Cornell's economic impact has stabilizing effect in state, county

Cornell’s economic impact on New York state has helped to buffer Tompkins County from the downturn in the national economy that followed the 2008 market crash and has spurred growth in the years since, according to a new economic impact report for FY 2013.

The report, produced by the Division of Budget and Planning and using a composite model developed by faculty and students in the Department of City and Regional Planning, examined five major areas of contribution: employment, purchasing, construction, students and visitors.

In FY 2013, the report says, Cornell generated more than $3.2 billion of economic activity statewide through payroll, purchasing and construction expenditures. Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) activities and programs generated an additional $450 million, and student and visitor spending related to the Ithaca campus, $411 million. Taxes, fees and voluntary payments at the Ithaca campus and Weill Cornell Medical Center (WCMC) in New York City totaled $11.5 million.

Despite implementing tighter spending measures during the national recession, the university increased its spending on financial aid and continued to support local governments, schools and community institutions, the report says.

“Cornell continues to be a leading economic engine for the state,” said Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations. “As we celebrate the university’s sesquicentennial, we are recommitted to Cornell’s long-standing, multidimensional relationship with New York, not only as one of the 10 largest private sector employers in the state, but through the ongoing fulfillment of its land-grant mission of service, engagement and the betterment of society.”

In 2012, with the national unemployment average rate at 8.8 percent, Tompkins County’s unemployment rate was 6 percent – the lowest in the state and one of the lowest county rates in the U.S. In 2013, Tompkins County had a 4.1 percent unemployment rate, compared with the national rate of 7.4 percent. The report attributes the county’s low rate in part to the university’s stabilizing economic effect for the county as a whole and for individuals at all income levels.

Once the economy began to recover, the university embarked on several major initiatives that have increased its economic impact. For example, faculty recruitment increased, with most new hires filling full-time, tenure-track positions. Since the hold on new construction was lifted in 2010, several new facilities have been completed in Ithaca, the Belfer Research Building at WCMC was opened, and – even though not calculated in the FY 2013 impact totals –ground was broken in 2014 for the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

In central New York in FY 2013, Cornell generated $1.6 billion related to payroll, purchasing and construction.

Purchasing from Tompkins County businesses also boosted the local economy, the report details, especially in the areas of financial services, property management, food services, transit and ground passenger transportation, travel and reservation services, and hotels.

Other highlights from the report on FY 2013 include:

  • The university employed 20,179 faculty and nonstudent staff at the Ithaca campus, WCMC, the Geneva campus and CCE offices.
  • CCE programs, critical to fulfilling Cornell’s land-grant mission, benefited 1.4 million state residents. CCE volunteers logged 1.1 million hours in FY 2013; the impact of total CCE, student, staff and faculty volunteer activity exceeded $27 million.
  • WCMC generated more than $707 million from the care of nearly 296,600 patients.
  • The benefits of Cornell’s impact on the local economy are spread across all income levels. Half the total impact of the university’s purchasing, construction and payroll spending in Tompkins County benefited households with incomes of $75,000 or less.
  • Student and visitor spending in Tompkins County was assessed at $411 million. Students spent nearly $203 million on educational and living expenses. About 155,000 people visited campus for athletic events; others came for campus tours, Commencement, Reunion and Move-in Day.

“The process and composite model used to generate this study include more realistic assumptions than traditional models, better informing the university’s advancement of programs and projects that both benefit the university and enhance regional and statewide economic development,” said Paul Streeter, vice president for budget and planning.

The report is available online.

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Joe Schwartz