Thursday, April 9, 2009
Despite a recession that has buffeted the state’s economy, Georgia continues to reap benefits from its public colleges and universities, including the University of West Georgia.
UWG contributed $346 million to the regional economy over the past fiscal year, according to a study released by the University System of Georgia.
The study measured spending by the university system’s 35 institutions and students attending those schools, as well as jobs created on campus and in the surrounding communities.
On that score, UWG also fared well, with an employment impact of 3,127 jobs, an increase over the 2,867 jobs created a year earlier.
Overall, university system institutions had an economic impact of $12.1 billion statewide, an increase over the $11 billion from a year earlier.
The system’s jobs impact was measured at 108,405, compared with last year’s figure of 106,267. The University of Georgia led the study with an economic impact of $2.2 billion. UWG ranked eighth among the schools.
“It is very gratifying to note, particularly at a time of economic downturn, that the University of West Georgia is proving to be not only a major economic engine for this region of the state, but has actually substantially increased its contribution to the area—a nine percent increase in job contribution and an 11.6 percent increase in total economic impact,” said Dr. Beheruz N. Sethna, president of UWG.
“While there are other larger institutions with larger economic impact to their area, those areas are substantial metro areas. It is reasonable to conclude that UWG’s proportional impact in our relatively rural region is one of the highest in the state,” Sethna said.
The study also looked at what it called the multiplier effect of the institutions, finding that, on average, for every dollar of initial spending, an additional 51 cents is generated for the regional economy, and that for each job created on campus, 1.6 off-campus jobs are supported.
Daniel Jackson, president and CEO of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said the local business community acknowledges the contributions the university makes economically.
“Obviously the $346 million is a very significant number. This community and we at the Chamber recognize the significance of that. But what we also see is that while many of the students are employed on campus, others also are employed in the community. That is a significant source of employment base for our community,” he said.
Over the past year, the university’s physical growth has contributed to economic activity, with construction projects on campus boosting employment.
“If we look at the economic impact of construction, with the coliseum, stadium, Greek Village and [athletics complex], clearly that had an impact on our labor force. All of this new construction comes at a critical time and puts our people to work,” Jackson said.
The university’s impact becomes magnified when viewed through the lens of the current economic situation, which has seen one of the worst recessions in decades.
“Over the past 40 years or so, the inflation rate has roughly been around 2.8 percent, but with the 11.6 percent growth rate for the university [in economic impact], that is substantially more than the rate of inflation,” said Dr. Joey Smith, a professor of economics at UWG’s Richards College of Business. “That’s probably due to the fact that the university itself is growing. In times of economic downturns, university enrollment and employment usually go up.
“Obviously we’ve seen job growth, and this is in a period of recession. This provides an insulating effect against recession in West Georgia,” he said.
Smith said that when the economy creates large numbers of job losses, as has been the case recently, people often go back to school to sharpen their skills, so that when they return to the labor market, they are qualified for more and better opportunities.
That is another role that UWG has played in contributing to the area’s long-term viability.
“One of the benefits that the university provides to the community is that it puts out graduates who are high-quality workers. [West Georgia] enhances the local labor force, which attracts businesses to the area,” Smith said.
“That creates a higher tax base and allows for local governments to provide more services. That benefit is not just in Carrollton or Carroll County, but all these surrounding counties,” he said.
Local businesses, as well as those from other areas that might be thinking of relocating to the Carrollton area, value a highly skilled work force, which has helped in recruiting companies to the region.
“The fact that all of that human capital is available, really you can’t put a price tag on that,” Jackson said. “There are over 4,000 people who came to the university to get their degree, and they have never left. That helps the community have an educated work force and quality work force.”
The report, commissioned by the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program, is limited to economic contributions and does not address the many other benefits that UWG imparts to the region’s economic development.
That would include a direct role in recruiting businesses, Jackson said. The study also does not measure benefits such as cultural opportunities, community service and intellectual stimulation to local residents.
Cultural events bring hundreds of visitors to Carrollton throughout the academic year.
UWG has been designated as a comprehensive doctoral institution, one of four in the state. UWG offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, specialist and advanced certification programs, distance education courses and an award-winning WebMBA degree.
More than 11,000 students are enrolled at UWG and its satellite center in Newnan, with approximately 2,300 living on the Carrollton campus.
UWG offers summer camps that attract hundreds of school children and teenagers and plays host to conferences, such as the Water Resource Conference and the Learning Festival, that attract hundreds of professionals from throughout the Southeast.