Our Knowledge Community
Greensboro’s knowledge community is an economic driver. Greensboro’s seven colleges and universities host more than 40,000 students each year, and all are projecting significant growth. Seven percent of Greensboro’s population works in educational occupations, which have an average salary of $35,000, approximately 25% higher than the city median. Students, faculty and staff contribute to the local economy by generating demand for other products and services. Yet when visiting downtown, Elon’s law school is the only physical evidence of the knowledge community’s presence.
A downtown presence would benefit universities. A high-profile university presence downtown could meet both campus space constraints and branding goals. UNCG, A&T and others will all need new buildings in the medium term. In addition, the universities are increasingly seeking to co-brand Greensboro as a knowledge community in order to attract students and professors alike. A downtown location can achieve these goals. University facilities downtown were proposed in Cooper Carry’s 2002 Center City Plan and the 2008 High Point Road and West Lee St Plan, and have been discussed in forums including the Higher Education Working Group and the EPA University Roundtable.
Selection of programs for downtown location should be based on capacity to generate economic growth. Programs should be prioritized for downtown locations based on their potential to attract outside funding, generate spin-off companies, and/or support related businesses. Programs should also have a critical mass of students that spend most of their academic time in the building. Potential subject areas that meet these criteria include pharmacy and health, design and architecture, business and entrepreneurship, and teaching.
Public sector commitment will be key to success. Universities identify growth needs far in advance, take time to make decisions, and have many priorities competing for budget dollars. Collaborative projects can become priorities only if public leaders present a solution to an existing need, galvanize community support and coordinate multi-sector stakeholders. UNCG’s collaborative long-term plan for the West Lee Street and High Point Road area can be seen as a model. As shown earlier, downtown locations in particular have high land costs, often making a financial incentive necessary for the project to be economically rational.