Report: Higher education brings jobs, culture and economic stability to Tompkins County and beyond

Tompkins County's institutions of higher education continue to provide the area with a stable economic base, a highly educated workforce and an active, vibrant community.

Those are among the findings of "Higher Education in Tompkins County," the first-ever report outlining the joint economic impact on the local economy of Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3).

The schools employ 26 percent of county residents -- more than any other job sector. (Retail trade is second with 11 percent.) And they contribute $1.5 billion to the county's economy. That steady activity buffers the county from regional and national economic downturns, says John Gutenberger, director of Cornell's Office of Community Relations. "We don't have the wild swings that other sectors of the economy do. Higher education is a stabilizing factor."

The economic activity related to higher education ranges from the consumer spending of 14,475 employees and 30,000 students per year to millions of dollars to educate, house, feed and transport them.

The schools also act as a magnet for well-educated workers "with a vast array of specialized skills," the report says. While Cornell and Ithaca College specialize in research that leads to innovations and entrepreneurial businesses, TC3 offers workforce development that ensures staff well-equipped to support those efforts, it says.

The report's statistics date from 2007 and do not take into account the 2008 economic crisis. However, higher education's positive effect on the local economy has remained intact, Gutenberger says. "It's reassuring to those in the community who are feeling the effects of the recession to know that at least there's one sector in our local economy that's somewhat stable and can be relied upon to keep the engine going."

After Cornell's report in March on its impact on New York state's economy, representatives from Tompkins County Area Development, the county chamber of commerce and local government encouraged Cornell, Ithaca College and TC3 to write the report, Gutenberger says. "They said it would really help to recruit new businesses to Tompkins County and employees, especially middle and upper management."

The report will also help Cornell, and colleges and large businesses outside the county, to recruit and retain top-notch students, employees and their spouses, partners and families Gutenberger said. "We've shown there's a real hotbed of activity here in upstate New York."

Hard copies of the report are available by calling Cornell's Office of Community Relations at 607-255-4908. Reports in PDF format are available online at Scroll down to the Resources section and click on "Tompkins County Joint Economic Impact Statement 2009."

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Claudia Wheatley