The Colgate Scene
July 2006

A message from Director of the Upstate Institute Jill Tiefenthaler
Higher education as an industry: strategic opportunities for upstate revitalization
[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

Central New York is beginning to seize on its intellectual capital.

Supported by an economy historically driven by manufacturing — a sector that this region has seen fall into a pronounced state of decline in recent years — leaders in central New York are beginning to think about the future of the region and how we can focus our existing strengths on revitalization.

The existing economic model simply is not sustainable. New York ranks first nationwide in terms of tax burden. Upstate population growth has stagnated, because many of our young people — particularly the most educated — are leaving the area. Both employment and earnings have grown at a significantly slower rate in central New York than in the rest of the country.

How, then, do we reverse these trends in the 21st century? The first instinct might be to attempt to attract any business that will bring us jobs. Numerous states and local communities nationwide are aggressively competing for businesses, and they are offering ever-larger incentives to any company that promises to provide a significant number of jobs.

While more — and better — jobs are critical for central New York to flourish in the coming years, a more strategic and comprehensive plan is necessary. Sustainable growth in the 21st century will depend on an economic plan for the region that builds on and complements our existing resources and strengths.

A significant area of strength and economic vitality for this region lies in our institutions of higher education. There are 35 colleges and universities and 25 postsecondary institutions in central New York, with a total of 130,000 students — nearly 10 percent of the total population, higher than any other region in the nation.

These institutions make an important economic impact. They create jobs, bring dollars into the area, advance knowledge, and build expertise. The combined research and development base of central New York's largest research institutions account for more than $1.2 billion in non-industrial research and development (R&D) spending. The presence of higher education institutions in the region has also resulted in a higher-than-average percentage of residents in college and a higher level of educational attainment relative to the national average.

Universities such as Colgate are directly impacting their communities by investing in revitalization. The Partnership for Community Development, which brings together Colgate and the Village and Town of Hamilton to foster economic opportunity and community vitality, has overseen more than $1.75 million worth of economic development programs and enhancements. The Hamilton Initiative, LLC, funded by gifts from alumni, parents, and friends, has invested more than $11 million in the restoration of the downtown area. The Upstate Institute was launched in 2004 to put the research and scholarship of Colgate faculty and students into action by partnering with the regional community — transferring knowledge that will enhance the economic, social, and cultural capacity of the area and sustain the environment. Other colleges in the region have observed the impact Colgate has had on the community and are modeling similar programs.

Higher education is a good industry on which to build because it is here to stay. Today's corporate mobility, with some companies willing and able to leave a community without notice or warning, makes the stability of a college or university particularly attractive. Because of this, we must capitalize on our important higher education resources.

The Upstate Institute, jointly with the Center for Ethics and World Societies, recently hosted the conference "Exploring Upstate Cities: A Dialogue in Practice and Theory." One of the panels focused on "Building Community Together: University and Community Partnerships." Each of the speakers made it clear that main street revitalization, sustainable economic development, and keeping talent in the region are as critically important to the future of our region's colleges and universities as they are to our communities.

Leadership and collaboration are the keys to moving us forward. Regional leaders should be vigilant in supporting state and federal policy that enhances upstate higher education.

We must support and attract other industries that have synergies with higher education — such as tourism, which takes advantage of the large number of out-of-state visitors to the region's colleges and universities, and health care.

We must attract knowledge-intensive manufacturing industries that collaborate with higher education. They will employ college graduates at competitive wages to keep them in the region.

We must provide incentives to keep or encourage the return of this area's college graduates, who can provide needed entrepreneurial skills, ideas, and financial capital.

Clearly, upstate colleges and universities have an important stake in improving our economy. Many of these institutions make significant contributions — in terms of dollars, human resources, and cultural activities — to their local communities. And a vibrant region makes these institutions, like Colgate, more attractive to students, faculty, and staff.

Professor of Economics Jill Tiefenthaler has been associate dean of the faculty and director of the Upstate Institute at Colgate. As a result of her study on welfare reform, "Welfare to Work in Madison County," she collaborates with the Community Action Program and Department of Social Services to improve the well-being of low-income families in Madison County. She also started Colgate's VITA program, in which students assist low-income families in preparing and filing their income tax returns free of charge.
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