country,” Ben Lilliston, analyst for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, told the Daily Yonder.
Perhaps Trump meant to allude to the negative equity rate in Oneida County, where 9.4 percent of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages (and another 21.4 percent are effectively underwater), according to a first-quarter 2017 report by Zillow. Or maybe he simply overestimates the economic mobility of Uticans. An advocacy coalition called Opportunity Nation created a nationwide “Opportunity Index” to measure economic mobility based on a number of factors: unemployment rate, education rates, rental affordability burden, and so on. Oneida County gets a C+.
Trump’s comments notwithstanding, there may be a place that’s worse off than Utica in the deal the president announced on Wednesday: southeastern Wisconsin. The Washington Post reports that the Foxconn deal will in fact cost the state $230,700 per worker. Trump doesn’t understand that Wisconsin’s new factory won’t be an opportunity for Utica residents. It’s not even a good deal for Wisconsin.