New Haven and Yale: On Common Ground

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
April 9, 2014
Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting

Thank you very much. On reflecting on the UConn victories, all I can say is, “We are all canines today! The Bulldogs are very proud of their species-mates, the Huskies.”

It’s a pleasure to be here and to share a bit about how city, university, and business leaders can collaborate to grow commerce for the community.

This is a subject I deeply care about. New Haven is my home. My wife, Marta, and I met here and we have lived here for 33 years. We have a passion for our hometown and our neighbors.

I want to acknowledge Tony Rescigno and the Chamber staff and thank you for all you do. It’s an honor to be with so many distinguished leaders, including President Papazian of SCSU. I’m delighted Southern has new offices at 900 Chapel—adding to the bounty of higher education in the center city. Yale has been here for a while, so we know downtown is a great place. I’m sure President Kendrick agrees, as well, as she takes Gateway to a new level of excellence in its new campus.

This Chamber is the nation’s third oldest business organization—and this capacity crowd shows it’s one of the most vibrant. Like New Haven and Yale, the Chamber is well rooted in the past, enjoying a renaissance in the present, and ready for the future.

This is an exciting time in New Haven, a place first established 376 years ago this month, on April 24. We have a history and tradition—and we have dynamism and diversity.

New Haven is moving forward. It has the nation’s highest apartment occupancy rate and had the largest percentage population growth of any city in New England in the 2010 U.S. Census. People want to be here—as do investors. New residential construction is underway in Science Park and on College Street, with more to come at the Coliseum site and Union Trust.

The word is out about the New Haven Renaissance. A September New York Daily News banner headline proclaimed, “New Haven is Happening.” The New York Post declared last June, “New Haven has arrived.” Just this January, the Washington Post said New Haven “has come into its own.”

The world now knows what many of us have always known: New Haven is a place more full of opportunity than it is beset by challenges. Sure, we have challenges—issues in common with cities across nation. But—and most importantly—we have uncommonly abundant assets beyond most cities our size.

Let’s be clear, clear with ourselves and with the world: New Haven has arrived.

Let’s also be clear for the future, in the words of a song by some New Haveners from Hall Street: we’ve only just begun.

And let me be clear, as Yale’s new president: I, too, am bullish on New Haven’s future.

My confidence comes from many sources—including our new mayor, Toni Harp. The mayor and I share many things in common. We are both new to office, after decades in related work. We both follow outstanding predecessors—Rick Levin and John DeStefano—who forged a partnership that we are building on. Mayor Harp and I are both people who moved to New Haven for graduate school, found our spouses, and made our lives and careers in the Elm City.

We also share a common goal: to encourage more young people to be like us and to put down roots, develop careers, and add their talents to the rich mix of what makes New Haven a great place to work and live. To put it another way, we want more Kebabians in New Haven.     

Let me just take a minute and join all of you in saluting the Kebabian family, owners of Kebabian’s Rugs, the country’s oldest rug importer, founded in 1882. We can really take inspiration from their story as we work to weave the future of New Haven. It’s really a story of higher education, global connections, entrepreneurship, and arts and culture—all keys to New Haven’s future.

The first John Kebabian was an Armenian who came from Turkey to attend Yale, which at that time was a school quite different than today. There was no financial aid then, so he sold oriental rugs to pay for his education. I’m glad he started his company– but also happy contemporary Yale students don’t need to work retail on the side to pay their tuition!

Yale College today offers full financial aid to all students who need it. We do not ask families of students with annual incomes under $65,000 a year—that’s the national median for families of college bound students—we don’t ask families at that level or below to make any financial contribution to the students’ education. Our financial aid is structured so no student needs to borrow. In fact 85% of students graduate with zero loan debt. Only 15 percent of recent graduates chose to borrow, and their average debt is half the national average.

I was at the White House in January for a summit organized by President Obama on college opportunity. I committed Yale to a number of steps, including sending 300 current students from minority and low- income backgrounds as “Student Ambassadors” to their home communities to talk about Yale admissions and aid – and about life in New Haven. I hope each of you might also be an ambassador and share the facts about financial aid at Yale with young people you know.

America has the world’s greatest range of colleges—two-year, four-year, public, independent, small, and large. Yale is a great place for many students—and so too are Gateway, UNH, Southern, Albertus Magnus, and Quinnipiac great places for many students.

When I was at the White House, our city’s school reform plans and the New Haven Promise were saluted as models for the nation. I’m proud to serve as board chair of Promise and work with Presidents Kendrick and Papazian, Mayor Harp, and Will Ginsberg of the Community Foundation.

Yale funds Promise because we believe in New Haven’s young people. Let’s all make sure that every child in the New Haven Public Schools knows that if they work hard, stay in school, and achieve—they can go to college, regardless of family income. The Promise is real. They’ll be able to afford college and won’t have to sell carpets to do it! That’s the American dream.

College today is different from John Kebabian’s time in other ways. He was one of very few international students back then. Yale now is truly global—with 2,300 international students from over 100 countries across the globe populating our degree programs. Virtually every Yale student will have international experience during his or her course of study. All are potential ambassadors for New Haven. They represent a network of Yale students and alumni who can tell the world about this very special community.

Yale’s globalization reaps many benefits for New Haven—more visitors who come and shop, eat, and stay overnight, plus speakers and performing artists whose campus events are open to the public. (And for we fortunate locals: I hope you will enjoy New Haven Restaurant Week this week, and visit some of our fantastic restaurants!) Yale is a virtual global festival throughout the school year. We are also proud to sponsor New Haven’s International Festival in June. I hope you’ve seen their superb line-up and I hope to see all of you at the Festival from June 14 to 28.

New Haven is a global city—and that’s an important competitive edge in the 21st century economy. It’s been a city of immigrants from the beginning. Our embrace of diversity and our welcome for newcomers today is both right, morally, and smart, economically.

Let’s celebrate the global competitiveness of New Haven. The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Roman Catholic fraternal organization, for example, is a major asset for New Haven. Assa Abloy’s Americas headquarters are here—a great local corporate citizen with global reach. New Haven exports architecture—let’s celebrate our world-class architects, help their firms grow, and encourage more architects to set up their practices.

Growing local businesses in many sectors must be our shared goal—at the Chamber, at City Hall, at Yale, and around the community. Entrepreneurship and innovation are part of the fabric of New Haven history—from Eli Whitney, Kebabian’s, and A.C. Gilbert in earlier centuries, to a new generation now, like the founders of HigherOne.

We have a good foundation on which to build and create more employment opportunities in New Haven. Let me showcase an example from my own department at Yale—the psychology department—of a student-founded local company that has grown and prospered.

Leon Rozenblit, who earned his Ph.D. at Yale in 2003, founded Prometheus Research, with offices around the corner from here on Church Street. Leon discovered in the department of psychology that he really liked data analysis as a student, so he started a company to develop customized data systems for research, healthcare, and funding organizations. It has served Yale and universities, but also in Texas, Georgia, Missouri, and other places—even in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company employs nearly 40 data administrators, network engineers, programmers, and analysts.

Leonard Bell, a 1984 Yale School of Medicine graduate and former assistant professor of medicine and pathology, is an exemplar of faculty entrepreneurship. He founded Alexion Pharmaceuticals in 1992. It now has 1,600 employees serving patients in 50 countries. Soon, Alexion, as you heard, will come home to New Haven in its new Downtown Crossing headquarters, a project that reknits the center city and the medical area.

Bioscience is a key sector for our community, with a solid foundation in place—from Yale research in New Haven and the West Campus, to the Yale-New Haven Hospital—the nation’s fifth largest hospital—and growing sets of both mature companies and start-ups. Local and state government support has been important—and should continue. And we all should be advocates for federal support for scientific research—which is both vital for human health and also for local economic health.

Entrepreneurial energy is abundant around Yale. Here’s one more example: in 2000, sophomore Jennifer Staple-Clark started Unite for Sight in her dorm room. It is now a global nonprofit with four full-time headquarters staff here in New Haven. It has provided eye care to more than 1.7 million patients in eye clinics in India, Ghana, and Honduras.

Unite for Sight also runs the world’s largest global health and social entrepreneurship conference. The 2014 edition is this weekend, so expect to see more than 2,000 people from all 50 states and 50 countries at the Shubert, this hotel, and around campus and downtown. Jennifer exemplifies a distinctive strength of innovation, the Yale way—our students want to succeed by making society better. As one reporter noted recently: “What Stanford is to classic tech entrepreneurship, Yale is becoming to social entrepreneurship.”

So let’s develop an even more robust local ecosystem to support entrepreneurs and firms like Prometheus, like Alexion, and like Unite for Sight. Let’s find ways to do more as a city to support co-working spaces and other start-up support systems and focus, especially, on mass transit, rail, and air transportation improvements to boost our connections in the region and to New York City and the world.

At Yale, we will do more to nurture student and faculty entrepreneurs and encourage them to contribute to the local idea economy. I have already begun to meet with groups of students, as well as with alumni, parents, faculty, and potential investors.

The building blocks are in place, including the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. The School of Management is another asset in its new home, Evans Hall. All of this is good news for New Haven. The people of SOM have long been excellent—now they have a world-class campus that also allows us to add 200 more MBA students—who will contribute to the local economy while enrolled, and perhaps remain here after they graduate. That means more graduates who we can encourage to stay and follow the example of SOM alumni like Troy Resch, who founded Elm Campus Partners, or Matt Nemerson, the city’s economic development director.

The SOM project illustrates other ways Yale contributes to a strong New Haven. Yale paid millions of dollars in building permit fees and provided jobs for local construction workers in the building of Evans Hall. An economic impact survey of Connecticut’s independent colleges recently showed that Yale had a direct economic impact of more than $2 billion a year in wages and benefits paid and operating and capital expenditures made—with most of the impact here in the New Haven region.

There are other ways we contribute to the local economy and tax base. Yale is one of the city’s biggest taxpayers, with the community investment properties like the Broadway, College/Chapel, and Whitney/Audubon retail districts.

Unusual among universities, we also make a major voluntary payment to our city’s budget. Of the nearly 1,000 independent colleges and universities in America, only a few make voluntary payments. And while Yale is not the biggest independent university in the nation, we do make the biggest voluntary payment to our hometown city, at over $8 million a year. That money helps fund city services for residents in all neighborhoods.

This, in fact, is a city of neighborhoods, of great neighborhoods—and Marta and I have lived in several of them, from inner Westville to Fair Haven Heights to Prospect Hill, and we have loved every one of them. We know what four generations of Kebabians have known: this is a terrific place to work and to live.

Another way Yale supports neighborhoods, and invests in our outstanding faculty and staff, is the Yale Homebuyer Program. It has helped more than 1,000 employees buy homes since it was launched 20 years ago on April 20, 1994. Note that was six months after Marta and I bought our first home, so we didn’t qualify! I am committed to these efforts to encourage faculty and staff to live in New Haven and contribute to its vitality.

And what vitality we have. There is no other city our size in America with such an array of visual and performing arts available as New Haven has, often at no or low cost. New Haven arts and culture is world-class and has an impact beyond our borders—as Marta and I were reminded this past Sunday night at the opening of The Realistic Joneses on Broadway.

That play began at the Yale Rep—part of the extraordinary work James Bundy and the School of Drama have done to make that school a leading innovator and sponsor of new theatrical work. Long Wharf is doing its part to uphold New Haven’s legacy as the birthplace of hits, with its production of Satchmo at the Waldorf also in New York now. And we should all celebrate the Shubert as its centennial approaches. Long Wharf, the Shubert, and other arts organizations nourish the mind and enliven the soul—and they also enrich the local economy, as do the arts at Yale.

Yale arts are your arts. As Jock Reynolds likes to note, New Haven and Yale have the largest collection of visual art available to the public at no admission charge outside the national collections in Washington, D.C. The Yale Art Gallery and Center for British Art are always free to all—as are the galleries in the Art, Architecture, and Divinity schools, and the Beinecke and Sterling Libraries. There are scores of free concerts at the music school and much more across campus. So I hope you will spread the word about the world-class art on campus available to all—and remind people to use the money they save on admission to enjoy shopping and dining in town. 

Since I’m a professor as well as president, let me close with a homework assignment. Don’t worry—you will earn an A+ just for trying. It’s due on April 24, New Haven’s 376th birthday. Here’s your homework: take a moment that day to share with others about how New Haven is the greatest small city in America. Tweet it, post it on Facebook or send an Instagram, e-mail a friend from out of town to join you and visit a museum, see a show, enjoy a dinner in New Haven.

New Haven is a great city, and it has come a long way in 376 years—and especially in the last 20 years. Our renaissance is now well rooted. New Haven and Yale are on common ground. As a New Havener and as president of Yale, I am bullish about the future that we will build together. As the song goes, we’ve only just begun.