, Gloucester, MA

July 5, 2013

Editorial: City must address development needs, lagging jobs picture

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — On the surface, the latest local jobs figures from the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development should be something for Gloucester business and development officials to celebrate.

After all, a 15.5 percent jump in any city’s unemployment rate doesn’t show up every day, even as the calendar shifts from April to May and the beginning of the tourism season for seasonal businesses, especially restaurants and others in the service industry.

But a closer look inside the numbers and the collection of data by both federal and state agencies shows perhaps a more realistic picture — and the significant flaws that are part of any jobs or employment study. And those are rooted in the fact that the data is drawn largely through the numbers of people who are registered through the unemployment system.

That’s never been more evident than in May’s Gloucester jobless numbers that, while showing the 15.5 percent drop in the city’s rate — show that more than 200 fewer people were unemployed in May than in April, the city stunningly showed a slight drop — by 11, from 14,542 to 14,531 — in the number of people who were working as well.

Those are figures that might, at one time, have given Freud a headache. But they become more understandable when you note, as shown in Tuesday’s Page 1 Times story, that the number of people listed in the city’s recognized workforce fell from 15,869 in April to 15,639 in May — at a time when returning students, new graduates and seasonal workers should be boosting the workforce numbers.

Why? State and national analysts have often indicated that a drop in workforce figures shows that, in reality, far more people remain unemployed but have fallen off the unemployment benefit rolls and are unaccounted for. That should indeed raise red flags for Gloucester business and economic officials who, rather than saluting a drop in the jobless rate, need to address a still struggling economic base.

Some job losses have no doubt come this summer from a fishing industry reeling from a federally-recognized “economic disaster” that, lest we forget, was federally driven in the first place. But Gloucester’s lagging jobs picture is also tied to delays in the Beauport Gloucester hotel project, and especially to the still-languishing, city-owned I-4, C-2 site, which, for all its potential, has barely reeled in a dime of income or generated a single job in the three-plus years the city and its taxpayers acquired it.

The forming of a new private-sector development corporation, outlined last month in a letter from The Gloucester House’s Lenny Linquata, holds potential for building consensus for the city’s waterfront.

And next Wednesday, the city’s Community Development Department, headed by Tom Daniel, will host the first of three planned economic and harbor development workshops at 6 p.m. at City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium, in the first of Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s three latest “listening posts” to hear and hopefully heed public input.

But the city’s jobs need is beyond the nebulous talking and “idea development” stages. And, while perhaps facilitating the private sector’s efforts, it’s time that the city took on specific projects, like revisiting its marketing of the I-4, C-2 property, and pushing for changes or a lifting of the state’s constricting Designated Port Area mandates.

A drop in the city’s employed and workforce numbers — even accompanied by a deceptive drop in the jobless rate — should be a very real call for help in a city that, especially through its fishing industry, faces perhaps more economic challenges than at any other time in recent history.

Let’s hope our elected officials recognize the increasingly urgent need to address that as well.