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Panel calls colleges key to economy

Western New York’s colleges and universities generate nearly $100 million in taxes each year, employ 45,000 people and educate more than 100,000 students.

As teaching institutions alone they stand as integral parts of the local economy, and they aren’t moving anywhere, Jason E. Lane said Friday in Buffalo at a regional summit on higher education and economic development.

But Lane, co-editor of the book “Universities and Colleges as Economic Drivers,” and others made the point that today higher education centers also must be looked at as key players to revitalize the economy.

The panel members who spoke at the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus didn’t have to look far for an example of that. The new center they were sitting in represents a recent collaboration between Kaleida Health and UB, with half of the building devoted to Kaleida’s Gates Vascular Institute.

The competition for business talent is no longer local or even national, said Lane, deputy director for research at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

“Economic success is being driven by solid higher-education systems, and globally, there is a great competition for brains,” he said.

The summit was one of a series in the state developed by the Institute of Governance, the State University of New York’s policy think tank

Lane’s co-editor, D. Bruce Johnstone, summarized the handful of ways academic institutions contribute to economic development, including their work in basic research and helping maintain a skilled labor force.

He also argued that New York does not spend too much on higher education, noting that per capita spending in the state ranks close to the middle of the pack compared with other states

“I often hear that SUNY is overbuilt, that New York spends too much on higher education,” said Johnston, former chancellor of the state university system, as he and others made the case for the larger economic value of the institutions.

Indeed, higher education and public economic development policy increasingly are tied together.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, for instance, has said the idea of aiding economically distressed upstate lies at the heart of his StartUp N.Y. proposal, which would grant tax breaks to companies starting up on or near SUNY campuses. Fifty-nine of the 64 campuses are upstate.

Here is a sample of other comments at the summit:

• “All companies looking to locate here, they want to know about the colleges and universities. There are more than 20 of them. They want to know what they specialize in and where can they get good people from,” said Howard Zemsky, co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

As such, he said, attention to higher education runs across every strategy at the council to attract business.

“The affect is profound,” he said, citing examples of how academic institutions in the region are partnering or collaborating with businesses big and small.

• Virginia Schaefer Horvath, president of Fredonia State College, described the college’s Dunkirk Technology Incubator, home to 12 start- ups, including Worldwide App Inc. The promising mobile application allows users to access independent films from their devices and vote for favorite filmmakers to advance in an “in-app” competition.

She said the incubator is making a difference in a city that needs economic help.

• “If a region is to grow, we need more people to move here,” said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

For businesses looking to expand or relocate, she said, there is no more important an industry to align with than higher education.


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