Western New York lawmakers are hailing the recently approved UB 2020 plan as an initiative that will improve the city’s economy and quality of the university.
The grant, approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Amherst last Tuesday, is part of the SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program he signed in August. The plan awards $35 million in state funds to the University of Buffalo and begins the first phase of a larger $375 million strategic development that will relocate the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo.
“UB 2020 will create jobs, facilitate private investment and help turn the University of Buffalo into a national leader amongst public research universities,” Cuomo said. “This is a real investment in revitalizing economic development in Western New York.” Cuomo said he looks forward to the plan’s implementation.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said Cuomo’s “vision and leadership for a stronger New York and a more competitive public university system,” continues to be realized by SUNY campuses. The plan, she said, “promises to better serve students and positively impact both the local and state economies.”
The plan will allow for 300 new faculty members to be hired in areas that will increase the university’s research output as well as the replacement of 300 faculty expected to leave the university because of attrition over the next five years. The plan will also enable the university to expand its academic offerings and facilities while reducing class sizes.
UB President Satish K. Tripathi said the funding will “transform the depth and scope of UB’s academic and research enterprise,” while also heightening the universities’ role in improving the quality of life for those living in Western New York.
“Imagine what our community will look like when we realize this next phase of UB 2020. Buffalo will be a destination for world-class health care and research, new businesses will be created through innovative research-industry partnerships, thousands of new jobs will be created for our region’s people, and we will attract more of the world’s best faculty and bright students into our region,” Tripathi said.
“The new medical campus will be so much more than just facilities for student learning,” said Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo. In addition to attracting top researchers, businesses that cater to students in the housing, dining and entertainment industries will be drawn to the area because of the increased volume of students, Grisanti said.
“It’s not just sticking a building somewhere, it’s enhancing an entire community, it’s opening up streets that will go through, it’s bringing in other businesses in the downtown Buffalo area where now there’s going to be housing for students, additional restaurants or additional clubs, whatever you need that’s just going to make it more vibrant and a community that years ago had been dead,” Grisanti said.
Assemblyman Ray Walter, R-East Amherst, said he supported UB 2020 from the beginning. “When I was in the [Erie] county legislature we had supporting resolutions regarding UB 2020 all along and it’s a very important component of our region’s economic development.”
While some SUNY students have argued that the state university shouldn’t focus on economic development at the expense of academics, the quality and quantity of faculty and the welfare of students, Walter said by their nature, research universities boost the economy of the surrounding area.
“When you’re talking about a major research university, you’re going to end up generating research and creating opportunities that are naturally going to enhance the economic situation in the communities around the university. If you look across the country, a lot of the thriving areas of the country are centered around major research universities,” Walter said. “While the focus of the university should always be on academics, I think it’s just a natural spin-off to have economic development from that.”
The plan is expected to create more than 3,000 new full-time jobs by 2018 including 975 jobs at the university, 1,125 jobs in the health care field, 200 jobs at start-up companies, 100 new medical faculty at UB and more than 1,665 construction related jobs to build the medical school in the new Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo.
Grisanti expressed strong support for the plan and outlined the benefits it will have for Western New York and the immediate Buffalo area. He said the tuition increases that are part of SUNY 2020 and the additional $75 fee that UB can charge because of its status as a university center, along with a 10 percent tuition increase for out-of-state students will enable the school to increase class offerings. In the past, some students could not complete their degrees in four years because certain classes they needed to graduate may not have been available at the time they needed them, Grisanti said.
The relocation of UB’s medical school to the Niagara Medical Campus will not only attract research grants but give students at the medical school the opportunity to apply for “first-rate internships because in the Buffalo Niagara Medical campus, you have not only the Buffalo General Hospital [Kaleida] … you have Roswell Park [Cancer Institute], you have the … [New York State] Center of Excellence [in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences], you have all these different facets of training and care for patients that these students can then apply to,” Grisanti said.
Buffalo rates third in the nation for growth of construction jobs and those created as part of the funds from UB 2020 will put area residents back to work and boost the economy of Western New York, Grisanti said. Jobs will also be created outside of the university in small research incubators that will have the option of securing money from federal research grants, he said.
Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, said the plan has been a long time coming and he points out the overwhelming positive support there has been for UB 2020 across the board. “The plan itself was years in the making. It was identified last year as the Western New York legislative delegation’s number one priority,” Gallivan said.
It gathers many entities together in one area and increases the university’s standing among other research institutions, he said. “You’ll see a concentration of the medical service providers and researchers and educators within one area on the edges of downtown Buffalo … It will bring the top researchers and educators and attract them into the Western New York area, help to enhance the Western New York area’s reputation and standing as a premier medical research facility certainly in the nation, if not the world.”
UB 2020 will also benefit patients being treated in the medical quarter of downtown Buffalo. Patients, Gallivan said, will “ultimately benefit from the gains that the research provides, from what is learned, from those that are educated and from the availability of services.”
Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said the relocation of UB’s medical school will add to the already thriving collection of medical facilities on the edge of downtown Buffalo. Moving the medical school to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will “compound on the existing medical border and add to it a student population and an additional critical mass that should spur some economic growth in the area,” she said.
A notable aspect of UB 2020 as it made its path to approval was the support it gained from practically everyone in the community, which is rare for such initiatives, Gallivan said.
“What’s interesting is when you deal with so many issues, whether it be about government funding or public policy, oftentimes people are at odds. And this is one thing that most everybody and every group coalesced behind: government officials, business leaders, educators, the general public, the religious community … So it’s not often that you see all facets of an entire community standing behind something.”
The agreement among those involved as to the worth of the plan speaks to its progress in the future, Gallivan said. “I think it is a great indicator of its future success.”