Playing a Gig? What does it mean to the Saratoga County economy?

Marty VanagsThe word “gig” comes from the creative and performance art industry wherein a date to perform is referred to as gig. Jazz musicians popularized the word in the 1920s for short term jobs and “regular gig” was a job they could could return to on a periodic basis. The gig economy is being talked about more and more. Particularly on the west coast where it is used in the tech sector. The gig economy or the 1099-economy is growing and it is of great consternation to many who expect, want, and need long term employment for the benefits it offers.

Can the Saratoga County region benefit from the gig economy, or it is disrupting our way of life and our social fabric? One part of the gig economy has been here for quite some time right under our noses. Every August a great number of people  become part of the gig economy when they become part-time inn keepers to take advantage of our annual equine sports at the Saratoga Race Course. Many people abandon their homes so they can rent them out to strangers at many times unbelievable prices. This is part of the gig economy. When ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft become is allowed in upstate New York, this will give others an opportunity to become part of the gig economy.

The gig economy is appealing to many. It is said it is especially appealing to the millennial generation that is attracted to the idea of not working for one company all their lives. Instead they would rather enjoy the excitement of working various jobs in various places whenever, wherever they want. But it is not limited to millennials. In fact, the rise of the gig economy has impacted all age groups. The gig economy is here to stay as corporations take advantage of its benefits.

Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution in an article last year in the Wall Street Journal said, “the shift to alternative work arrangements matters for policy makers because it represents a fundamental reorientation of the social contract within which millions of Americans work.” The old jobs our father and grandfathers wherein one career and one employer and all the benefits and retirement and security that brought is rapidly disappearing. Muro goes on to say, “but how can the technological and business-model innovation of the gig economy be managed and enhanced to ensure it helps deliver a measure of economic security for the millions of Americans who are beginning to depend on it?”

Marty Blog GraphicThe question is, should it be managed, or should this aspect of our economy be left to its own devices. Technology, while we all love it as we keep our noses and fingertips glued to our screens, is changing how we work. It is destroying the jobs that we once thought would be around forever, yet it makes our world incredibly convenient and sometimes fun.

In Saratoga County we see the gig economy manifest itself in several ways. At the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, we are continuing to see how we can promote and encourage those who want to participate in this part of our economy. Co-work space, incubation, and other opportunities to “be my own boss” will be part of the economic mix for years to come. Measuring our success as economic developers may very well include counting jobs outside the traditional jobs in traditional companies.