Colleges and universities offer local economies much more than just well-educated graduates. Educational institutions also contribute to a healthy business climate, employment opportunities and a vibrant community, especially in New York state’s Southern Tier region.
That’s the message about 50 members of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) heard June 8 at the Regional Agriculture Development Center in Binghamton, where leaders of three area universities described ways in which their institutions benefit the region’s economy and society.
“Cornell is anchored in Ithaca, but our commitment to public engagement, producing knowledge with a public purpose, extends to Broome County, the Southern Tier and all across the state, helping ensure New York has the jobs and vibrant communities that will keep our young people here, building their futures,” said Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations.
Also on the panel were Donald Nieman, Binghamton University’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Kevin Drumm, president of State University of New York at Broome. Jennifer Conway, president and CEO of the GBCC, facilitated.
“We’re in a strong workforce development initiative within our community, and higher education is part of that,” Conway said. “The economic impact that higher education makes is so much more than just providing students with an education; it’s programs and partnerships with these institutions.”
Malina said Cornell contributes to the regional economy through support for upstate businesses, economic development via Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), promotion of New York state’s food and beverage industries, research supporting agribusiness and community development projects.
Helping new businesses get off the ground has been a focus of Cornell for decades, Malina said. “It’s an intentional part of our mission to support local innovators with business mentorship, workspace and startup resources for any new or growing business that will create jobs in the community,” he said. For example, Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement mentored 375 startups in 2017 and hosted more than 2,500 attendees at various events.
Economic development is the focus, also, of CCE – taking research and infusing it into communities in 56 offices across the state, Malina said. For example, the building in which the event took place, run by CCE of Broome County, has hosted events where 25 produce growers and nearly 50 safety educators learned about regulatory requirements to keep the food supply safe. And CCE Broome recently hosted a four-week business planning series for 18 farms and a roundtable on accessing capital.
The center is also home to a new Taste NY store, which helps small food businesses introduce their products to consumers and scale up their businesses. “Cornell Cooperative Extension, in essence, runs several of these shops, bringing expertise in agriculture, business and product development to bear on what has become a very successful effort to support New York food producers,” Malina said. Broome County’s two Taste NY markets represent 144 producers and 523 items, with combined sales of $260,000 in 2017; sales this year, with the new store fully operational for the full 12 months, are on track to double or possibly even triple that number. And the state has announced CCE will administer five new markets, he added.
In the agribusiness sector, research from Ithaca’s campus and agricultural experiment stations deliver up-to-date, science-based solutions and information to growers and producers. For example, the New York State Industrial Hemp Summit focused on the economic market potential for developing products such as fiber, cosmetics pharmaceuticals and food products.
In the community development arena, Cornell students and faculty are working to assess Binghamton’s flood resilience in the wake of devastating floods in 2006 and 2011, through Rust to Green’s Living with Water initiative. And CCE Broome and Let’s Eat New York are exploring strategies to increase access to local produce among residents of economically stressed areas of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott.
“It’s a win-win for Broome County – helping residents access fresh local foods while also offering new means for local growers to sell their produce,” Malina said. “And at the same time, Cornell’s students are learning about practical ways to help the community, lessons they can take with them wherever they land on the map.”