Niagara Falls: A Tale of Two Cities

Same falls, different countries. Why are the economies so different?

Sept. 16, 2008 — -- As manufacturing jobs left the area in droves, upstate New York's economy has been struggling for well over a decade.

Rome, N.Y., once known as Copper City for its wire mills, suffered a major blow when an Air Force base shut down in 1995.

As "GMA" passed through the city on its Whistle-Stop Tour, residents talked about the tough times they've faced.

"Rome doesn't have anything for jobs," one unemployed woman told Robin Roberts. "If you want a good job, you need to be able to travel outside of Rome."

Falling on Two Different Countries

Niagara Falls, which spans both America and Canada, provides a telling example of the region's economic troubles.

Walk down what was once the main shopping thoroughfare on the New York side, and you'll see boarded-up storefronts and deserted sidewalks.

Across the waterfalls in Canada, though, shine the bright lights of casinos, hotels and restaurants.

The average household income in Niagara Falls was $26,800 in 1999, according to the most recent census data available, well below the average U.S. income of about $43,400 that same year. The average annual household income on the Canadian side of the border in 2001 was $47,800.

While the average home on the New York side of the falls is about $61,000; in Canada, the average home is worth more than $100,000.

"I can't figure out why our government doesn't see what's going on there to bring it all over here -- and the tourism," a woman watching her son's hockey game told Diane Sawyer.

Perhaps most disturbing to many in New York is the number of young people leaving because they can't find jobs. Between 1990 and 2007, the population fell by 10,000 people, according to the U.S. Census.

"We have great universities, great state colleges. To educate your child here is wonderful, but to go beyond that they have to relocate," another mom said.

A group of teen boys also watching the hockey game said the job opportunities were mainly fast-food service and some construction.

But several said they wanted to stay in town -- if only they could earn a living.

"It's hometown spirit," said one young man.

Green Future?

With all the talk about ending U.S. dependence on foreign oil, politicians could look to the Falls.

Niagara Falls provides some 2.4 million kilowatts of clean, less expensive electricity and is an example of federal, state and local governments working together to build and manage a green energy source.

But because it has been becoming more difficult to harness hydroelectric power, "we need to move on to the next generation of technologies," said Nathanael Green, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit environmental group.

Many, including oilman T. Boone Pickens, say wind is the future of clean, renewable energy and could create a whole new economic sector with plentiful jobs.

"To be able to accomplish the goal of hitting our renewable energy targets, we estimate that that's going to require about 43,000 new, what we call green-collar jobs, clean-energy jobs, in New York state," said Gil Quiniones, acting CEO of the New York Power Authority.

And modernizing the United States' aging power grids will help support a new type of energy and output.

"With a broad array of renewable energy technologies, we could eventually, entirely wean ourselves from fossil fuels," said NRDC analyst Green. "It's not going to happen overnight, but we can do it."

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