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Suffolk's GDP edged past Nassau's in 2018, according to federal study

Shoppers at Tanger Outlets in Deer Park; consumer

Shoppers at Tanger Outlets in Deer Park; consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity on Long Island and across the country. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County’s economy is slightly larger than that of Nassau County for the first time, according to data released on Thursday.

Suffolk’s gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced in the county, totaled $81.21 billion in 2018, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported. Nassau’s GDP totaled $81.19 billion in 2018.

It’s only the second time the bureau has released county-level GDP figures and the first time that the data stretches back to 2001. The figures are adjusted for inflation, according to bureau spokesman Thomas Dail.

National GDP totaled $18.6 trillion in 2018; GDP for the New York metro area was $1.5 trillion, according to the bureau.

Experts said one of the reasons that Suffolk moved ahead of Nassau in terms of size of economy is that Nassau’s GDP contracted 0.1% between 2017 and 2018 while Suffolk’s GDP expanded 0.1% in the same period.

Richard Vogel, an economist and dean of Farmingdale State College’s business school, said “a minor shift in population” from one county to the other in the past two years may have given Suffolk the edge over Nassau.

He said there may be “some cost and regulatory differences for licenses, real estate and other aspects of doing business” that favor Suffolk.

Nassau saw declines in durable-goods manufacturing, finance/insurance, government and lodging/food service sectors between 2017 and 2018, the data show.

Since 2001, Nassau’s economy has contracted year over year on six occasions. Suffolk’s economy has contracted three times in the same period.

Suffolk is geographically larger than Nassau, has a bigger population, and is home to much of the region’s manufacturing and construction activity.

Among New York State’s counties, Suffolk ranked No. 4 behind Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn in terms of size of economy. Nassau was No. 5.

Both Long Island counties had slower economic growth than the state and metropolitan area. State GDP rose 1.2% between 2017 and 2018 while metro area GDP was up 1.6%.

Still, that’s not a cause for concern, said John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group and a Stony Brook University professor.

“We’re at full employment; the unemployment rate has been below 4% since April 2018,” he said on Thursday. “The economy is performing at capacity, it’s hard to do better than we’re doing. I’m not worried about the data released today.”

The new data show that the private sector is bigger in Nassau, accounting for $72 billion in economic activity last year, compared with $69 billion in Suffolk.

Both counties saw an expansion of the health care and professional services sectors between 2017 and 2018. The government, finance/insurance and lodging/food service sectors contracted in both counties, year over year.

Nassau GDP totaled $71.7 billion in 2001 and added $9.5 billion in the subsequent 18 years. Suffolk GDP totaled $62.8 billion in 2001 and added $18.4 billion in the same period. 

Vogel, the Farmingdale State economist, said Thursday that 2019 GDP may be impacted by the 2018 federal government shutdown and 2017 federal tax law changes, which capped at $10,000 deductions of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns.

“There had been concerns throughout the past two years of a possible [economic] slowdown,” he said. “Also, the Fed raised interest rates in 2018 and Long Island may have been sensitive to those rate increases.”

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