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|Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012 7:00 am|
Business startups spun out from university research, taxes paid on dining halls and dorms by private institutions, investments in research and development, and capital investments in new buildings are all part of that overall figure. Between 2001 and 2013, the University System of NH will have spent $1.1 billion on capital improvements. There are also economic contributions that are more difficult to quantify, including the thousands of hours of volunteer time staff and students contribute to local nonprofits, and the value of college interns who work at NH companies. For instance, Plymouth State University students donated 12,500 community service hours during 2010-2011 and completed 460 internships.
Colleges and universities attract attention and resources to their host communities, but can also bring challenges. On the upside, colleges create jobs and attract businesses and as a result, college towns tend to have a higher paid and more educated population. Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin notes that downtown has a commercial vacancy rate of less than 5 percent—a fact she attributes to nearby Dartmouth College. Keene’s downtown is the city’s “crown jewel,” according to City Manager John MacLean, and that is due not only to the economic activity created by the colleges, but also to the lecture series and cultural events they hold.
On the downside, college towns sometimes struggle to balance residents’ lifestyles with students’ late night parties and less-than-vigilant upkeep of lawns and buildings. “What we have found is that over time, an increasing number of single family, non-owner occupied homes have been converted to rentals,” says Durham town administrator Todd Selig. “Those properties tend to be poorly maintained by non-professional absentee landlords” he says, though, the larger problem is students partying between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. when families with children need sleep. Selig says trash and noise ordinances, along with an active rental housing commission that brings students, landlords and university administrators together, helps curb those issues.
Selig says the overall effect of the university is positive, noting that median housing prices have remained stable the last two years compared to the rest of Strafford County and the state. And Durham realtor Michael Allen of Allen Family Real Estate says the university creates a floor for the market as single-family homes rarely fall below $220,000 because investors snap them up as rental properties.
However, not all college towns experienced that same insulation effect when it comes to property prices. In Plymouth, for instance, the median home price is less than that of the county overall, a fact economist Dennis Delay of the NH Center for Public Policy Studies says is likely attributable, in part, to rental housing for college students not being as well maintained.
Drawbacks aside, higher education remains a good “industry” to have in town, experts say. “When you have a college in town, they do their own marketing, students come and go, parents come and go. It puts towns on the map and establishes reputations for these towns,” says Gittell of the Community College System of NH.Student Housing Fills College Town Coffers
The depressed housing market continues to be a drag on the economy, but Durham is an exception. Being home to the largest university in the state has its perks, and that includes continued demand for new housing despite the recession and slow recovery. In the last four years, four major private residential student housing developments have been built, with the fifth and largest under construction right now. That development, The Cottages at Durham, will be completed this summer and house 616 students in 120 apartment complexes.
Even though it is still under construction, as of late January all but four rooms at The Cottages of Durham had been leased. Once built, it will generate a $900,000 tax bill for the town, making it Durham’s largest taxpayer. Such developments are important for the town given that the largest landowner, the University of NH, is exempt from paying property taxes.
“This is the best of all worlds,” says Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig. “It broadens the local tax base, has the potential to relieve the pressure of student housing on single family neighborhoods and they [private student housing developments] are well managed. That is key to preventing problems, having active on-site management.” Selig says the $30- to $40-million project is the largest residential real estate project under construction in the Seacoast.
Another new development—Grange Hall Lofts—is renovating the historic Grange Hall in downtown Durham, which had fallen into disrepair, into commercial space and student housing. The project, being undertaken by developer Peter Murphy, has already rented its residential space, Selig says, which will house a total of 32 to 36 students.
The apartments in these new developments tend to be upscale. Units at The Cottages cost between $7,200 and $12,000 a year to rent ($600 to $1,000 a month for 12 months) plus heat and electricity. By comparison, on-campus student housing at the University of NH runs $4,674 to $8,000 annually, though UNH only has space for about 60 percent of its undergraduates. The furnished apartments at The Cottages include flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and cable, laundry rooms and a common area for the entire development with sauna and hot tub. “This is a trend nationwide of building student housing that is more upscale,” says John Vawter, president of Cottage Builders Inc., the subsidiary of Capstone responsible for the construction.
Bryant Properties owns and manages apartment buildings and houses in Durham, including Bryant Park West, an eco-friendly complex with a green roof and energy-efficient appliances. There is often a six-month waitlist, with students signing up a year in advance. There, rents start at $500 a month.
Vawter says Cottage Builders is now looking into other NH communities for private student housing development. And his company is not alone. In Keene, Arcadia Hall, set to open this summer, is a 137-bed student housing development with rents ranging from $849 to $949 a month. John Chakalos, the developer of that project, is also considering another private housing development near Keene State. N
Educating Local Government Leaders
New Hampshire has 234 cities and towns, a majority of them led by elected selectmen who control everything, from which companies pave town parking lots to hiring town administrators and overseeing budgets ranging from $500,000 to millions of dollars. So who trains these elected volunteer leaders—many of whom come to the job without government experience—to ensure they understand the legalities of hiring and firing staff, and how a town budget works?
The answer might surprise you: It’s Antioch University New England in Keene, which partners with the NH Local Government Center to provide annual training to newly elected selectmen and selectwomen. Antioch founded The New Hampshire Selectperson’s Institute 14 years ago and has since trained more than 500 town officials. The college forged its partnership with the NH Local Government Center about six years ago, and holds four one-day sessions at the center’s offices in Concord. “Selectmen are in effect the administrative body of the town, and even as elected volunteers they have tremendous responsibility,” says Program Director Jack Calhoun. “This provides the awareness and resources that there are people they can talk to that will guide them through the wickets, and teaches them some rules and regulations they need to be aware of.” Topics covered include the state’s right-to-know laws, zoning and planning rules, how to interact with the media, and legal issues around hiring and firing staff.
Participants receive thick three-ring binders filled with information. The institute is taught by staff from the NH Local Government Center and Antioch as well as outside experts. Each annual session has about 40 participants, with an equal number on a waiting list. “Without this training, there could be lawsuits and liability concerns on behalf of towns,” says Scott Weden, the manager of health, safety and marketing for the NH Local Government Center, noting that selectmen make decisions on a daily basis that carry inherent legal risk. N
A Taxing Relationship
Look at the property tax logs of college towns nationwide and you’ll see one common feature. The college or university—which also tends to be one of the largest landowners in a community—is exempt from property taxes as a nonprofit educational institution. Not in NH. New Hampshire, says Tom Horgan, president of the NH College and University Council, is the only state in the nation that allows towns to tax private colleges. The tax does not apply to all school buildings, only to dorms, dining halls and kitchens.
This little known fact has a big effect on town budgets. Take Hanover, where Dartmouth College pays $5.33 million, making it the town’s largest taxpayer, far ahead of second-place Kendal at Hanover at $1.1 million.
Dartmouth College is not alone in being the top taxpayer in its town. Similarly in Rindge and Goffstown, Franklin Pierce University and Saint Anselm College each pays about $500,000 in property taxes, according to school and town officials, making each the top taxpayer in its respective community. The tax was created in 1913 and applies to the value of those dorms and dining halls valued above $150,000.
For towns with public colleges and universities, or nonresident colleges, the situation is different. The University of NH is the largest landowner in Durham, but public colleges don’t pay property taxes. Instead, the town and university recently negotiated a $200,000 annual payment to cover road repairs, police department expenses and any other town services the university benefits from above and beyond money paid for municipal services. In total, the University System of NH negotiated payments of about $3 million in FY 2010 to Durham, Keene, Manchester and Plymouth, including for fire protection services. n
Planting The Seeds of Innovation
University of NH plant breeder J. Brent Loy has created more than 50 new varieties of tomato, squash, pumpkin, gourd and melon. His seeds are sold in catalogues worldwide. Those seeds—literally the seeds of innovation at UNH—have netted the university $1.1 million in royalty payments since 1999, accounting for half of UNH’s cumulative royalties from commercialized research.
Further north in Hanover, Dartmouth College has a history of spinning off companies from commercializing its research. The best known and most profitable example is GlycoFi, the Upper Valley biotech company founded by Dartmouth Professor Tillman Gerngross and sold to Merck in 2006 for $400 million. (That’s not the only Dartmouth connection. GlycoFi was funded in part by Borealis Ventures, a venture capital firm co-founded by Phil Ferneau, who received an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.)
It’s just one of many examples of how research at NH colleges and universities spawns successful companies and jobs. The Dartmouth Regional Technology Center—where all businesses have some connection to Dartmouth—has housed 38 startups since it launched in 2006 and created more than 150 jobs. The Thayer School of Engineering lists a dozen faculty and emeritus faculty who have started successful companies, among them the Mascoma Corporation and Hypertherm, one of the largest employers in the Upper Valley.
“I tell my students, ‘You are in the richest environment you are ever going to have to start a company. Don’t waste any of it,’” says Gregg Fairbrothers, executive director of the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center and an adjunct professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.
Adds Marc Sedam, executive director of the Office for Research Partnerships and Commercialization at the University of NH, “If you can’t get intellectually engaged on a university campus, you aren’t trying.”
Luckily for NH, professors and students at campuses statewide are trying, and the state is benefiting as a result. In FY 2009, the latest cumulative data available, NH colleges and universities invested a total of $391 million in research and development.
The University of NH is involved in several projects aimed at launching innovative startups, including the NH Innovation Commercialization Center (NH-ICC) in Portsmouth and the Green Launching Pad. The NH-ICC is a partnership with the University of NH and is both an accelerator and an incubator. Startups can receive $100,000 to $250,000 in equity investments, and support from UNH faculty and students. Opened in 2010, the center currently has 13 companies.
The Green Launching Pad is a partnership between the University of NH and the NH Office of Energy and Planning with $1.5 million in funding from federal stimulus grants. A total of 11 companies have received grants along with business mentors and connections to angel investors, faculty and students to assist in development and business efforts.
The University of NH also rents, for UNH students and faculty, 35 percent of the space in The Idea Greenhouse, which provides work spaces for companies to develop and share ideas. “It encourages professors, students and other people who maybe aren’t inherently entrepreneurial to take the entrepreneurial plunge,” says Tom Elliott, who founded The Idea Greenhouse in 2010.
Innovation in the Granite State
• 4 startups have spun off from University of NH research.
• 17 startups have officially spun off from Dartmouth College via its Technology Transfer Office.
• Professors and students at Dartmouth College and the University of NH have filed nearly 1,000 patent applications.
• Dartmouth College has received $15 million in revenue from license agreements for technology between 2007 and 2011 and the University of NH has received a total of $2.2 million.
• Plymouth State University has raised $1.5 million for the Enterprise Center, a new business incubator and accelerator now under development.
• The Dartmouth Regional Technology Center is adding 28,000 square feet, nearly doubling its size to meet the growing need for flexible, short-term lease space.
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