A highly skilled workforce is available to local businesses, with the three area colleges and universities providing a strong recruiting pool. Tompkins County is a regional employment center for workers from surrounding communities, and thus there is always a ready labor supply. The area also attracts experienced and skilled workers from afar for specialized employment opportunities.

The Tompkins County economic profile transformed from a durable goods manufacturing community in the 1960’s to an education center by the 1980’s. Since the 1980’s, technology firms producing high-tech products, equipment, services, and software applications have had an expanding role in local economic growth, while traditional durable goods manufacturing continues to have an important, though diminished role. Health, tourism, agriculture, and an array of business and personal services round out the primarily knowledge-driven economy.

Top Ten Occupations in Tompkins County

In 2014 the average annual wage for all occupations in Tompkins County was $45,700. The highest paid occupation category was Management with an average of $98,100, and the lowest Food Prep & Service averaging $21,700. The occupation category in greatest demand was Education Training and Library needing about 250 new entrants annually, followed by Office and Administrative support (170) new entrants, Food Prep and Serving (165), and Sales (135). Healthcare practitioners and technical (90) and Management (85) have the next level of demand for new entrants.

The very large group of Education, Training and Library Occupations is comprised of:


Bubble chart showing the Top Ten Occupation Categories in Tompkins County (2014)

Tompkins County Workforce Development Board

TCAD maintains a close partnership with the Tompkins County Workforce Development Board (WDB), and one-stop career center Tompkins Workforce NY. The WDB offers a comprehensive approach to workforce development. TCAD and WDB regularly visit with businesses to understand their business challenges. Finding the right employees is often a key issue. TCAD and WDB have also collaborated to create a workforce strategy that was released in 2010, available here.


The Changing Workforce Development Environment

Workforce development is a critical economic development activity. Both basic-skilled workers and workers with specific occupational skill sets are fundamental for the local economy to succeed.

In the workplace, technology has replaced many low-skilled jobs that used to provide family-supporting incomes and benefits. Today’s “basic-skilled” jobs tend to be in service occupations, working with the public. Thus, they require communication skills, ability to make decisions, teamwork skills, and high levels of integrity. Traditional blue-collar jobs in manufacturing, maintenance, or healthcare support occupations now require computer skills and ability to follow complex management or regulatory protocols.

Changing demographics require continuing change in the delivery of education and training. According to the US Census and Woods and Poole projections, the workforce-age population in Tompkins County was 85% white, and primarily native-born in 2000. By 2020 it is projected to drop to 75%. At the same time, the primarily white baby-boomer cohort, which is highly educated, will be well into a retirement surge. Equity in educational achievement remains a challenge for minority populations nationally and locally.[1] Tompkins County schools and training programs are developing new approaches to prepare these diverse populations in career-readiness. For example Ithaca City School District increased its on-time graduation rate from 84% in 2014 to 94% in 2016. A new career oriented high-school, serving the County’s six school districts and beyond, will be initiated in the fall of 2018.

Workforce Development and Economic Development

The primary focus of the workforce development system is connecting local employers and the local labor market. However, a number of key occupations require specialized training and experience. Those occupations, such as professors, medical specialists, and technology or management professionals are often recruited from regional or even national labor markets.

TCAD’s 2015-2020 Economic Development Strategy identifies specific objectives that increase alignment between workforce development and economic development partners.

Objective B.1: Improve access to better labor market information for employed workers, job seekers and the emerging workforce.

Objective B.2: Foster greater engagement of employers in workforce development efforts.

Objective B.3: Strengthen the workforce development system.

Learn more about the Economic Development Strategy here.

[1] Separate and Unequal, July 31, 2013, Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, ICSD report card graduation rates.