Columbia University is a model for how urban universities can help revitalize their neighborhoods. In a recent report issued by an alliance of mayors, corporate executives, university presidents and experts on inner-city development, Columbia is showcased for its efforts to spend and hire more in the local community and for improved communication and collaboration with community leaders, groups and residents.
The 64-page report entitled "Impact of Colleges and Universities on Urban Economic Growth: An Action Agenda," by the Initiative for Competitive Inner City and CEOs for Cities, is a call to urban colleges and universities to play more active roles in the economic revitalization of their surrounding neighborhoods by consciously deploying their economic resources and partnering with urban governments and businesses. After surveying 20 colleges and universities and interviewing more than 100 experts over the past year, Columbia and the Virginia Commonwealth University, two institutions that have initiated significant economic development initiatives, were selected as in-depth case studies.
"Columbia University offers a highly instructive example of an inner-city-based university aligning its interest with those of the community," stated the report.
Columbia's efforts to build solid links with neighboring communities were outlined in a section entitled "Vision and Strategy in Action: Two In-Depth Case Studies." Columbia has recently undertaken a series of programs and initiatives to increase local purchasing and hiring, to foster active communication with the community at the front end of capital projects and to maintain a presence in community board meetings. Many of these efforts were made a priority by President George Rupp in the mid-1990s and have grown in scope and focus over the years.
"In recent years Columbia has deepened our relationship to the City and emerged as a more active partner in Upper Manhattan," said President George Rupp. "The recognition that Columbia's academic and research related expenditures have enormous potential for positive impact on our local community inspired us to strengthen relationships and leverage spending, which we see as a perfect complement to the important services our faculty and students provide to our surrounding communities. Being an engaged partner in our community is important for our future -- and also, the right thing to do."
The report maintains that urban academic institutions are well positioned to spur economic revitalization of inner cities because they are sizable businesses anchored in their current locations. Cited is the enormous purchasing power of colleges of universities, which can be leveraged to benefit urban economic health. Of the $200 billion in annual operating budgets of colleges and universities nationwide in 1996, urban colleges and universities spent $136 billion on salaries, goods and services, an amount nine times greater than federal direct spending for that year. Focusing those expenditures locally would have an enormous impact on inner cities nationwide.
According to the report colleges and universities can have meaningful impact on job and business growth in economically disadvantaged areas by purchasing goods and services, increasing employment, developing real estate, creating business incubators, advising business and building networks and workforce development. Columbia's strategy encompasses all six elements.
- Purchaser. In recent years Columbia has worked to leverage its operating budget, estimated $2 billion, to benefit the surrounding communities. To that end, Columbia targeted $60 million in purchasing to Upper Manhattan vendors and paid more than $15 million to local construction contractors to work on the Morningside Heights campus in 2000.
- Employer. Thirty-seven percent of the University's 13,000 employees are residents of Upper Manhattan and several programs are underway to increase local hiring by linking local residents with Columbia jobs through partnerships with community organizations.
- Real Estate Developer: Columbia is spending an estimated $800 million on the current capital plan, which will serve to anchor economic development in Upper Manhattan.
- Incubator. New York City partnered with Columbia in 1995 to develop the Audubon Business and Technology Park located in Upper Manhattan's Washington Heights. The Audubon, New York City's only university-related research park, has anchored a multi-billion-dollar biotechnology industry in the City.
- Advisor/Network Builder. Programs, such as the Urban Technical Assistance Program (UTAP) in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the Small Business Consulting Program (SBCP) in the Business School, offer urban planning, technical assistance and management consulting assistance to groups and individuals in the surrounding communities.
"We are really at the beginning of what we hope will become a substantial long-term contribution to the economic health of Upper Manhattan," said Emily Lloyd, executive vice president for administration, who oversees university purchasing, employment and the physical plant. "This report suggests our efforts to understand how to best match our purchasing with locally-available goods and services has begun to show results and we look forward to more success in the future."