[Excerpt from CT Mirror feature article by Mary O'Leary, 10/9/2019]
New Haven — Acuity Brands, with its wraparound view of the city from its 15th-floor home at the Century Tower Building, an engineering staff that is pulling in local talent, and its workers’ appreciation of the lifestyle amenities downtown, is a marketing dream for the city.
“We love it here,” said Frank Pelliccio, senior design engineer for the international lighting systems company that originally was Sensor Switch, a tech research and manufacturing firm in Wallingford. Bought out by Acuity, it spun off the core design staff to New Haven.
“All the knowledge workers (about 40 people) came to New Haven to a better-suited space,” Steve Voils, director of platform operations, said, when the manufacturing arm was split up among multiple locations.
It is one of dozens of companies and startups that occupy offices downtown and in other locations, such as Science Park and the NHV District, part of the millions in private investment in jobs and upscale apartments that has state officials looking to the city to lead the way in growth.
Like other urban centers across the country, however, not everyone is sharing in this growth. This story looks at that dichotomy and some of the programs aimed at bridging the divide.
DataHaven, as part of its 2018 Community Wellbeing Survey, estimated that out of the 70,000 potential workers in New Haven, some 20,000, or 28%, were underemployed at various times last year. Mark Abraham and Aparna Nathan, in the summary of their report, said this means these individuals either wanted a paid job or were working part-time and needed full-time work.
The pair contend their analysis provides a more accurate picture of employment than state Department of Labor statistics that estimate there were some 3,300 unemployed New Haveners in 2018.
“Even though the kind of robot apocalypse that people are predicting isn’t upon us now and probably isn’t going to be for a while, the level of technical skills that people need for a lot of current positions is higher. The bar is being raised,” he said.
“If AI (artificial intelligence) or automation hasn’t replaced your job, you need to manage something technical to do your job,” he said. The director said the options for persons with low skill levels continue to tighten, with repetitive work now automated or artificial intelligence supplanting positions in such sectors as finance, legal services, medicine and manufacturing.
Exacerbating the situation is limited public transportation options for people who don’t have cars.
A report in 2014 produced by DataHaven, when the unemployment rate was much higher, found that persons with access to cars had an unemployment rate of 10%, while the rate for persons without cars was 35%. Unemployment has dropped significantly, but the transportation factor remains a problem, Villano said.