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Cashing in on colleges

Rowan Boulevard in Glassboro proving to be a model on how public-private partnerships spur economic growth

Theresa LaMonaca, left, owner, Treasures on Broadway, welcomes Glassboro Business Administrator Joe Brigandi Jr., Glassboro Mayor Leo McCabe and Rowan University President Ali Houshmand to her store on Rowan Boulevard.-(PHOTOS BY AARON HOUSTON)

Theresa LaMonaca could feel the downtown of Pitman shifting and was self-consciously aware her shop, Treasures on Broadway, would not fit the new landscape.

“I knew I wouldn’t renew my lease,” LaMonaca said. “It was changing, so my boutique didn’t fit anymore.”

While looking for new locations, she discovered the development occurring in neighboring Glassboro as part of Rowan University’s growth and set up shop on newly developed Rowan Boulevard last October.

Business has never been better.

LaMonaca said her sales are up 60 percent from last year and 22 percent in the dead of summer compared with the five years she spent at her previous spot.

“And I mean the dead of summer,” she said again, with an emphasis on “dead.”

The difference?

“Traffic, traffic, traffic,” LaMonaca said.

For Rowan University President Ali Houshmand, LaMonaca’s success is just one illustration of the school’s growing economic impact in the town and in South Jersey.

And it’s a public-private partnership model, he said, that offers a roadmap on how the state’s numerous public colleges and universities can find more revenue as they push to be more financially self-sustaining.

“I think the two posters at the back clearly speak for themselves,” Houshmand said, pointing to two statistic-laden displays behind the panel, as he was on hand to discuss Rowan’s influence on the state and community last week.

“I think the impact is significant in every aspect, whether in terms of job creation, impacting the safety and security of the community, building new infrastructure and making the place much more desirable so that it becomes a destination.”

To substantiate these claims, Houshmand referenced a recent study conducted by Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions and commissioned by Rowan, which compared its economic impact in 2015 to 2005.

A space for business
The news conference regarding Rowan University’s economic impact was held in the institution’s official bookstore: A new Barnes & Noble College Booksellers on Rowan Boulevard. The company operates roughly 720 campus bookstores across the country, 40 of which are academic superstores, including the Rowan location.
“I can really think of no better example of where we have bridged the campus to a local community (and) we built the store to serve both the campus community and the Glassboro community,” said Chris Colbert, regional manager of Barnes & Noble College Booksellers.
In addition to college textbooks, the location offers a Starbucks cafe, a general book department that features more than 75,000 volumes, a children’s department that hosts events for families, and cosmetics.
Bridging this gap allows the company to broaden the demographics it serves in the community.
“We’ve kept it our mission to strike that balance where we can be a focal point for both the academic community that is Rowan and, also, the community that surrounds Glassboro.”

The study found that the school’s total annual expenditure rose to $1.23 billion in 2015 from $190 million a decade ago with the school currently supporting 9,200 jobs compared with 2,200 jobs in 2005.

According to the study, 1,000 of the current jobs are outside of the university, up from 640 in 2005.

Houshmand pointed to collaboration between the university, local government and private business as the source of the growth.

“The leadership of Glassboro, the leadership of Rowan and the people who invested in this place really have done a marvelous job in recognizing the impact of good collaboration,” he said. “I think we are great colleagues, we work closely together, care for this place equally and do everything we can to make it a wonderful place for everybody.”

Houshmand’s idea is simple: Leave governing to the government, academia to the academics and business to the businesses, but make sure those efforts are coordinated.

Doing so creates opportunity for all kinds of businesses and growth all around.

“In regards to public and private partnership, we let people who are experts in their area do it rather than us, who are not expert to do it,” Houshmand said. “And whether it’s generating electricity, printing papers, dealing with food services or fleet, every one of these things has jobs attached to them.”

It also breeds efficiency, which lowers costs. It’s the reason, Houshmand said, that tuition at Rowan is rising slower than the rate of inflation.

A new housing building on Rowan Boulevard, across from the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers location, is the most recent indication of this idea, Houshmand said.

“When we can afford to build such a magnificent building across the street without a penny of obligation and having a first-class dorm for our students, that speaks volumes to what I’m trying to say,” he said. “The people whose business it is to run housing or build housing, they are much more efficient in doing so (and) we are not.”
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For Houshmand, the growth displayed on Rowan Boulevard would not be possible, at least not in such a condensed time frame, without these partnerships.

Glassboro’s borough administrator, Joe Brigandi, reciprocated this notion.

“We’ve gotten here today by partnering and we saw Rowan as that great anchor that really helped us get to the point we’re at now,” he said, referencing the $300 million investment in Rowan Boulevard. “Going forward, we’re starting to become a little less Rowan-centric and more about blending Rowan and us in with, not only our Glassboro community, but our regional community as well.”

A lifetime resident of Glassboro, Brigandi also reflected how the recent growth has started to pull the community out of economic hardships that hit the area 15 years ago.

“When I was growing up, it was a nice little downtown without the strip malls and there wasn’t a lot of suburban sprawl then (and) as sprawl and the malls came along, our downtown got rundown,” he said. “None of what we’ve accomplished here on Rowan Boulevard would’ve happened without that strong partnership.”

This collaboration, from Brigandi’s experience, is a new one and its early success is an indication that it’s working.

“I’ve been involved in local and county government now for 25 years and the relationship was cool, at best, with Rowan and their administration for quite a few years,” he said. “With the advent of the new administration and the leadership of Ali Houshmand, it’s totally turned around and it’s amazing transformation from where we were and where we are now.”

Part of that expanding vision is making Glassboro a destination for companies through available tax benefits.

“There are some great 10-year tax credit programs that can save companies a lot of money by locating office space here on Rowan Boulevard or in the downtown,” he said.

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com

Andrew Sheldon
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