Yale students who have walked down Broadway, Chapel or Audubon streets and observed the variety of local businesses can thank Bruce Alexander ’65, whom the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce honored yesterday for his efforts to build the New Haven community and, in particular, its small businesses.

At the chamber’s Annual Awards Luncheon on Thursday, Connecticut entrepreneurs and city officials gathered at the Omni Hotel on Temple Street to recognize Alexander’s accomplishments during his 11-year tenure as Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development. While local businesses were also honored, the event focused on Alexander’s success in unifying New Haven and Yale’s shared interests in economic development as he received the Chamber of Commerce’s 2009 Community Leadership Award.

“As the largest employer and one of the few remaining large employers left in New Haven, my university has made great efforts in the past decade and a half to reconcile any differences we have had with the community and to participate in the kind of civic leadership of which I have been speaking,” Alexander said in his acceptance speech Thursday.

He also noted the University’s commitment to continuing these positive relationships and doing everything it can to ensure they last past the current University and city administrations.

At the end of his speech, he outlined what steps city government and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce should take in order to continue New Haven’s current rate of development.

Included among these were suggestions to improve New Haven’s infrastructure, such as Tweed New Haven Regional Airport and faster train service to Manhattan. He noted the importance of providing financial assistance to projects such as the construction of parking garages so that urban development is more cost effective for developers, whom he said now find it cheaper to develop in the suburbs.

But above all, he stressed the importance of building a “knowledge economy” in the city by ensuring it has an educated workforce. Essential to this effort, he said, is the successful reform of the city’s public school system.

During his introductory speech, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. drew attention to his own current efforts to improve the city’s public school system.

“There’s no greater investment we can make than an investment in public education,” DeStefano said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Alexander asked those present to consider how they might help Yale and the city of New Haven contribute to the region’s prosperity.

Over the past two years, ventures launched out of Alexander’s office have included the new Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, which was formed in January 2008 and helps residents form new local businesses, and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, which helps students found companies in the New Haven area.

All four of the event’s attendees interviewed said they were receptive to the vision Alexander presented.

“Bruce Alexander is a gift to the city — the award is well-deserved,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said. “The challenges he laid out for us are important.”

University President Richard Levin received the same award in 1999.