While I haven’t been on a 7 a.m. run around the Brain with Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger in a few semesters, I have seen Stenger around recently: front and center at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City.
There, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was presenting a $20 million check of state money to the Greater Binghamton Fund. What’s to be done with it is not quite clear yet. Behind Stenger, four wide rows of business, academic and community leaders packed the hall. Local politicians sat beside Cuomo; when Stenger’s name was mentioned, applause filled the room.
Morning jogs speak to publicity priorities; relationships speak to institutional priorities. And as the 2017-18 year kicks off, anyone paying attention can see the relationships that confirm the administration’s commitment to a positive role in regional economic development.
Stenger is co-chairing the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, which steers Consolidated Funding Application grants to different for-profit and nonprofit enterprises across the Southern Tier. These supported businesses provide job opportunities on a large swath across the wage scale and encourage newcomers to settle into the region economically. Terrence Kane, BU’s assistant vice president for government relations and a savvy and visionary urban planner, is the chair of the board of directors of the Broome County Industrial Development Agency, which along with the Binghamton Local Development Corporation, known as The Agency. A conduit for the leveraging of tens of millions of state dollars, this agency catalyzes private development with tax incentives and close coordination with the University.
Rolling out sprawling maps before me in an Innovative Technologies Complex conference room, Kane pointed to various sites across the greater Binghamton area. Besides the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences site that will soon open, a consolidated “health care hub” in Johnson City is in the works as commerce, housing and nonprofit programs aim to provide opportunities and increase the quality of health care at the same time. New industrial facilities and high-tech research centers are part of a total economic investment of roughly $6 million in tax incentives. However, the total economic stimulus that occurs due to the attraction of investment is well over $600 million — and that’s in Broome County alone.
But this doesn’t mean they are getting everything right. The administration still has not published any details of the Town-Gown Advisory Board other than their intentions to set it up. There is no guarantee that anyone whose views clash with Stenger’s and Kane’s will be part of this advisory board — but there must be, or else it will become an echo chamber. Economic development will also increase property values, which can cause gentrification. If rents go up, that can cause flight and have an inverse effect toward achieving the greater goal. The University is one of the primary contributors to the ebbs and flows of property values in the Binghamton area; it is obligated to roll back any economic oppression it catalyzes.
Still, these projects have the potential to make a difference; the Industrial Development Agency has predicted that its efforts have catalyzed an increase in net job opportunities. It has also helped nonprofit community organizations in the area, providing $250,000 of support to the Broome County Regional Farmers Market and advocating on behalf of the Salvation Army.
We live in an era of unchecked capitalism. The arrangement of global economic systems make more robust initiatives in social investment impossible. No level of local government, and particularly New York state, has the money lying around to immediately fix every problem in poverty, education, health care and justice with massive social-welfare spending. If anyone ought to call out the administration for acting too calculatingly in the regional community (as I probably have in the past, myself), they must pause and remember that capitalist forces have all the structural control in our economy. BU would not be what it is today without engagement with such forces.
At least we can be proud that our University is moving forward as an institutional component in the processes that improve the welfare and life security of residents in the region.
Adam Wilkes is a senior double-majoring in economics and sociology.