Yale President Peter Salovey told city lawmakers he wants to keep more student entrepreneurs in town when they start new businesses. Dwight Alder Frank Douglas told him to keep the the old businesses around, too — by bringing local bread back to the dining halls.
Douglass said as much to President Salovey (pictured) Monday evening in City Hall, during a meeting with the Board of Alders.
Salovey stopped by with other Yale officials Monday to meet with lawmakers, one of a number of periodic briefings the Board of Alders has with the city’s larger institutions.
After some brief remarks, Salovey took questions from alders.
“I’m a little upset,” said Alder Douglass. He said he has worked for Yale for over 20 years, mostly in food service. He said the dining halls “have moved away from supporting local businesses.” Local vendors have been “replaced with vendors from God-knows-where.”
Douglass later said that, until recently, the university contracted with Lupi-Marchigiana bakery in the Hill to supply its bread. Douglass said he used to receive fresh hot loaves every day at 5 a.m. Now, students eat bread that’s shipped in from out of town, then stored in a warehouse in West Haven for two days.
He asked Salovey why the university changed its food vendors.
“I haven’t heard about this,” responded Salovey. “I’m happy to talk to [Yale Dining Executive Director] Rafi [Taherian] about it.”
Buying locally is good for the local economy, and it’s “greener” since the food doesn’t have to be shipped from far away, using fossil fuels, Salovey said.
“I’ll try to find out more,” Salovey promised.
Lupi’s owner Pete Lupi said Tuesday morning that Yale stopped buying from the bakery last November.
“We had them for for 60 years,” Lupi said. Then “they dumped us” for a regional suburban supplier that brings bread in from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Lupi said other local colleges and universities still order from his family’s bakery.
Lupi’s never had a formal contract with Yale, he said. “It was a pretty good portion of our business. We had all the dining halls. They would run short and we would always help them out. We still help them out” if the university runs short.
Yale told him “they wanted to keep trucks off the road because of emissions” and sought to consolidate deliveries into big tractor trailer loads, not a lot of trucks, Lupi said. Now they’re buying bread from New York that goes into a warehouse in West Haven, he said. “They’re paying more for the product” that arrives on campus “three days old, four days old.”
“I dropped my membership at the [Yale] golf course because of it,” Lupi remarked. “I would go there and have lunch and have it on someone else’s bread.”
In his opening statements to the board, Salovey addressed a recent hot topic in town: PILOT.
That stands for payment in lieu of taxes, the money that the city is supposed to receive from the state in exchange for having Yale University — which is largely exempt from property taxes — in town. In recent years, the state has not funded PILOT fully, and state lawmakers have recently proposed legislation to remedy that situation.
One proposal — proposed by state Sen. Martin Looney — would increase PILOT payments by establishing a tiered system that would guarantee New Haven at least 50 percent payments. The other — proposed by House Speaker Brendan Sharkey — is being called “reverse PILOT” because it would require universities like Yale to pay taxes to their local municipality, and then seek reimbursement from the state.
The second plan would be unconstitutional, said Yale Vice President Bruce Alexander before Monday’s meeting.
“In tight times, you hear a lot about the solution is to get Yale to pay,” Salovey told the alders. He went on to enumerate all the ways that Yale already does pay money to the city.
Of all the private universities in the country, only a handful provide voluntary payments to their local municipality, and Yale is a leader among those, Salovey said. In 30 years, Yale’s annual voluntary payment to the city has increased from $1.5 million to $8.5 million. Yale has given a total of $82 million over that period, he said.
Yale also has a homebuyer program that has helped 1,000 Yale employees buy homes in town, he said. And the university supports New Haven Promise, the program that pays college tuition for New Haven public school graduates who meet certain requirements.
“It’s true we don’t pay property taxes on academic property,” Salovey said. But the university owns a good deal of non-academic property, and pays about $4 million a year in taxes, he said.
The university tries to decrease its burden on city services by paying for its own trash removal and police force, he said. And the university is an economic engine for New Haven, employing 4,000 New Haveners.
How To Tempt Tech
What’s new, Salovey said, is that he would like to find a way to convince students and faculty who are starting new businesses “to do it here.”
Students always think they have to go to Palo Alto or Cambridge or New York to start their company, he said. “This is a great place to start.”
Keeping people in New Haven will stimulate the local economy, he said. “We’re trying to figure out the formula to get people to stay.”
“We’re talking to students and faculty right now” to figure out what they would need to stay in New Haven, Salovey said after the meeting.
He said the university is looking at ways to have inexpensive space for new companies and to create an “ecosystem” of investors and advisors. He suggested pairing Yale business school students up with undergrad entrepreneurs, as advisors.
A big part of the effort will be Yale and the city cooperating on improving the city’s transportation infrastructure, he said. That would mean increasing flights and destinations from Tweed airport, or getting a one-hour train to New York, or expanding Amtrak service in New Haven.
Once the city/university tech startup scene reaches a critical mass, it will grow on its own, Salovey said. Yale can support work toward that mass by creating a startup “incubator,” like the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, but on a “different scale.”