Thursday, January 24, 2013
I want to thank the Brunswick Downtown Association for inviting me to speak, and for all the great work you do on the behalf of everyone in Brunswick. As a 12-year resident of Brunswick, it is evident that your great work through these troubled economic times has been essential in maintaining the economic health and community vitality of our downtown. From my point of view as president of Bowdoin, the work you have done to welcome our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, friends, and visitors into the community is so important. Nobody thanks people enough for the hard work they do on behalf of others. You do this work for the good of our Town while also doing your day jobs running businesses and nonprofits. So, from me personally and from Bowdoin, thank you.
I returned to Brunswick this week after attending the inauguration of President Obama. I was fortunate to stand in the reflected glory of Karen Mills, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration and a member of the President’s Cabinet. As Karen’s spouse, I was afforded all kinds of access and got to sit with Karen on the podium at the Capitol among all the important folks attending the inauguration ceremony. It was a very cool experience. I have to say that I think Brunswick won; if you think about the ratio of people seated on the podium level to the size of our town, we must have won. Three of us from Brunswick were there: Karen, me, and our new U.S. Senator, Angus King. It was a thrill.
I was at the Bowdoin hockey game Tuesday night with a new resident of Brunswick who told me about a visit from a friend in D.C. who was on a college tour with their child. The friend recounted that on many visits to schools like Bowdoin located in small towns, these other schools apologized for their location. But on the tour at Bowdoin, this visitor noticed we bragged about our location in the town of Brunswick and about all the benefits of coming to college in a place with this much vitality; a place with great food, great shopping, all sorts of entertainment, and even the train and bus! This short story tells how we feel about our community. Bowdoin would not be Bowdoin without Maine and the town of Brunswick, and candidly, I think we all know that Brunswick wouldn’t be Brunswick without the vitality and strength of Bowdoin College.
Let me take a moment to share some numbers:
Think of the purchasing power in this Town created by the College.
Bowdoin recognizes its financial responsibility to the Town, and we contribute much more to Brunswick than many colleges and universities contribute to their own hometowns. And all of this is despite what you might read in the local paper from time to time.
A few more numbers:
The Bowdoin International Music Festival and the Maine State Music Theater—supported in a whole variety of ways by the College—bring thousands of people to the downtown all summer long.
What these numbers indicate should be obvious to the business folks in this room—Bowdoin is a significant driver of this Town’s economy, and the purchasing power we create for these businesses with what amounts to a nearly captive audience, is very impressive to say the least.
The students, faculty, and staff we are bringing to Bowdoin—along with their families—are from around the United States and the world. I believe the diversity at Bowdoin is a great benefit to the texture of our town and to our sense of community. And now that the Navy base is gone, the diversity of spirit we bring to our community is even more central. Our community will be stronger and more resilient if we are open to people from across the many communities in America and the world. These folks will bring new life, new markets, and new opportunities. I want to thank all of you who, in your personal and business capacities, make our students, faculty, and staff “from away” feel so genuinely welcome in this town. And I want to encourage all of you to think about the business opportunities this diverse community creates for our downtown.
I am the son of a retailer—for a time, my father owned a couple of retail women’s clothing stores in my hometown of Warwick, Rhode Island, and in East Greenwich. And, I am married to the queen of the small business. So the small business gene is in my DNA from birth and by marriage. I think often about how the businesses of Brunswick can capitalize on the markets created by the College. We bring thousands of people to drive and walk up and down Maine Street every year—an incredibly diverse group of people by background and financial circumstance. Brunswick is a great town, but I would encourage the entrepreneurs in town to be even more responsive to the purchasing power of the visitors and residents brought here and sustained by Bowdoin. I am convinced there is a significant untapped potential.
If one compares Brunswick to some of the other very successful college towns in New England, we compare very favorably. But I do think it is worth a trip to some of these towns to think about the mix of businesses and the merchandising these businesses do to maximize their opportunities. Bottom line: as an important player in this business community in Brunswick, the College wants you to know we are ready to help folks understand the markets we create so that people can be imaginative and entrepreneurial in creating new business here in town. I would encourage all of you to engage our staff and our students in understanding this significant market.
I think it is important to remind ourselves about what the demographics of Bowdoin look like today. Yes, Bowdoin is very expensive to attend. And yes, we have a significant number of students who come from families able to pay our costs. But please remember that in the class we admitted last year, nearly half the students receive financial aid from the College. We are a College of wealthy, middle class, and poor students. We resemble America. Nearly 12% of our students come from Maine, and well more than a majority of those students are recipients of a significant amount of financial aid from the College. As I often say, it can be many times less expensive for a student from Maine to come to Bowdoin than to attend UMaine because of Bowdoin’s financial aid policies. We love Maine students and are proud of our continued commitment to Maine students, and we are particularly proud when we matriculate students from Brunswick High and Mt Ararat and the other area high schools. And so Bowdoin is a school of privilege, but only in the sense that the students who attend—wealthy, middle class, and poor—are equally privileged to be at Bowdoin for the superior education and residential life experience we provide.
Finally, I hear from time to time when I go into stores as a private citizen that Bowdoin students are an entitled group—we are the rich place on the hill. My reaction to this as someone who deals with students all the time is, yes, Bowdoin students have worked hard to accomplish the record necessary to be admitted to Bowdoin and yes, they are hard-driving, focused people when they are here. They can be demanding, as college students often are, but not entitled in any manner that is offensive or off-putting. We know they provide thousands of hours volunteering in our local schools, shelters, nonprofits, and throughout Brunswick. They entertain our community in the theater, recital hall, hockey rink, basketball court, dance studio, and art shows. Our students are genuinely good people committed to the common good—a core principle of our College. So I would encourage you not to buy into the narrative I hear sometimes as I walk through town. And I would remind you what my father taught me: these are your customers and every returning customer is as good or maybe even better than a new customer. It is fabulous that our stores in town are covered with decals and pennants welcoming Bowdoin students. Our students and their families notice this. But they also notice when they are welcomed into the community—when all of our students are welcomed into the community—and they will, for sure, reciprocate with their business and good cheer.
And so, we are partners in the success of Brunswick. Bowdoin will be a stronger college as Brunswick becomes a stronger commercial and residential community. Brunswick will be a more stable and healthy community as Bowdoin continues to prosper. We at the College take our responsibility to be a good citizen in town very seriously. We endeavor to always be upfront and transparent with the Town. And we have found the Town to be a great partner as we work together for our collective common good.
As a citizen of Brunswick, I am delighted with the community we have joined. My wife and boys think of Brunswick as our home. We may not yet have adopted the Boston sports teams, but my boys are and will be forever loyal Dragons, and Karen and I have every intention of continuing our close connection with this great town for a very long time into the future.
Thank you for coming out so early this morning, for honoring me and the College, and for all you do on behalf of our town and larger community.