Press-Republican

September 29, 2013

Colleges, universities keys to economic development

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The North Country is a prime example of how colleges and universities can help drive the local economy.

That was one of the themes during the forum “How Two Colleges Have Helped Plattsburgh Become Montreal’s U.S. Suburb,” which recently brought economy experts and interested community members to Clinton Community College. 



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Dr. Jason Lane, deputy director for research at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, said that in today’s world, the intense competition for economic development and jobs has made colleges and universities more important than ever.

“Higher education is one of the most valuable commodities in the world,” he said.

Plattsburgh is fortunate to have two tremendous higher-education institutions in Clinton Community College and SUNY Plattsburgh, he said. Those schools create a college-educated workforce that can help attract companies to a region. They also support the further development and growth of businesses through internships and specialized training programs.

COLLEGE IMPACT

In the North Country, which he defined as being from the Saratoga area north to Plattsburgh and west to Potsdam/Canton, SUNY schools have created 6,700 jobs and have an enrollment of 22,300, as well as 61,000 alumni who remain in the region.

Those schools pay $12 million in tax payments and are responsible for $357 million in economic development each year, Lane said.

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

In opening remarks, Empire State Development President and CEO Ken Adams said one of the advantages New York has is the quality of its workforce.

“That’s driven by the quality of our education system. They’re one and the same,” he said.

The new Start-Up New York program seeks to enhance that relationship, he said. It will provide new businesses that locate on or near SUNY campuses and are affiliated with campus programming a 10-year exemption on state taxes, as well as a 10-year income-tax exemption for their employees.

That public-private partnership is likely to lead to research opportunities and internships, Adams said, and campuses will be more attractive to students if they see private companies have an on-campus presence.

Lane later joined a panel discussion that included Development Corp. President and CEO Paul Grasso, North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas, Clinton Community College President John Jablonski, SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling and Swarovski Lighting Director of Human Resource Lee Ann Pray.

Ettling said SUNY Plattsburgh has already had inquiries from businesses that would like to be Start-Up NY partners.

Douglas said the chamber has seen serious interest from three companies and has helped them contact both schools.

The biggest attraction of the program, he said, is the 10-year income-tax exemption. That will be an invaluable resource for companies to attract and retain employees.

“It’s a game changer,” Douglas said.

WORKFORCE CENTER

Jablonski said his college’s contributions to workforce development in the classroom are obvious. 

But outside the classroom, CCC’s Center for Community and Workforce Development is providing specialized skill-building and training programs for new companies and those looking to grow.

That was especially helpful when Nova Bus needed to train new employees as it expanded in Plattsburgh, he noted.

BORDER INFLUENCE

The relationship between Canada and Clinton County has a direct economic impact of more than $2 billion a year, Douglas said. 

The chamber has a list of 186 Quebec-based businesses located in Clinton County or just outside. Douglas said about 15 percent of the workforce here works for those companies or border-related businesses.

One of the first questions Canadian companies ask is about workforce availability, Grasso said. He is able to tell them workers are available, as are training programs to find even more.

Workforce availability is one of the reasons Fujitsu Frontech moved its point-of-sale equipment manufacturing to Plattsburgh, Grasso said.

TARGETED STUDIES

Douglas said the Canadian Studies program at SUNY Plattsburgh has been another key factor as Plattsburgh has grown to become “Montreal’s U.S. suburb.”

And Ettling said proximity to the border and Montreal is among the reasons the university started its Supply Chain Management Program several years ago.

“Supply-chain management makes good sense for us,” he said.

Internships and mentoring programs are a big piece of the economic-development puzzle. Ettling said those have long been important to the school, noting they supplied 170 interns and had 147 students mentored by local professionals last year.

Pray said Swarovski has worked with the two schools extensively.

“We have been the beneficiary of a lot of the programs we are talking about,” she said. “We’ve had great success with the interns we received.”

The company has had a number of interns return for jobs after graduation, Pray said, and with 28,000 employees worldwide, it can offer them extensive opportunities for upward mobility. 

“We really are a gateway to the rest of the world.”

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com