When people ask you to describe where you go to school, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the “glistening” Downtown area? Or maybe the wonderful Town Square Mall, with its many appealing shopping choices — because who doesn’t love having a Walmart and a Sam’s Club in the same plaza?

If you haven’t picked up on my sarcasm yet, I apologize. But in all seriousness, it is obvious that Binghamton University is the defining factor of this community at large.

Having lived in this area for my entire life, I see how it genuinely comes alive from late August until early May. The Oakdale Mall, Wegmans and Target — all the “hot spots” of the Triple Cities — are overflowing with people during the school year. Compare this to the dullness brought on by the summer months, and it’s almost a completely different place.

As a townie, I’ve witnessed this cycle from both the outside as a young observer and the inside as an enrolled student.

Though I’ve only been a student here for a little over a month, my eyes have already been opened to the true impact this University has had on my humble home in the past few years.

In recent years, this community has been in decline, feeling the wrath of our country’s economic downturn and the downsizing of a number of large employers. Businesses closed, jobs were lost and the general quality of life deteriorated. It was clear that only a force as influential and significant as BU could bring this area out of the dumps.

The school’s most obvious influence is in the Downtown area. Downtown Binghamton has come alive with the construction of 20 Hawley Street as well as the Twin River Commons apartments, both meant to provide greater off-campus housing for BU students. These luxury student housing developments spur investments in all sorts of other establishments. Because students move Downtown, we see new bars, restaurants and businesses open. The Downtown Center — our “Downtown campus” — has also allowed new life to permeate the city. Students living Downtown give rise to a more developed transportation system as they go back and forth between campus daily.

Look at Restaurant Week. This campaign is meant to spread word about new eateries and, it seems, is attended predominantly by the University’s students. Or even “First Friday,” a tradition that allows Binghamton’s emerging art galleries, businesses and restaurants to showcase their perks to the community — namely, the students here — on the first Friday of every month.

The University is the force behind the emergence of new businesses, jobs and money throughout this area.

And that’s not even mentioning the coming grand incubator project, funded by Broome County, the Industrial Development Agency and the Binghamton University Foundation. In early 2014, construction will begin on the incubator, a project meant to further engage this area with the University and its students. This $22 million venture, set on Hawley Street, will take ideas and technologies created at BU and convert them to new startup businesses, which will eventually lead to future generations’ businesses.

Not only will this bring even more industry and prominence to our area, it will also give students a reason to stay here after they graduate. This project will help to repopulate the area with young, passionate people thirsty for success and ready to change the area they lived and learned in.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “START-UP NY” legislation is also sure to bring nothing but prosperity to this area — at no immediate cost. This project is meant to “entice companies to bring their ventures to upstate New York by offering new businesses the opportunity to operate completely tax-free … while also partnering with the world-class higher education institutions in the SUNY system.”

What better way to attract ambitious and determined people to rebuild this area than focusing on the gem in this otherwise gloomy valley — SUNY Binghamton?

Gov. Cuomo has the right idea. Rebuilding and revamping this area seems like a no-brainer when you use this reputable and influential institution.

Without the clearly positive effect of Binghamton University on our community, I am sure it would have furthered its initial decline after the economy’s downturn.

There is no doubt in my mind that our school is the saving grace of this area.