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The UR factor

When he outlined the University of Rochester’s strategic plan six years ago, President Joel Seligman cautioned that UR "cannot be an ‘economic savior’" for the Rochester area. After reading a just-released report on the university’s economic impact locally, some might find Mr. Seligman guilty of being too modest.
 
The new report, prepared by the Center for Governmental Research Inc., documents UR’s leading role regionally in terms of employment and dollar impact. As the Rochester Business Journal’s Nate Dougherty wrote in last week’s issue, UR employment reached 23,485 as of Dec. 31-up more than 750 since 2009-and its annual economic impact topped $2 billion.
 
By conservative estimate, the report notes, UR accounts for 31,500 jobs in direct and spillover employment-equal to 6 percent of the total metro workforce. Indeed, UR now ranks as the state’s seventh-largest private employer.
 
UR’s contribution locally is not measured in dollars and employment alone. As the report states, the university-along with other higher education institutions here-has "facilitated the region’s transition from a manufacturing-based economy to one based on knowledge creation."
 
To understand why all of this is so important, think about this week’s unemployment release. The metro rate was 8 percent in May, versus 7.3 percent a year ago, for the fourth month in a row of higher year-over-year joblessness. What’s more, it was the highest May figure in more than two decades.
 
What might the number have been without UR and the ongoing transition to a knowledge economy? A glance at Buffalo (8.5 percent unemployment in May) and Syracuse (8.6 percent) gives a clue.
 
UR appears well-positioned to continue growing. Initiatives such as the $100 million supercomputer project at the Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation will bring more people onto its payroll. And it is spreading out, with the new pact making Thompson Health System part of UR’s medical center.

Yet Mr. Seligman was right; a university is not first and foremost a job creator. As noted here in the past, what educational institutions can do above all else is help build an infrastructure of learning. The community itself must use that to create long-lasting economic vitality.

6/22/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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