College Matters | Thankful to be a community partner

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, September 1, 2022 - 2:00pm

Imagine. Imagine a community where people come to learn. Imagine a place where people work to help your dreams come true. Imagine a community where its major employers provide a clean and resourceful environment focused on creating a better world. Imagine employers that offer educational opportunities, benefits, and entertainment. Imagine Humboldt County without the College of the Redwoods or Cal Poly Humboldt.

There are 58 counties and 482 municipalities in California. The North Coast is one of the few regions that has both a community college and a four-year university. We are one of only three polytechnic universities in the state, which, by itself, makes our region extremely fortunate and unique. Colleges have a tendency to pull new resources into a community. Colleges also tend to attract people to an area because of the activities that occur on campus. Retirees generally prefer retiring in communities with a college for this simple reason.

As residents, which I am one, I think we can agree that living in a college town and region has many benefits. There’s plenty of formal research to back this up, but I’ll turn instead to the famous Bob Vila of “This Old House.”

Vila has an article online that highlights several reasons you would want to live in a college town, including campus life; affordability of many amenities; plenty of attractions, such as the arts; the sports scene; expansive dining options on and off campus; community events; diversity; job opportunities; and youthful and dynamic populations. The list goes on.

There’s a reason that local residents worked so hard for the creation of Humboldt State Normal School here back in 1913 and the College of the Redwoods in 1964. They knew it would benefit their communities, though I’m guessing they had no idea that the institution would one day be the largest employer in the county.

Of course, the educational opportunities, cultural vibrancy, and sheer economic impact of higher education institutions are likely the most impactful. In our area, for example, Cal Poly Humboldt generates about $459 million in annual industry activity and supports 4,900 jobs. Our region also benefits from the thousands of Cal Poly Humboldt alumni who live in our region, among them many of the owners of our favorite businesses. Employees acquire homes, cars, goods, and services primarily from the region. Salaries go directly into the local stores for groceries and health care; as well as other services.

Colleges provide arts and entertainment, sports activities, fitness facilities, lifelong learning and continuing education, experts to collaborate with local employers and governments on issues, and a skilled workforce. Graduates generally consider remaining in the area and becoming a source of the region’s workforce. These are all great attributes that benefit the county, and municipalities, with Eureka and Arcata relying on and benefitting from them significantly.

As a campus, having strong and supportive relationships within the community is important. Cal Poly Humboldt, as does CR, works hard to be a supportive agency with businesses within our region. We work closely with elected leaders at the city and county levels, partners in K-12 education, nonprofits, health care, small business, and so many other areas within the region.

Public colleges are often one of the major sources of funding and the campus mission is driven by the state to create and produce a stronger and educated workforce. Despite this emphasis, there is one fact that always remains true. When a campus is thriving, so does the municipality. When a municipality is thriving, so does a campus. This is why these are good times for the region as our local municipalities are doing well and the two campuses are doing well.

Among our many partners in many communities, the mayors and city managers in Arcata and Eureka have provided incredible support for higher education in the region. They have worked with us in many ways to support our polytechnic transformation. Arcata, home of our main campus, has been working with us to create a more welcoming environment for our students, to coordinate infrastructure projects, and much more. We meet with their staff and leaders regularly. And we are exploring a myriad of ways that Cal Poly Humboldt can expand its presence in Eureka, the county seat and its largest city. The new EaRTH Center housing and transit center project, for example, was a shared effort with half of its new housing dedicated for Cal Poly Humboldt students. The infusion of housing for students and the workforce will drive the economic engine of Old Town in new ways.

The two mayors are even helping Cal Poly Humboldt and other major employers with efforts to welcome new employees. Susan Seaman of Eureka and Stacy Atkins-Salazar of Arcata are planning and hosting a big welcome event at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in just a few weeks. In addition to fun activities, there will be people there to answer questions about living in the area, childcare, finding a health care provider, local hikes, and much more.

Cal Poly Humboldt puts much time into community relations while striving to be a part of the efforts to improve our region. Thanks for your support.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.