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State University of New York Stepping Forward to Build New York's Economy

Major new study documents the broad economic impact -- and even greater potential -- of the SUNY system

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: June 1, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A comprehensive statewide study finds that the State University of New York is positioned to be the critical force in building a new innovation economy for New York -- with a broad and diverse array of economic development activities already in place across the 64-campus system, and with a growing potential to do more in the future.

The study, a joint project of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the University at Albany and of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, reported that the SUNY system had an economic impact of a minimum of $19.8 billion in 2008-09, based on the spending of its colleges and universities, students, employees and campus visitors.

But the institutes' report, How SUNY Matters: Economic Impacts of the State University of New York, found that the system is making an even more important contribution to New York's future economy -- to the state's capacity to grow and produce jobs in the new economy of the 21st century. SUNY's key contributions are:

-- Educating a competitive workforce, through its broad educational mission and through a rich array of career-specific programs at community colleges and other campuses.

-- Helping employers large and small with the adoption of new technologies and new ideas.

-- Rapidly growing the capacity of its research campuses, in particular, to develop new technologies and to transfer their research findings into commercial use.

The report was commissioned by SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who said on her first day in office -- June 1, 2009 -- that she wanted to make SUNY "the engine of New York's economic revitalization." It was released today at a news conference with Zimpher at the Rockefeller Institute in Albany.

"This is the Power of SUNY," said Zimpher. "The economic impact generated by the 64 campuses of SUNY is massive. The system's capacity to innovate and help new businesses succeed, and to create jobs and populate the workforce with skilled, educated New Yorkers, is unmatched. This much is clear -- with SUNY leading the charge, the economic revitalization of New York is certain and the future is bright."

Kathryn A. Foster, director of the UB Regional Institute, said the report shows that "SUNY packs a double punch: it's producing the kind of new ideas we need to create high-paying jobs in New York State -- and it's helping produce a workforce prepared to take those jobs."

"New York State's job growth has been less than a third of the nation's over the past two decades," said Thomas Gais, director of the Rockefeller Institute. "SUNY is the key to making our comeback."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stressed the importance of SUNY's role in the economy, declaring that the work of his 10 regional economic development councils will be "higher-ed driven." As a first step in that process, the governor and the chancellor announced on May 2 that the research campuses at Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook would be eligible for $35 million each in challenge grants "to spur local economic development and contribute to regional revitalization." Indeed, the institutes' research identifies ways in which all four research campuses are already taking leading roles in building New York's innovation economy.

The study team surveyed all SUNY campuses with respect to their economic development activities; examined individual campus efforts ranging from the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering at UAlbany to the Business Technology Incubator opened by SUNY Fredonia; and compiled detailed statistical and financial data on SUNY campuses' contribution to the workforce and economies of the state and each of its 10 economic development regions. The result is the most comprehensive and detailed analysis ever undertaken of the statewide economic impact of the entire SUNY system, which incorporates research universities, university colleges, community colleges and specialized institutions from Long Island to Western New York.

The system's primary mission is education, and the report said that's at the heart of SUNY's economic potential, too. For example, in 2008-09 (the most recent year for which comprehensive data on all the parameters of the study were available), fully two-thirds of all SUNY degrees awarded were in fields related to the 16 clusters that state government has identified as key to the state's future growth. SUNY has some 1.6 million alumni in the state.

The traditional research mission of the university system also brings direct economic benefits. SUNY attracted some $1.3 billion in research funding in 2008-09, much of it from federal and out-of-state sources. In a typical year it tallies some 360 invention disclosures with potential commercial impact, 70 or more patents, 20 or more spin-offs of companies, 25 start-ups of new companies and some 60 licenses that yield revenue for the commercial use of university discoveries.

Direct spending by the institutions, their students, employees and overnight visitors yielded an economic impact of a minimum $19.8 billion in the state in 2008-09 -- a better than five-to-one return on the state taxpayers' spending for SUNY. SUNY and its associated economic activity also supported 173,000 jobs across the state. The research team said the system's full economic impact is likely to be considerably higher if the analysis counted employment and spending by firms affiliated with individual campuses -- for example, university foundations and auxiliary organizations, private companies that collaborate with campuses on tech transfer and process improvement, and business start-ups generated by SUNY institutions. (Those activities could not be incorporated in the institutes' statewide and regional figures because data compiled on them vary from campus to campus, and therefore cannot be totaled up statewide on a consistent and comparable basis.)

The institutes' survey of SUNY campuses found an extensive array of campus efforts to transfer technology from the lab to the marketplace, to assist local firms in implementing new processes and new science, to provide employer-focused job training and to foster the vitality of the communities within which they are located. Almost all campuses have some combination of business incubators, lab space and equipment available for commercial use, support for patent and prototype development, and small business development centers. More than three-quarters have programs to place students as interns in local businesses. Almost half have programs that encourage faculty, staff or students to provide technical assistance to businesses or community.

How SUNY Matters takes an in-depth look at some key initiatives at specific campuses that are pointing the way ahead in the system's growing involvement in economic development. For example:

-- The University at Buffalo, which has an array of research and technology programs for the region's traditional manufacturing base, is forcefully moving into the life sciences, and also operates a highly regarded entrepreneurship training program for small-business owners. The report highlights UB's new business-friendly gateway that makes it easier for employers to identify and access university programs and resources that could help them.

-- The University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering has attracted $6 billion in private-sector investment and has some 2,600 scientists, researchers, engineers and technicians on site, most of them from private firms collaborating with the university. The report emphasizes the role of faculty entrepreneurship in Nano's success, noting that its founder, Alain Kaloyeros, started building his own lab equipment as an assistant physics professor back in 1993, "and hasn't stopped building since."

-- Downstate Medical Center has put New York City on the map for the biotech industry by creating an incubator center for new firms and then converting the old Brooklyn Army Terminal into a bustling center that gives young biotech firms room to grow.

-- Stony Brook University is a growing force in wireless communications, among other sectors; it collaborates with business "from cradle to Fortune 500," as the university puts it.

-- And Binghamton University has developed lab facilities that are now a key asset not only for its own students and researchers, but also for a wide array of firms in the Southern Tier's electronics industry.

The largest section of the report provides information on the impact of SUNY institutions and alumni in each of the state's 10 regions, with data arrayed on a consistent basis to enable region-by-region comparison, and with narrative examples showing the diverse ways that individual SUNY campuses are supporting the growth of their local economies. Some highlights:

-- In the Capital District, community colleges are aggressively adding training programs and facilities to enable local workers to take advantage of the jobs created by Albany Nano's success.

-- In Central New York, SUNY has 107,000 alumni and 40,600 students. Upstate Medical University and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry are creating a new biotechnology research center to house companies spun off from their research.

-- In the Finger Lakes, SUNY Geneseo's Microenterprise Assistance Program provides low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs with free training and technical assistance to start and maintain businesses. Monroe Community College combines community-building with workforce development, targeting low-income populations for training in construction and the trades.

-- In the Hudson Valley, six community colleges have created a Clean Energy Technology Training Consortium that pools their resources to provide the training needed by the region's growing "green" businesses.

-- On Long Island, the economic impact of SUNY institutions is a minimum of $3.9 billion. Farmingdale State College operates an Institute for Research and Technology Transfer that gives industry access to specialized equipment and faculty consultation.

-- In the Mohawk Valley, SUNY institutions have 25,200 students, almost half of them drawn in from other regions, states and nations. Fulton-Montgomery Community College snared a $1 million federal grant that's enabling it to develop new tech courses and programs in its Center for Engineering and Technology.

-- In New York City, SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology is the most important source of skilled workers in the garment industry; it operates robust partnerships with more than 4,000 company sponsors and has over 5,200 active internship positions. All told, there are 150,000 SUNY alumni in the city.

-- In the North Country, SUNY alumni, students and employees account for 37 percent of the region's population. Clinton Community College provided training programs that were instrumental in attracting a new bus manufacturer.

-- In the Southern Tier, SUNY alumni equal about one-third of the regional workforce. Tompkins Cortland Community College offers employers customized, specialized training programs at three sites, or at a company's own location.

-- In Western New York, SUNY awards a total of 15,000 degrees a year -- two out of every three new graduates in the region. The region's SUNY institutions are well above average in attracting research funding and international students -- two key sources of out-of-state money coming into the local economy.

But the report concludes that all this is only the beginning of SUNY's potential for New York State. The study, it says, "discovered a strong foundation to build on, including many creative methods and institutional capacities that support entrepreneurialism and innovation."

Going forward into what its strategic plan calls "the Entrepreneurial Century," the report says, SUNY needs to "find, nurture, develop and unleash the next dozen or two dozen or 200 faculty entrepreneurs; and give those who have some initial success the opportunity to pyramid those into much larger agglomerations of mutually strengthening academic and commercial activities."

"The 64-campus system offers many independent potential sources of initiative, and the diversity of campuses and their specializations means that a wide range of economic needs may be recognized and addressed. In sum, opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic leadership are widespread in the SUNY system -- and can be exploited more fully."

For full copies of the report, visit http://www.regional-institute.buffalo.edu.

A major research and public policy center of the University at Buffalo, the Regional Institute plays a vital role in addressing key policy and governance issues for regions, with focused analysis of the Buffalo-Niagara region. The institute leverages the resources of the university and binational community to pursue a wide range of scholarship, projects and initiatives that frame issues, inform decisions and guide change.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, at the University at Albany, is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Rockefeller Institute conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. Journalists can find useful information on the Newsroom page of its website, http://www.rockinst.org.