As Tompkins County’s largest employer, Cornell’s payroll tops the 2023 local economic snapshot. Source: 2023 Local Economic Snapshot



Snapshot highlights university’s role in local economy

Visitors to Cornell’s Ithaca campus spent $78 million locally in the most recent fiscal year – surpassing pre-pandemic totals – while the university spent a similar sum on construction projects, ranging from iconic McGraw Tower’s rehabilitation to breaking ground on a state-of-the-art computing and information science building.

Those are two examples of Cornell’s prominent role in the regional economy, captured in a Local Economic Snapshot produced by the Office of Community Relations for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023.

“The snapshot shows the many ways that Cornell is integral to the life and economy of Ithaca and Tompkins County,” said Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations. “Equally important are the thousands of hours that faculty, students and staff volunteer each year to benefit our communities.”

The snapshot is not an economic impact analysis, but presents raw numbers tallied by university offices and local agencies in areas including student and visitor spending, research funding, entrepreneurship, taxes and fees, and contributions to local municipalities and nonprofits.

Topping the list is the payroll of the county’s largest employer: $1.18 billion supporting nearly 11,000 university employees living in Tompkins and neighboring counties. That’s followed by the $470 million spent by more than 25,800 undergraduate, graduate and professional students on everything from off-campus rents and utilities to food and entertainment. Roughly half of undergraduates and most graduate students live off campus.

Source: 2023 Local Economic Snapshot

Taxes paid on Cornell-related properties ranked second in Tompkins County.

Meanwhile, shopping, dining and hotel stays by parents, alumni and other visitors – spending that dropped precipitously in 2020 and even more in 2021 – rebounded in 2023 to its highest level yet, after adjusting for inflation. (Kieran Donaghy, professor emeritus in the Department of City and Regional Planning, in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, established the methodology for calculating student and visitor spending.)

In the same fiscal year, the university spent $147 million to purchase various goods and services in Tompkins and adjacent counties. External federal, state and corporate research funding spent locally totaled $388 million.

University construction work totaled $77 million. In addition to renovations of McGraw Tower and McGraw Hall, ongoing projects include the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science’s new academic building, Atkinson Hall and the Meinig Fieldhouse.

At $4.9 million, taxes paid on Cornell-related properties ranked second in Tompkins County. The university also paid $4 million in municipal fees, including $2.6 million for water, sewer and storm water services.

In addition, Cornell made voluntary contributions totaling $7 million to local governments including the City of Ithaca and the Ithaca City School District; bus service operated by Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit; and more than 40 nonprofit organizations, among them the United Way of Tompkins County, Ithaca Area Economic Development and the Child Development Council. The total does not include recently renegotiated agreements that increased annual contributions to the City of Ithaca and to the school district.

The 159-year-old university continued to help drive entrepreneurship in the region, led by Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, which Cornell founded with Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College. In 2023, Rev companies raised $28.5 million and created 47 new jobs. In addition, Ithaca-based clients of Cornell’s Center for Life Science Ventures raised $3.9 million and created eight local jobs, while Ithaca-based clients of the Praxis Center for Venture Development raised $8.7 million and provide 27 local jobs.

Not counted in the snapshot are significant but less easily quantified contributions to the area’s economy: volunteerism and the university’s commitment to community-engaged learning, led by the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement. In 2023, the Division of University Relations and Office of Community Relations presented Cornell Town-Gown Awards to three student-community collaborations: a program helping local citizens obtain health care and maintain physical well-being; a collaboration between Cornell Law School students and local attorneys to help formerly incarcerated people successfully return to society, and a student group that adapts toys and other devices to make them accessible for people with physical disabilities. And Abigail Boatmun ’23 received the Campus-Community Leadership Award for volunteer service with programs including the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s Big Brothers Big Sisters; the nonprofit Ballet and Books; and Upward Bound, a college prep program.

“Much of our efforts focus on our interactions with local government and nonprofit leaders to identify how we can work together to create the community we call home,” said Susan Riley, interim director of community relations. “While the snapshot highlights raw numbers, the other part of the story is how students, staff and faculty step up and volunteer time and expertise with the desire to make this a better place for all.”

Media Contact

Kaitlyn Serrao