Presidential Archives

Community Leaders Brunch

President David J. Skorton

October 6, 2007
Statler Hotel Ballroom

Thank you, Gutie, and welcome, everyone. It is wonderful to have this opportunity to thank all of you for the roles you play in making the greater Ithaca area such a good place to live, work and study.

We will be recognizing those who are retiring from their posts later in the program, but whether you are retiring or continuing on, you have contributed to our community in significant ways, and this brunch is one of the ways Cornell has traditionally said “thank-you.”

As most of you know, Cornell is the land grant university for New York State, which gives us a mandate to use the knowledge we generate on campus to enhance the lives of people here in Central New York and elsewhere in the Upstate region, and also in New York City.

Cornell Cooperative Extension, funded by New York State, the federal government and local county governments, conducts informal education programs in all of the state’s counties and in New York City. This is the fourth year that Cornell Cooperative Extension educators have helped high school teachers and students from around the state participate in Cornell’s New Student Reading Project. Last year, some 10,000 students from 150 high schools around the state participated, and we’re hoping for a repeat of that success this year.

The Tompkins County Public Library cooperated with us to host the 6th annual “community read” of this year’s book, The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer, with a variety of events last month.

A few weeks ago, I visited Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Over the past 30 years, the station has released 10 new wine grape varieties and 42 new varieties of table grapes and aided the growth of NY wineries through research/extension; wine/grapes now add $3 billion to NY economy.

Recently, the station has been a partner in the development of CherryPharm—a drink with muscle recovery and anti-inflammatory properties that provides a market for New York sour cherries. CherryPharm recently received $2.3 million in venture funds from the Ithaca-based Cayuga Venture Fund (CVF), which invests in companies commercializing technology developed at Cornell.

One of CVF’s newer ventures is e2e Materials LLC, which produces fully biodegradable reinforced composite materials from soy proteins and plant fibers instead of petroleum. The technology for this “green” material originated with Anil Netravali, professor of fiber science and apparel design in our College of Human Ecology, and it is protected by a patent filed by the Cornell Research Foundation.

By patenting the technology and licensing it exclusively to e2e Materials, Cornell enabled the company to become the sole source of “green” biodegradable materials produced by this unique technology. As a result, as you may have seen in the Ithaca Journal earlier this week, one of e2e Materials’ customers, Comet Skateboards, is now relocating its manufacturing facility from Chico, CA to Ithaca.

Last spring, Cornell released its first-ever comprehensive economic impact study. With the strong public support Cornell receives, it is worth understanding our impact in semi-quantitative terms. The study documented that Cornell was responsible for an estimated $3.3 billion in economic activity and directly and indirectly generated over 36,000 jobs throughout New York State in 2005. These numbers are “order of magnitude,” rather than precise to the dollar or individual worker. I see the economic impact study as a first step in documenting Cornell’s diverse impacts as we look toward shaping the university’s future, and it gives us a new level of information on our economic interactions with the citizens of Ithaca, Tompkins County and the state as a whole.

I should add that the economic impact study also documented Cornell’s leadership in university research among New York institutions. The Cornell Business and Technology Park, near the airport, has some 80 tenant companies that generate some 1,600 jobs. Some 62 percent of those companies are technology-based, and many of them carry out research derived from or assisted by Cornell.

With the appointment of Alan Paau as vice provost for technology transfer and economic development, we expect to be even more strategic in managing intellectual property and technologies that arise from Cornell research—both here in Ithaca and at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Cornell’s ability to be a major force in the state and local economy depends on strong partnerships—at the state and federal level and right here at home.

Thinking together, working together, and planning together are the best ways to solve problems and address common needs. We have made good progress together, and there is certainly more that we can do—as collaborators and co-contributors—to build a stronger community that benefits us all.

Since my arrival, and working with Cornell’s leadership team, we have identified six areas of priority where we are especially eager to work with local partners. These are the broad areas of: economic development, pre/K-12 and educational services, health care, infrastructure, housing, the environment. Cornell will continue to look for, and consider opportunities to be supportive, of long-term community needs, especially in these priority areas.

We also believe that Cornell must be a good steward of our natural resources and partner with the community that surrounds our wonderful campus. We have a responsibility to understand how the activities of the university affect the surrounding community, to share our hopes for the future of Tompkins County, and to play a role in shaping our collective destiny.

Part of how we will achieve this is through good land use planning as exemplified by the nearly completed Cornell Comprehensive Master Plan that will guide the physical development on the Ithaca campus for the next 10-50 years. This plan will support Cornell’s long-term commitment to achieve a sustainable environmental footprint, balancing our academic and research priorities while respecting on- and off-campus open spaces.

The plan also emphasizes the importance of a Cornell footprint that acknowledges its impact and respects its community neighbors, while aligning the university’s need for mixed-use development and affordable housing to support the over 40,000 students, faculty and staff we must recruit to this campus over the next ten years.

A sustainable community is more than just good land use planning. It must also include strategies that will reduce the number of people commuting to and from campus through the surrounding neighborhoods. In collaboration with the Town of Ithaca, Cornell has undertaken a transportation-focused Generic Environmental Impact Statement (affectionately known as the T-GEIS) to identify traffic mitigation strategies that will further help to preserve the quality of our environment.

The Comprehensive Master Plan and the T-GEIS, in concert with the recently adopted Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan, the Tompkins County Area Development Plan, and the Tompkins County Housing Strategy and the soon-to-be-updated City of Ithaca and Town of Ithaca comprehensive plans, represent a singular moment for Cornell and its local community to identify opportunities for us to work collaboratively to make our community a model for all of New York state. Cornell and the community have a strong track record of working together on economic development issues, but there is more we can do, especially working with Albany and Washington.

Because this is such a promising moment in the relationship between Cornell and its local community, I want to emphasize three broad areas in which I hope we can focus our collaborative efforts over the next several years on ways in which we can: collaboratively address the need for affordable housing within our community; work collaboratively to find alternative means of transportation to allow people to get to their place of employment; and, preserve and protect this special place that makes it such a wonderful location to work and raise a family.

In this context, it gives me great pleasure today to announce that Cornell will invest $20 million over ten years in support of workforce housing initiatives, transportation management programs, and related infrastructure improvements that will benefit Cornell and the local community. This new investment will be over and above the contributions Cornell is already making today.

The projects that are supported by this $20-million investment will arise out of the planning efforts we have undertaken, those we have done collaboratively with you, and will be informed by the results of city and county plans. Their implementation will require close town-gown collaboration and resource sharing.

And I believe we can successfully leverage our combined local resources to attract state, federal and private sector dollars to the maximum extent possible by emphasizing the progress and the promise of sustainable economic development and environmental stewardship in this part of Upstate New York.

And Cornell’s commitment is more than just dollars; we are prepared to work with you to take our case to Albany for state resources to invest in these very important initiatives for our community.

As is the case with local governments, businesses and other non-profit organizations, Cornell has to use what resources it has on the basis of careful planning and a sense of stewardship and place. It is in our interest to make financial investments in affordable housing, transportation management, and education to benefit the university and the community. By investing in housing for Cornell faculty and, staff (many of them residents of Tompkins County), for example, we will benefit the larger community by reducing pressure on existing affordable housing stock in Tompkins County.

By working together to insure that our area schools are strong and there is affordable housing, high-quality health care, and a strong economy, Cornell and the community will be stronger and better able to attract and retain the faculty, staff and students who make us a great university and Tompkins County a welcoming environment in which to work and live.

(This is especially important now—we face a tremendous turnover in faculty and staff as the “boomer” generation retires; we will literally need to rebuild the university – and competition for the best individuals will be intense.)

We want local students to be qualified to enter Cornell if they choose to do so. (And I’m pleased to say that 46 students from Tompkins County are members of the Cornell Class of 2011.) In addition, graduates of area schools are an important part of our workforce—and the preparation they receive in K-12 is important to their success in their jobs at Cornell.

To help in that effort, we have enhanced our outreach efforts with the Ithaca City School District and outlying districts, too, on many fronts, via leadership in the Associate Provost for Outreach Office—including the hiring of Cal Walker to work with the Ithaca area schools.
There is no shortage of opportunities to work together on issues important to our collective future.

We at Cornell need to be strategic in committing resources, and we need to work with you as collaborators and joint contributors to endeavors that are essential to the university and the greater Ithaca area. I hope you will consider our Office of Government and Community Relations as your front door to the university, and the place to bring your concerns and ideas. We are looking forward to exciting days ahead in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

I am very pleased that you’ve been able to join us this morning, and I look forward to working together. Thank you.