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Beyond growth

Rochester has a well-deserved reputation for economic resilience. It is not known, however, for its robust growth.

Many hope that regional economic development efforts including the Upstate Revitalization Initiative will change that.

But is faster growth enough? Or do Rochester and other communities need more to ensure their well-being?

The Brookings Institution provides its answer to those questions in a recently issued report. The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, which since 2009 has tracked the nation’s recovery through its quarterly Metro Monitor, has expanded the scope of its performance rankings to include not only growth but two additional benchmarks: prosperity and inclusion.

The report on the 100 largest U.S. metro areas aims to spotlight economic success “by not only measuring economic growth but also how growth is achieved and who benefits from it.”

Notes lead author Richard Shearer: “Successful economic development strategies not only grow an economy but raise living standards for all of (a community’s) residents.”

To measure prosperity, Brookings looked at changes in productivity, average annual wage and standard of living. For inclusion, the components were changes in the median wage, relative income poverty rate and employment rate.

In the period from 2009 to 2014, nearly all metro areas grew economically, but not many saw better outcomes for middle- and low-wage workers, Brookings concluded. And disparities between whites and minorities often widened.

Rochester ranked 80th in growth and 70th in prosperity. Our region’s strongest showing was in inclusion: 26th. By comparison, Buffalo’s rankings in the three categories were 66th, 28th and 29th; Albany’s were 67th, 32nd and 33rd.

Clearly, Rochester and its upstate neighbors need stronger economic growth. But if Brookings’ analysis is correct, that should not be the sole focus.

2/26/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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