By G. Scott Thomas  – Projects Editor, Buffalo Business First

forwarded to us by Saratoga County chairman Carl Zeilman

Which Upstate New York county has the strongest economy? (Hint: It's not in the Buffalo area.)

It's a long drive from the Niagara Frontier to the Upstate New York county that has the most vibrant economy.

Saratoga County, which is 285 miles east of Buffalo, achieved the highest score in a new Business First study of the economic vitality of all 48 Upstate counties. No Western New York county fared better than Allegany and Erie, which tied for 10th place.

The test had five parts. Each county's recent performance was compared against the national and state growth rates in five categories, based on the latest statistics from three federal agencies.

If a county equaled or did better than both the national growth rate and New York's statewide rate for the past three years, it received two points in a given category. If it tied or surpassed only the state rate, it was given a single point.

No Upstate county came close to a perfect score of 10 points, a clear indication of the generally troubled condition of the region's economy. But Saratoga County, which is due north of Albany, did manage to climb past the halfway point, earning a total of six points.

The sole runner-up was Livingston County, which is south of Rochester. It received five points. Seven counties tied with four points apiece.

Breakdowns for all 48 counties can be found below. Upstate New York is defined as the portion of the state that is north of the 42nd parallel. Western New York is a subset of Upstate, encompassing Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

The state's 14 southernmost counties, which constitute the Lower Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island, are grouped as Downstate New York. They were not included in the Business First analysis.

Below are the study's five categories. Each is listed with its national and state growth rates during the most recent three-year period, as well as the source of the data.

Population. National growth rate: 2.2 percent. State rate: 0.4 percent. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of all goods and services produced in a given year. National growth rate: 6.8 percent. State rate: 3.6 percent. Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Private-sector businesses. National growth rate: 6.3 percent. State rate: 4.2 percent. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Private-sector workers. National growth rate: 5.4 percent. State rate: 5.0 percent. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Average weekly wage for private-sector workers. National growth rate: 9.0 percent. State rate: 8.3 percent. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Saratoga County earned two points in three separate categories. Its population grew by 2.2 percent in three years, its GDP expanded by 7.8 percent, and its number of private-sector workers jumped by 8.1 percent. Saratoga fell short of both the national and state norms in the other two categories.

The population increase was perhaps the most impressive part of Saratoga County's resume. No other county across Upstate New York posted a three-year population gain greater than 0.5 percent, and 42 of the 48 counties (including every Western New York county but Erie) actually suffered a decline.
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Saratoga County — Score: 6 points. Population: 2.2%. GDP: 7.8%. Businesses: 4.0%. Workers: 8.1%. Wages: 7.4%.

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