Monday, May 9, 2011

Revitalizing the Economy

I learned a phrase here soon after my arrival four years ago – “never too high, never too low here in the Mohawk Valley.” As the economy tanked soon after, I watched the national and state unemployment rates surpass the local rate and saw Utica/Rome rank in the top 10 metro areas for housing values while other areas spiraled with devastating effect. Many shared the insight that the phrase means that this area doesn’t rise with the booms, so we “don’t have too far too fall” when the busts come. However, I believe if we work at root cause issues, like poverty, and foster a diverse economic base through an entrepreneurial spirit, this area can revitalize its economy and set a steady trajectory toward sustainable growth and prosperity.

This belief is built on the good fortune associated with the unique position MVCC holds in our community. We’re at the nexus of education system – connecting school districts and universities; we provide employers with well trained employees; we are strongly supported by local, state, and federally elected representatives; and we partner with countless non-profits and social service agencies to carry out an important mission. As a result, MVCC has identified Revitalizing the Economy as one of four initiatives as part of the Challenge and Opportunity Campaign through the MVCC Foundation.

One important aspect of the Revitalizing the Economy initiative is establishing the Cornhill Education Center. The idea is to create an educational hub of positivity and additional opportunity in the Hope VI area of Cornhill by locating classroom and lab space to deliver educational programming in unique and creative ways. We’ve begun to pilot this concept through a creative partnership with the Municipal Housing Authority by leasing a facility at 3rd and Elizabeth Streets in Utica. By offering carpentry and masonry classes there our students will be able to learn basic trade skills and then, with our partners, work on community restoration projects like home and building weatherization to increase energy efficiency in low-income housing, or a “Ramps and Rails” project for low-income seniors and disabled individuals. If we raise enough private support to match local and state dollars, additional non-credit GED and ESL classes could be offered along with introductory college courses for individuals who may have never thought college and career could be a viable alternative to the social services safety net.

Entrepreneurship is another critical tool in the economic toolbox that could create a diverse economic base and a spirit of hope in the region. With close to 25% of all jobs in Oneida County being connected to local and state governments, we have a long way to go – but there are many examples of success here locally. Many local businesses have been able to thrive through the toughest times in one of the toughest areas in one of the toughest states in the nation. However, entrepreneurship goes beyond just succeeding in small business – it’s more like a mindset that can be exploited in high demand/high growth areas. According to Upstate Venture Connect, 70% of all new jobs created in the last five years were through business startups and 40% of those new jobs came from just 1% of those startups – high growth/high demand fields. With healthcare, metals, cybersecurity, computer software, and nanotechnology thriving in a 90 mile radius of our area, there’s no reason the Mohawk Valley can’t foster and support entrepreneurs – and MVCC is once again perfectly positioned to provide smart resources and support to emerging entrepreneurs connect the dots and create viable networks for success. From relevant curriculum to access to mentors and partners, MVCC will provide that necessary support to foster entrepreneurs and revitalize the economy in the Mohawk Valley.

As one of four initiatives in the Challenge and Opportunity campaign, Revitalizing the Economy is perhaps the most focused and yet most significant and far-reaching initiative, with the potential to have the greatest impact on the region. We’re developing relationships that will continue to evolve and leverage the strengths of all of our partners in this important endeavor. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.