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Tom Kucharski

Buffalo Niagara boasts many strengths for companies considering a relocation or expansion. One of them being the 21 colleges and universities in the eight counties of Western New York.

State of the Region: Higher EducationAs an economic development organization, we boast that statistic to anyone willing to listen. But why is it so important? Recently I had the pleasure of participating on a “State of the Region: Higher Education” panel hosted by Phillips Lytle and sponsored by Buffalo Business First. Also on the panel was University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi, among other great guests.

During the discussion, Tripathi made an interesting point on a university’s role in economic development. He bifurcated the role into the following three points.

1) Provide workforce

Obviously, the primary focus of a college or university is to educate students and ready them for the workforce. As parents, the first questions we want answered is the placement rate of students into jobs post-graduation.

Often the first question a company we are working with asks is about labor and talent pipeline. The obvious answers: 21 colleges and universities producing 28,000 graduates annually.

2) Quality of life

I found this point by Tripathi to be especially interesting.

A recurring theme of the panel discussion on higher education was the value of a liberal arts education. All or most students at a four-year university take liberal arts classes in undergrad. And all or most students bemoan the value of taking a math class as an English major, or a science class as an accounting major.

However, Tripathi focused his point on those pursuing degrees specifically in the arts—English majors, performing arts majors, etc. His argument was that the graduates’ universities produce in these disciplines add to the quality of life of a region post-college. These students go on to be the writers, performers, and artists in our community. They provide entertainment and add vibrancy.

3) Creating our own

Of course, the third pillar of Tripathi’s argument was the spin-off a university can directly create into a community’s economy. Universities, like UB, spur entrepreneurship and new discoveries. Students and faculty work collaboratively to this end.

"UB is a research institution,” Tripathi said. “Research that leads to new developments, that leads to new companies.”

One of the most obvious examples of this is Athenex. Athenex started as a UB professor doing research and has now grown into a global biopharmaceutical company. In 2016, our organization assisted Athenex with their expansion. The company invested $1.72 billion in a new Dunkirk facility and has plans to create 450 new jobs. Not only is Athenex an example of university spin-off, it’s also a testament to our economic development delivery system, with collaboration from UB and our organization to start and then grow the company.

Since starting this organization in 1999, I’ve seen colleges and universities take this responsibility of direct economic development even more seriously. And I’ve seen more resources dedicated to the effort. Almost every one of our colleges and universities now have an economic development department, or at least a point-person to direct inquiries.

We’ve always known Buffalo Niagara’s network of colleges and universities was a strength. And we have our own reasons for believing so. But it's especially interested to hear it from the perspective of a university President, like Tripathi.

What other assets does Buffalo Niagara possess?

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About Us

Founded in 1999, Invest Buffalo Niagara represents the eight counties of Western New York. We are the region’s nonprofit, privately funded economic development organization focused on job creation. 

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