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We are rooted deeply into our communities and we are direct, large economic engines within those communities.

Colleges bring more than just dollars and cents

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The impact colleges and universities have on North Country communities goes beyond dollars and cents. That was the message from three higher education leaders who led a panel discussion last week at the Adirondack Research Consortium's 19th annual Conference on the Adirondacks.

The two-day conference included presentations on forest products and the future of the Adirondack Park, as well as discussions on climate change, sustainable communities and land use in the Adirondacks. Chris Morris sat in for the discussion on the economic impact of higher education.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Paul Smith’s College President John Mills says a lot of factors go into determining the economic impact of a college. Those factors include things like employment, enrollment and construction.

A recent study by the Council of Independent Colleges and Universities found that Paul Smith’s economic impact reaches $62 million.

Mills says one of the biggest impacts a college can have is the money its students spend in the community. “We can say with our students that the spending in the region during the academic year that they’re here is $1.5 million they’re spending in the community – buying things and contributing to the economic health,” he said.

But Mills says his college has other impacts that are hard to quantify.

One example is the college’s takeover of the Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths. The facility was run by the state Adirondack Park Agency until it was closed in 2010 because of budget cuts. Paul Smith’s College now operates the facility. “There’s other intangibles that we love to talk about, which I think have economic impact for community building,” he said. “Our students do lots in the community. Last year our students served over 400 people at the Keene Thanksgiving event. We provide fuel wood to needy families. If you were recently at the Daffest (Saranac Lake’s daffodil festival), we provided a baking demonstration. Again, that’s helping the community build its spirit.”

Neil Murphy is president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He says educating young people to enter into the North Country work force is one of the most important things colleges do in this region.“I think encouraging entrepreneurial enterprise, as John said, (is) extremely important, because we have seen to date that small business has recently driven and will continue to drive our economy,” he said. “I think the establishment of relationships with the business community is extremely important.”

Clarkson University President Tony Collins says colleges and universities are often among the top employers in their communities.

In New York, two of the top 10 employers statewide are universities: Cornell and University of Rochester. “And by the way, none of us have the intent of picking up our campuses and moving them to China or India,” Collins said. “We call ourselves anchor tenants. Because we’re here, we are rooted deeply into our communities and we are direct, large economic engines within those communities.”

But Collins says there are some things higher education needs to do better. He says colleges and universities need to do a better job at developing programs that prepare workers to enter into the regional economy.

Collins says SUNY Plattsburgh has been a leader when it comes to looking at budding industry in its area – things like aviation technology – and developing educational programs to prepare students for those fields.

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