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The Times
  • Despite economic upheavals, generations choose to stay in Utica

  • A young man grows up in Utica. During his childhood, he is surrounded by friends and family, and the memories he builds make him want to stay forever. Stories like that are cast in the Mohawk Valley's more prosperous past.
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    • BY THE NUMBERS, TIMELINE
      POPULATION

      1910: 154,157

      1920: 182,833

      1930: 198,763

      1940: 203,636

      1950: 222,855

      1960: 264,401

      1970: ...
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      BY THE NUMBERS, TIMELINE
      POPULATION
      1910: 154,157
      1920: 182,833
      1930: 198,763
      1940: 203,636
      1950: 222,855
      1960: 264,401
      1970: 273,037
      1980: 253,466
      1990: 250,836
      2000: 235,469
      2010: 234,878
      MEDIAN AGE
      1950: 32.9
      1960: 31.5
      1970: 29.0
      1980: 31.7
      1990: 33.8
      2000: 38.2
      2010: 41.0
      UNEMPLOYMENT
      1960: 6.5 percent
      1970: 5.5 percent
      1980: 7.5 percent
      1990: 6.3 percent
      2000: 5.5 percent
      2010: 7.5 percent (May)
      Source: Oneida County Planning Department, Census documents
      TIMELINE
      1930s

      * During the Great Depression many of the textile mills that were a mainstay of the Mohawk Valley economy closed or moved.

      1940s

      * World War II boosted the area's remaining manufacturing plants as they were retooled to supply the nation's military. Still, the mills were on their way out and after the war, there was no immediate replacement. The mills left an unemployed workforce that lacked the skills for the next generation of more technologically advanced manufacturing. Schools such as Utica College and MVCC have their roots in this period.

      1950s

      * Shrewd business leaders used their political connections to help lure new technology companies in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Chicago Pneumatic, General Electric and Bendix.

      1960s

      * More companies locate here. The so-called "loom-to-boom" period in which textile mills were replaced by new companies was in full swing.

      1970s

      * Many of the companies that had moved in during the 1950s, including Sperry Univac, begun to depart or downsize. Thousands of jobs and people left the area.

      1980s

      * More of the companies that had come in the 1950s had begun to leave.

      1990s

      * By the mid-1990s, many of those companies had shut down. Those included Lockheed Martin in 1995 and Chicago Pneumatic in 1997.

      * The loss of Griffiss Air Force Base in the 1993 federal Base realignment and Closure round dealt another blow to the area economy.

      * New York's tough tax and regulatory climate, designed to enable government to protect and support citizens in need, led instead to the departure of industry and to difficulty enticing new jobs.

      2000s

      * The hemorrhaging of jobs continued as more companies pulled up stakes. Those included Guilford Mills in East Herkimer, Rome Cable and Xerox, all in 2002.

      * There were bright spots, however. By the late 2000s, the 1,200 civilian jobs lost when Griffiss closed had been replaced at the new Griffiss Business and Technology Park.

      * Local nightlife perked up with the creation of Saranac Thursdays and the growth of the bars and restaurants on Varick Street.

      2010s

      * The nanotechnology sector appears to be on the rise as the $1.5 billion Computer Chip Commercialization Center is being built at SUNYIT and a parcel in Marcy is marketed by the state to chip manufacturers.

      * Today, about 5,800 people work at Griffiss at the military installations, at new businesses there and at local companies that relocated to the base.
  • A young man grows up in Utica.
    During his childhood, he is surrounded by friends and family, and the memories he builds make him want to stay forever.
    Stories like that are cast in the Mohawk Valley's more prosperous past.
    But conversations with three men, all of whom who were raised in the city, found what many already know: it's still happening here.
    Thomas Evans, 87, Sam Girmonde, 50, and Jason Ramirez, 27, come from different backgrounds, but despite the area's decline, their love of this place and their optimism about its future has kept them here.
    "I have my own family, in the place I grew up where I enjoyed so much, doing things I love to do," Ramirez said. "It's just being around people who are like-
    minded and really value family, that kind of stuff."
    Each man navigated the Utica of his day, with its opportunities and pitfalls. In their lifetimes, the area has seen cycles of economic expansion and contraction.
    The demise of the textile mills, the World War II boom and the rise and fall of the technology-sector jobs of the mid-20th century all profoundly impacted the communities of the Mohawk Valley.
    Today, the nanotechnology endeavors in Marcy are offering hope that a new upward cycle is about to begin.
    Whatever the economic forces at work, Evans, Girmonde and Ramirez, like thousands of others, stuck with Mohawk Valley, and are glad they did.
    They all talk about family and community.
    "I think I have been very lucky," Girmonde said. "I grew up around my family, and I have been lucky to work with my family and there are a lot of people in the area I am friends with. It is a close-knit community."
    Evans: 'It was good times'
    Born in 1926, Evans grew up at the tail end of the textile boom.
    The area economy was largely supported by companies such as Utica Knitting, whose mills employed thousands.
    Evans' father worked in a rayon mill that remained open as the Great Depression deepened, and he was able to stay there to the end of his working life.
    Though Evans is mostly Irish, many of the boys he played street games with in the East Utica neighborhoods he lived in were Italian.
    "It was good times," he said, recalling their youthful antics over pecan pie at the North Utica Denny's. "I enjoyed it."
    The other boys' fathers also worked in mills or factories — as masons or for the federal Works Progress Administration, he said.
    After serving in the Navy in World War II, Evans returned to a place where jobs were easy to come by.
    Page 2 of 3 - "You could get a job like this," he said, snapping his fingers.
    But after taking time off to care for his ailing grandfather, he found it harder to find a job. That was around 1947, after many of the mills had left but before new companies such as Chicago Pneumatic and General Electric moved in.
    Evans finally got a job with the state as a laborer and truck driver. At the same time, he started attending the newly created Utica College.
    "I was passing everything, and I thought, 'Gee, maybe I could really get a degree,'" he said.
    He did, but in 1959, it still was hard to find work in Utica. He eventually landed a job as an engineer for the state Department of Transportation, and stayed there for the next four decades.
    By the time his children, Paul, born in 1956, and Audrey, born in 1961, were coming of age, he knew things might be different for them.
    "Utica was starting to go downhill," he said. "One of the main things you saw was kids couldn't get a job."
    Paul stayed in the area and built a career as a landscape architect for the state Department of Transportation. Audrey, however, moved out west and has a job with the federal Department of Homeland Security.
    Girmonde: 'I have been pretty lucky'
    Walking into DDS Motor Sports on Oriskany Street West in Utica you are immediately hit by a blast of new-car smell.
    It's filled with motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and other sport vehicles, an outgrowth of Girmonde's love of athletics and the outdoors.
    "If you are able to stay in business for any length of time and make a comfortable living, I think I have been pretty lucky," he said.
    Girmonde's family has been in business in Utica for three generations. His grandfather owned Twin Ponds Golf and Country Club in New York Mills, and he grew up working there.
    He was surrounded by family — cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents — and he liked it that way.
    Like his father and grandfather, his livelihood is closely linked to the local economy, but he wouldn't trade the choices he has made.
    "I never really had a desire to move away," he said. "You give up closeness with family when you go, but you might give up financial gain if you stay."
    Still, he knew he had to ready his children for a tougher world.
    "We all made sure they went to college," he said. "We didn't prepare them to leave, but to stay if they wanted to stay and go if they wanted to go."
    Page 3 of 3 - Now, Girmonde's daughter is in real estate in Phoenix and his son is about to finish college and plans to move to a larger urban area.
    Ramirez: 'God had a hand in it'
    Ramirez lived in New York City until he was 5, but his roots are firmly planted in Utica.
    That's despite his parents and younger sister moving to South Carolina. His father, who is in banking, wanted a better salary than he could find here.
    Ramirez is proud to serve in the Utica Fire Department and happy to be in the city where he grew up.
    He spent lots of time playing with friends from his Mildred Avenue neighborhood, going to the Utica Zoo, watching games at Murnane Field and playing sports.
    It doesn't hurt that he married another Utica native from a firefighting family.
    "I guess you could say God had a hand in it," he said over the phone, soon after he had put his 1-year-old daughter Grayson down for a nap. "In 2009 and 2010, I met my wife and I found that job and I have been grateful for that year."
    On school breaks while attending SUNY Albany, Ramirez would come back to Utica and talk to friends about future plans. Many wanted to stay but were worried about how to make a living.
    Now, many have managed to do so by getting government jobs as firefighters, police or correction officers, he said.
    It seems to be working well for many of them.
    "Everyone is finding their niche," he said. "We are getting to our mid- to late-20s, and a situation where we can foster children and a family."
    He wants Grayson to be able to choose Utica when she grows up, too.
    "I will do my best to get her through college and give her the best chance to either stay or leave if she wants," he said. "I think she will want to stay here like I did."
    Follow @OD_Cooper on Twitter or call her at 792-5006.

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