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Western New York is college country.

The 21 private and public colleges and universities have more than 113,000 students and, with payrolls and services, account for more than $4 billion in economic impact. That is more than 10 percent of the local economy, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

The value of the schools in human capital is even greater. As Alexander N. Cartwright, vice president for research and economic development at the University at Buffalo, put it, “once people come here, they want to stay here.”

“Whatever perception they have of Buffalo before they come, it changes,” Cartwright said.

Sue McCartney, special adviser to the provost for academic development at SUNY Buffalo State, says the campus populations contribute to the their communities.

“You have the tremendous diversity with our staff – people with multiple interests beyond education. You see it with their involvement in music, fashion, technology, food, the arts,” McCartney said. “Add to that the students who participate in the community, and it’s very, very rich.

“Take that out of the community – not just the salaries and all they contribute economically – and think of what you’ve lost.”

Putting a value on all these contributions is imprecise, but most institutions try. The figures here are the most current available for each institution. For instance:

• The University at Buffalo – the area’s biggest school by far with nearly 28,000 students on two campuses, plus more abroad – calculates its economic impact as $1.7 billion a year.

• At SUNY Buffalo State, with more than 11,500 students, the number is estimated at around $750 million.

• And Erie Community College, a two-year college with full- and part-time enrollment of 15,000-plus – comes up with $291.1 million for its total impact, using methods from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

• Niagara University, with about 4,450 students and known for its nursing, theater and hospitality programs, puts its impact at $199 million annually. Niagara County Community College, with about 6,000 students, also plays a major role in the economy, contributing an estimated $135.3 million.

• Fredonia State and its 5,700 students and 1,300 employees contribute $370 million to the Chautauqua County economy.

• A little farther from the metro area, Geneseo State College in Livingston County has 5,445 students and contributes $210 million to its area.

• For the smaller private schools in the region – which includes Erie and Niagara counties, plus St. Bonaventure and Alfred State and Alfred University in the Southern Tier, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities’ most recent figures put total economic impact at $1.3 billion.

That includes $245 million for Canisius College, a well-regarded Catholic college on Main Street in Buffalo known for its business and education programs. Medaille College, with about 2,300 full-time students on three campus, puts its impact at $147 million; D’Youville, founded by the Grey Nuns, estimates its impact at $120 million; and Daemen College in Amherst, $114 million. Also in the mix are about 3,000 students, mostly commuters, attending Trocaire; Hilbert and Villa Maria colleges.

Some of the factors used to come up with the impact statements come from the school’s budgets.

Helping new business

UB breaks it down like this: University wages total more than $462 million, and about 79 percent of its employees disposable income stays in Erie and Niagara counties, with one-third of it benefiting the City of Buffalo. The school estimates its students – with more than half coming from outside the region – will spend $240 million off-campus on housing, food, transportation, entertainment and other items in the coming year, about $8,500 apiece.

As a major research and development university, it also counts in research expenditures, which were $360 million in 2012.

Start-Up NY, an initiative signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June, could make those development dollars grow even faster. The program creates tax-free zones on and near campuses in the state for new businesses to operate tax free for 10 years.

“Start-Up NY has brought a burst of interest in moving here that we have not seen before,” said UB’s Cartwright. “Our (business) incubators are full, we will have to add more space. We’ve also identified space around campus that can be used for these companies.”

Other colleges that could use Start-Up NY to expand their economic footprint include ECC, with its strong workforce development curriculum and three campuses; and Fredonia State College, which already has a high-tech incubator program in the nearby City of Dunkirk. Downtown Niagara Falls already has a culinary school affiliated with NCCC; other downtown projects could follow.

Sensible growth

The colleges themselves are sometimes the ones looking at property nearby to accommodate growing enrollment and expanded degree programs. The challenge for them is how to be a successful campus and a good neighbor.

Canisius College’s expansion into properties nearby maintained the integrity of the St. Vincent dePaul Church, which is now the Montante Cultural Center and renovated the former HealthNow building to serve as its Science center, among other things.

UB is navigating various issues as it expands into the downtown Medical Campus, with some Fruit Belt residents raising concerns about the university’s plans and about projects by a local development company. But, once the new UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is open, about 2,000 faculty members, staff and students will be on site each day, bringing another degree of physical and economic energy to that part of the city.

Expansion at D’Youville, tucked along Porter Avenue and Niagara Street, has required a certain creativity. A former school became a library, a new classroom building was erected in a former parking lot and the school recently purchased the former Gateway-Longview building on Niagara and Jersey streets, which is expected to reopen in fall 2015 with 85,000 square feet of space for the School of Arts, Science and Education.

This comes after the college added a pharmacy department, with between 30 and 40 new faculty members, and a chiropractic program.

“These are not entry-level positions,” said Edward A. Johnson, vice president for financial affairs at D’Youville. “There are high-paying, good jobs.”

D’Youville also purchased property long Fourth Street and Porter Avenue, probably best known as the former location of a Ted’s Hot Dogs, and is building a new athletic field and field house. The project is expected to cost up to $5 million.

“The field will be for our varsity teams and for co-curricular activities,” Johnson said, “and we also envision some interest from the community and the City of Buffalo school district.”

The expansions should allow D’Youville to grow by 700 to 1,000 students, Johnson said. Even though it is moving up, it has no plans to move out.

“We are committed to keeping the neighborhood intact and to not encroach on the housing or residents,” Johnson said. “Whatever we do I believe has to benefit the whole neighborhood. We want to keep the core of our business right on the West Side.”

email: mmiller@buffnews.com