April 2016: Commerce Corner

Six ways colleges impact local economies

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

The north country is fortunate to be home to many institutions of higher education. Many businesses in college towns feel the ebbs and flows of a “semester-based business cycle” and periods of particular peaks during move in, move out, graduations, family weekends, reunions and sporting events. The influx of students and their families, as well as a constantly revolving pool of faculty and staff, presents challenges and tremendous opportunity for the local economy. Here are six ways that colleges help to drive the local economy:
1) Colleges are top employers in the region, maintaining a population base in rural communities that have lost other forms of industry. Jobs bring — and retain — people, families, their ability to purchase homes, pay taxes and spend money in local businesses.

2) Colleges require a lot of stuff. Colleges have extensive needs in order to keep their operations functioning, productive and comfortable. Although many services are accomplished on site, there are many opportunities for businesses to fit into the needs of the colleges; from services such as landscaping or painting, to large-scale use of light bulbs, paper products and food. Connecting with purchasing officers at the institutions and providing them with your capabilities can open a new scale of demand.

3) Communities have access to business development resources hosted at the colleges. Small Business Development Centers exist on three north country SUNY campuses — Canton, Jefferson and Oswego — offering free one-on-one business counseling. Several campuses are part of the Start-Up NY and Innovation Hot Spot incentive programs working to attract companies to the area. Potsdam’s Clarkson University offers its expertise and student learning to teach workshops and aid businesses through the Reh Center for Entrepreneurship and the Shipley Center for Innovation. This type of business support is extremely unique for a rural region, and would not be possible without the commitment of the colleges to their local economies.

4) Colleges have skilled students available for internships, co-ops and other project-based opportunities. Businesses have access to career services offices for assistance designing internships, recruiting workers and placing them. It’s challenging for most small businesses to accomplish everything they want to do for their business, therefore new vision, skills and effort can go a long way toward accomplishing goals, while also hosting a risk-free trial for a potential full-time hire.

5) Colleges are known for their events, with guaranteed attendance and overnight stays. In addition to the many planned activities for families, alumni and visiting athletes, the colleges have attracted new visitors to the area who have enjoyed the surrounding on an “off weekend” when they can get off campus and explore the region. The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York reported that $5.2 million is spent annually on college-related visitation among the three independent colleges in the north country — Paul Smith’s, St. Lawrence University and Clarkson — alone.

6) Colleges provide a strong tax base. Operating as nonprofit entities, the institutions are exempt from property taxes, which applies only to properties associated with fulfilling the academic mission of the school. Several of the north country colleges also own properties to house faculty and staff or buildings that indirectly support their mission, which are taxable to the local municipality, county and school district, making many of them the top-paying entities in their communities.

Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 386-4000.