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From Fire to Ice: New Economic Trend Adds Heft to Fordham’s Expansion


There were many reasons put forth last spring for Fordham University to seek a $1.6 billion expansion of its Lincoln Center campus. Among them were:

• The Lincoln Center campus, originally designed for 3,500 students, now supports 8,000 students and a mere 106 square feet of space per student.

• A development project would create 5,000 construction jobs over the term of the plan, and some 520 permanent and 200 contract jobs at the Lincoln Center campus.

• The plan also would generate about $13 million a year in tax revenue for the city.

But one argument, put forth by the state’s Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), gave a bird’s eye view of the New York City economy and then laid its punch: there is a dramatic transition happening in New York City’s economy, and Fordham University’s expansion plays a major role in it.

In March, the CICU released a 2009 report documenting that the private education industry was the fastest growing economic sector of New York City within the last decade.

Just how fast is the private education industry growing?

According to the CICU, since 1990 educational services have experienced a 55 percent growth in employment, followed by arts, entertainment and recreation each at 50 percent.

Conversely, the city’s finance, insurance and real estate industries combined have fallen 11 percent, and manufacturing industries have plummeted nearly 65 percent in the same period.

This economic phenomenon has been dubbed the shift from FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) to ICE (Intellectual, Cultural and Educational). The phrase was first coined by New York University President John Sexton (FCRH ’63, GSAS ’65, GSAS ’78) in his 2007 paper, “Fire and Ice: The Knowledge Century and the Urban University.”

The 21st century, wrote Sexton, is to be the “knowledge century,” one in which the driving forces of the economy are ideas. Cyberspace has already reshaped how business is conducted by making location less important; now, New York City must reinvent itself as the “idea capital,” the intellectual and cultural capital, one with educational facilities that generate new creative ideas and research. Already, according to the CICU, the ICE sector contributes approximately $26 billion to New York City’s economy, up from $21.8 billion in 2005, and employs approximately 90,000.

If, indeed, the CICU numbers continue to show a shift toward an idea-driven creative economy in New York City, then the Lincoln Center campus expansion should support and strengthen that creativity, said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham.

“Fordham alumni are part of the fabric of every important institution in New York City,” Father McShane said. “Along with Fordham graduates, our faculty and students generate tremendous intellectual capital: in the arts, in research, law and finance—it would be hard to find a sector of the city’s intellectual economy to which the University is not a significant contributor.

“Therefore, the development of the Lincoln Center campus will guarantee that the city continues to benefit from the ambitious and talented faculty, students and alumni who study, work and live here.”

“The city is an economy in transition, similar to that of the late 19th century, when people streamed off farms and into new and rising industrial cities,” said Abe Lackman, former president of CICU. “Our manufacturing has pretty much disappeared. We’ve become a FIRE economy, but while the FIRE sector is still very strong, most of the growth in New York City is coming out of the knowledge economy—the ICE sector.”

That trend, Lackman and others say, puts Fordham’s Lincoln Center expansion in the right place at the right time.

“The Lincoln Center project will vault Fordham from a great regional university to a national university,” Lackman said.

Sexton, who holds an honorary degree from Fordham, also explained why the city will remain a world center in his 2007 essay: New York state is the leading destination for freshmen leaving their home state to attend college. New York, along with California, houses more of the top 50 universities and top 50 liberal arts colleges than any other state, and the city itself has more college students than any other city.

Eventually, Sexton wrote, the ICE economy of New York will end up driving the FIRE economy because people will want to live here—even though they don’t have to.

Thomas Dunne, Fordham’s vice president for government relations and urban affairs, who helped facilitate the approval process for Fordham’s expansion, said that the fire and ice argument, although it was only one of many cases made on behalf of Fordham at last April’s City Planning Commission meeting, left a lasting impact on commission members.

Commission Chair Amanda Burden and other members cited the importance of Fordham, and universities in general, to the economic and cultural well-being of the city.

“The commission understood the concept; they got it,” Dunne said. “And they have seen it more and more, with the growth of Columbia, of NYU, and now Fordham. These [university expansions]are bringing in good paying jobs; even the ancillary jobs are good-paying jobs, with benefits.”


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