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Keynote CUNY Big Apple Job Fair
April 23, 2010

Kenneth Adams
President & CEO
The Business Council of New York State, Inc.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to join you this morning. I’d like to thank Chancellor Goldstein for inviting me.

It is a pleasure to speak with you today because this event is so important. As a leader of the state’s business community, let me make something clear: CUNY is a very important institution to our state’s economy in general, and to economic recovery right now.

And the work of those of you who are here today to recruit the talent developed in and by the City University of New York is not only important to your companies and organizations, but also to the vitality of our region’s economy.

Our mission at the Business Council is to advocate for policies in Albany that create economic growth, good jobs and strong communities all across our state.

We work from the simple, basic assumption that the private sector is the source of wealth.

That it’s the private sector economy that creates the wealth and the tax base that enables government to provide the services our communities need.

Obviously, today, nothing is more important in New York City and New York State than private sector growth and job creation.

(Thank goodness you all are here – your participation today as employers looking to hire CUNY students and graduates is a good economic indicator!)

Let’s start with a little background on my organization, the Business Council of New York State.

We are the leading state-wide business advocacy organization in New York. We are the voice of the NYS business community – your voice in Albany.

We are a membership organization. Seventy-percent of our Business Council members are small businesses; one-third of them are manufacturers.  

At the same time, most of New York State’s great iconic companies – IBM, GE, Corning, Wegmans, Kodak, Verizon, Xerox, Pfizer… are on our board of directors.

And our board chairman is familiar to many of you -- Kevin Burke, Chairman and CEO of Con Ed.

We are a diverse organization with members in every part of the state and in every sector of our economy.

That is why The Business Council advocates for governmental policies that allow our economy to grow and flourish.

It is no secret that our state and city face enormous challenges. Every day we are in a global competition for the jobs of the future.

And, let’s not forget: New York State is basically an anti-business state, making the competition for new investment here, against other states and countries that are more business-friendly, extremely tough.

At the Business Council, we advocate for an agenda of fiscal reform that will lower the cost of doing business in New York, make our state more competitive and allow our economy to grow and create good jobs.

But we also advocate for policies that will stimulate growth by making smart investments. CUNY is a stellar example of that kind of investment. Institutions like CUNY are the engines of our future economic growth in New York.

One of the things that make this event so terrific is that among the employers recruiting here today and the 5,000 students that will come through those doors soon we have a microcosm of our city and state’s economy.

Since 1847 when Townsend Harris founded the Free Academy, this institution has provided tremendous opportunity to students. But, also it has provided an educated workforce that has helped to make this city, state and nation great.

Like the global marketplace we compete in, CUNY is “always on” 24/7, constantly seeking, generating, sharing, analyzing and sending knowledge back into the world through its students, graduates and faculty.

Whether they are experts transforming specific business sectors, whether they are helping to revitalize their neighborhoods, or whether they are helping to grow new, entrepreneurial economic sectors vital to New York City, CUNY’s graduates leave no part of this region unserved.

Let me speak briefly about two areas that The Business Council finds vital for New York’s economic future.

First, the financial services sector, which is the bedrock of our state’s economy and has certainly been in the news a lot this week.

As Governor David Paterson recently said, “Wall Street is to our state what grapes are to California, what automobiles are to Michigan and what oil is to Texas.”

Our research affiliate The Public Policy Institute is currently working on a report on the importance of this sector. Consider some of these findings.

More than 1.5 million New Yorkers depend on the Financial Services sector for their jobs. Beyond the direct employment of financial firms, many professionals, real estate offices, restaurants and hospitality and tourism enterprises rely on the dollars this sector and its workers spend throughout our city and state.

Public institutions and services are also heavily dependent on this sector, with 20 percent of New York State’s tax revenues and 15 percent of New York City’s taxes coming directly from this sector.

Think about it: the Financial Services sector generates the largest share – 16% - of our state’s GSP, or Gross State Product, which is $1.14 trn.

And perhaps most importantly for today’s agenda - in 2008 it is estimated that this sector – Financial Services - hired 10,200 recent graduates of New York State’s universities and colleges (public and private).

We know this industry has been through turbulent times lately. But, fortunately it is showing signs of recovery.

Unfortunately, there are elected officials in Albany and Washington who fail to heed the warnings of Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg on the importance of this sector and want to put onerous new tax burdens on it that will damage our economy. We should not let that happen.

Since Financial Services is the leading sector of our state’s economy, we all must urge them: proceed with caution.

Now, as important as the Financial Services sector is, we must also grow new sectors in NYS to provide opportunities in the future and to diversify our economy.

The key is to unlock an innovation economy in New York that will create jobs and economic activity throughout the state. And institutions like CUNY will play a vital role in this effort.

While the financial services industry has kept New York City vital, upstate New York has seen the loss of its once great manufacturing base in recent years.

People, especially bright, young people, have left our state in droves to seek jobs and opportunity elsewhere. In fact, a shocking statistic is that since 2000, New York has led the nation in the number of residents moving out to other states, according to U.S. Census data.

Each year from 2000 – 2005 we suffered a net loss of more than 200,000 New Yorkers. Basically, we’ve been losing the population of Syracuse every 12 months. Long term, this has staggering economic as well as social consequences for New York.

An innovation economy can build on New York’s manufacturing, research, academic and human resource assets to reverse this trend.

Our think tank – PPI - recently released a report, “Transcending the Hamster Cage - Unfettering New York’s Static Innovation Economy”.

What we found is that too often the prevailing belief in Albany has been that some new funding program or training program will magically reverse the loss of jobs and people.

Our report instead advises a comprehensive strategy based on seven innovation themes:

  1. Human Capital - This is where institutions like CUNY play a key role in educating and training workers for this new innovation economy. And CUNY is a perfect model because this new economy will need well-trained people with associate degrees or certificates right through PHDs.

    Universities will have the opportunity to partner with growing companies to match students and graduates to job opportunities, just as you are doing here today.
  2. Regional Innovation Clusters - Rather than all parts of the state trying to do all things, we need to focus on defined technology sectors based on a specific region’s economic strengths and assets.

    In these clusters, we will need to integrate college programs with the region’s chosen technology. Many community colleges around the state are already engaged in these kinds of collaborations.
  3. Business Climate - We need to improve New York’s competitiveness. Specifically, we need to re-shape the state’s tax and regulatory policies to create a business climate that is supportive of the emerging innovation sectors.
  4. Economic Development - New York needs practical incentive tools to encourage investment in our cities and across the state and to overcome some of the high costs that make us less competitive.
  5. Tax Policy - We need to lower the tax burden on businesses to be competitive nationally and globally.
  6. Green Energy - Encouraging local power generation and the use of innovative new technologies, including Smart Grid, can lower energy costs and create new industries in the energy technology sector.
  7. Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals - This is a sector where New York is already a leader and where we can do even more to encourage further growth. Governor David Paterson’s NY Stem Cell initiative is a good example.

At The Business Council we want to make sure that New York’s political leaders make the right choices to ensure growth and opportunity for future generations of students.

As we look to a brighter future for our city and state, CUNY will play an important role. This university provides unique learning environments for every type of student, at every stage of life. Something few other universities can claim.

We can be confident that CUNY will continue to support the evolution of our regional economy. As the mix of employers and students here today shows, CUNY is providing a well educated and well trained workforce for every sector of our economy.

But I believe CUNY’s role in our economic future is more than that. It’s not just supportive; it’s pro-active. CUNY will help lead the transformation to an innovation economy.

An innovation economy is, first and foremost, a knowledge economy. And a knowledge economy succeeds because it has a highly talented, well educated, ethnically and culturally diverse, internationalist, hard working, and “hungry” workforce.

In a few moments, some 5,000 New Yorkers, CUNY’s contribution to today’s knowledge economy, are going to stream through those doors. And you are going to want to hire each and every one on them!

Good luck, thank you for your attention, and have a great day.