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Making an impact: from promoting goodwill to helping win grants, economic impact studies do more than just report the bottom line.

Harrisburg University maintains undergraduate and graduate programs in science and technology related disciplines. As of January 2005, the university awards Bachelors of Sciences (B.S.
 (Pa.) commissioned an economic impact study in 2001, they admit that at the time there wasn't much impact to report.


Harrisburg was starting from scratch, hoping to build a bricks-and-mortar university from the ground up. But like any struggling startup, the school needed an infusion of cash--and a reason for grantors and legislators to open their pocketbooks.

With the help of Kaludis Consulting, a Washington, D.C.-based national consulting firm Noun 1. consulting firm - a firm of experts providing professional advice to an organization for a fee
consulting company

business firm, firm, house - the members of a business organization that owns or operates one or more establishments; "he worked for a
 that has worked with hundreds of other schools on economic impact studies and financial strategy projects, Harrisburg U was able to offer more than just a vision of a brand-new school to grant-making organizations and government agencies. It had numbers that showcased the kind of economic vitality the new institution could bring to the community--new jobs, increased housing needs, and demand for retail and entertainment. In the university's first few years, the Years, The

the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]

See : Time
 economic impact was estimated to be more than $14 million a year; a decade after starting up, the formulas predicted that Harrisburg U would pump nearly $45 million annually into the local economy.

The institution offered an array of benefits to the community, but boiling down its effect to dollars and cents likely helped cement its appeal to those throwing their financial support behind the school. Over the course of the university's existence, it's received more than $60 million in funding from local, state, and federal agencies to help construct buildings and pay for operating costs operating costs nplgastos mpl operacionales .

"The economic impact study was part of the supporting documentation and justification for why we thought grants should be awarded," says Eric Darr, provost and executive vice president at Harrisburg. "I'd say it's been effective." Considering that Darr puts the cost of the study at about $50,000, it's a remarkable return on investment--though he's quick to point out that it was just one of many different measures used to help secure funding.

Harrisburg U was in a unique position when commissioning its economic impact study six years ago, but now that the school is up and running, officials have used the study as support for a successful tax-exempt bond Tax-exempt bond

A bond usually issued by municipal, county, or state governments whose interest payments are not subject to federal and, in some cases, state and local income tax.

tax-exempt bond

See municipal bond.
 offering. A future study, which Darr expects they'll likely do in a few more years, will offer more up-to-date numbers to help in winning continued support.

Startups aren't the only institutions of higher ed benefiting from economic impact studies. By now, college and university leaders are used to talking about the positive effect they can have on a community by educating students, providing cultural opportunities, and offering space and services for community groups. But in recent years, there's also been a push to look at an IHE'S value in economic terms. Such impact studies can give credence to a push for funding, rally support for new development, and help build and maintain town-gown relations.

While few would argue that a school's economic impact is its most important contribution to a community, such numbers can be an important addition to the mix of assets an IHE IHE Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise
IHE Institutions of Higher Education
IHE International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (historical acronym only, replaced by: IHE Delft, the Foundation) 
 brings to its community.

Building a Case

Leaders at Marist College Marist College is a private liberal arts college of 180 acres (72 ha), located on the east bank of the Hudson River near Poughkeepsie, New York, on US 9. The site was established in 1905, and chartered in 1946.  (N.Y.), located in Poughkeepsie on the edge of Route 9, a well-traveled thoroughfare THOROUGHFARE. A street or way so open that one can go through and get out of it without returning. It differs from a cul de sac, (q.v.) which is open only at one end.
     2. Whether a street which is not a thoroughfare is a highway, seems not fully settled.
 between Albany and New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
, found this to be true when an impact study was commissioned partly in response to negative local reactions to recent expansions. With a few buildings and parking areas bumped to the other side of the highway, some town residents began to grumble, particularly about traffic tie-ups.

Marist's director of institutional research and planning, Victoria Mullen, was asked to do an economic impact study, in part with the hope that its results would help dampen the frustration. "We wanted to provide information so people could see that waiting for students to cross the road, for example, is a minor inconvenience when we're bringing money, jobs, employment, and an educated workforce to the community," says Mullen. "We wanted them to see that there were a lot of benefits to having a college."


Mullen's study estimated that Marist's economic impact on the county was more than a quarter billion dollars. As the college publicized pub·li·cize  
tr.v. pub·li·cized, pub·li·ciz·ing, pub·li·ciz·es
To give publicity to.

Adj. 1. publicized - made known; especially made widely known
 the information through press releases and talks with local community groups, "people were really surprised," Mullen notes. "The information is anecdotal anecdotal /an·ec·do·tal/ (an?ek-do´t'l) based on case histories rather than on controlled clinical trials.
anecdotal adjective Unsubstantiated; occurring as single or isolated event.
, but I think it's helped with town-gown relations."

Marist's initial study, which was presented in the 2005 fiscal year, got an update last year. Mullen says she expects to do regular updates in coming years. And as Marist looks at additional development across the highway, she expects the economic impact studies to carry more weight. "We would like to be able to grow as necessary," she says. "But we also want to be good neighbors."

The cost of the study, says Mullen, was minimal. In addition to a few weeks of her time, Marist spent a few thousand dollars on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis to come up with realistic figures. While the study was not as exhaustive as what some other IHEs have done, it helps give a guide to the value of the college beyond the intangibles.

That kind of evidence is particularly useful for state-funded institutions. At New Mexico State University New Mexico State University, at Las Cruces; land-grant and state supported; coeducational; chartered and opened 1889 as a college. It became New Mexico State Univ. of Engineering, Agriculture, and Science in 1958 and adopted its present name in 1960. , regular economic impact studies have helped show that the institution is giving the public good value for its investment.

Tony Popp, head of the state Department of Economics and International Business, has conducted three economic impact studies for NMSU NMSU New Mexico State University
NMSU Northeast Missouri State University
 over the course of two decades, including an extremely detailed study costing about $50,000 in 1991 and a far less expensive snapshot (1) A saved copy of memory including the contents of all memory bytes, hardware registers and status indicators. It is periodically taken in order to restore the system in the event of failure.

(2) A saved copy of a file before it is updated.
 study done in 2005.

Popp says larger studies can provide enormous amounts of data, but the 2005 study offers important information as well. "Our data showed that we represented about 20 percent of the economy," he says, referring to Las Cruces Las Cruces (läs kr`sĭs), city (1990 pop. 62,126), seat of Dona Ana co., SW N.Mex., on the Rio Grande, in a farm area irrigated by the Elephant Butte system; founded 1848, inc. 1907. , the location of NMSU's main campus. "Does it matter if we're 17 percent or 22 percent? Not really. We're about a fifth of the economy, and that's what we wanted to take out of that study."

There may be people in the community who seem to perk up perk 1  
v. perked, perk·ing, perks

1. To stick up or jut out: dogs' ears that perk.

2. To carry oneself in a lively and jaunty manner.
 only when a college's value is delineated de·lin·e·ate  
tr.v. de·lin·e·at·ed, de·lin·e·at·ing, de·lin·e·ates
1. To draw or trace the outline of; sketch out.

2. To represent pictorially; depict.

 in dollars and cents, but Popp argues that anyone who focuses only on economics is missing the point. A lower economic impact doesn't suggest a university isn't doing its job. "There's so much going on at a university that's just as important to talk about [as the economic impact], like the fact that we're educating people's sons and daughters to be productive citizens, we have public lectures, we have employees sitting on the boards of almost every volunteer organization in town," he says. "We're not doing this just to create business for other people."

Getting Noticed

If Marist College had the problem of being heavily scrutinized, The College of William and Mary Noun 1. William and Mary - joint monarchs of England; William III and Mary II  (Va.) had the opposite problem. Located in the historic town of Williamsburg, W&M was often overlooked by local officials, who tended to focus more on the significant visitor population that came to enjoy the colonial tourist destination A tourist destination is a city, town or other area the economy of which is dependent to a significant extent on the revenues accruing from tourism.

It may contain one or more tourist attractions or visitor attractions and possibly some "tourist traps".

W&M officials worried that businesses also seemed to focus their energy on this tourist population, while the opportunities for businesses to develop around the perimeter of the mostly residential campus went unnoticed. To help jumpstart interest in developing affordable restaurants, retail shops, and entertainment options, the college did an economic impact study. Officials wanted to show there were real opportunities for businesses willing to focus on the college.

The study was conducted with 2005 data and published in 2006 by The Wessex Group, a locally based company founded by W&M professor emeritus e·mer·i·tus  
Retired but retaining an honorary title corresponding to that held immediately before retirement: a professor emeritus.

n. pl.
 Don Messmer, who has done work with several other IHEs. It included basic information like budgets, payroll, and other expenses, as well as surveys to determine student spending and other factors.

In total, W&M put its impact at about a half billion dollars, making it a significant economic force by any measure. "We knew individuals in the region valued the college as an educational institution, but we wanted to be able to articulate its impact in terms that would resonate res·o·nate  
v. res·o·nat·ed, res·o·nat·ing, res·o·nates

1. To exhibit or produce resonance or resonant effects.

 with the private sector," says Jim Golden James Edward Golden (born March 20, 1936 in Eldon, Missouri, USA) was a pitcher in Major League Baseball. He pitched from 1960-1963 for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Colt .45's. , associate vice president and director of economic development at the college. "It's an important economic player in the community."

After its results were published online and press releases were distributed, the local media took notice. "We've been talking with the press in the area, and there have been a number of stories about students and what sort of retail stores they'd like to see," Golden says. "We've generated continuing discussion as a result of the study." He says he hopes the numbers will be useful for people making business decisions in the area.

Larger institutions may have no trouble using their size to report their significant economic clout, but that doesn't mean smaller institutions can't benefit from an economic impact study. In 2005, DePaul University Coordinates:  DePaul University[1] is a private institution of higher education and research in Chicago, Illinois, USA.  published results of an effort it spearheaded to show the impact of higher ed institutions in the south loop of downtown Chicago. The study included information on enrollment, employment, space utilization, real estate investment, and student spending, among other areas.

While 11 of the 24 schools participating in the study had fewer than 1,000 students enrolled (one had just 81 students), the combined impact of the entire group of colleges was a sizable siz·a·ble also size·a·ble  
Of considerable size; fairly large.

siza·ble·ness n.
 $1.2 billion. It would have been easy to disregard the impact of individual institutions, but as a whole, they help make Chicago the largest "college town" in the state.

John Holden Holden, town (1990 pop. 14,628), Worcester co., central Mass., a residential suburb of Worcester; settled 1723, set off and inc. 1741. Manufactures include electrical and metal products, plastics, and machinery. , a spokesperson for DePaul, says the study was released at about the same time as the development of University Center, a housing facility used by three different major schools in the area. Though the two projects evolved separately, Holden says the study didn't hurt. "It put an exclamation point exclamation point: see punctuation.

exclamation point - exclamation mark
 on the work we were already doing."

George Kaludis of Kaludis Consulting says that impact studies can help college and university officials keep from overlooking their own economic good. "One of the major benefits of an economic impact study is to provide those inside the institution with an internal appreciation for a [college's economic impact] and arm them with the knowledge they can use in their roles as ambassadors."

Building Goodwill and Adding Value

Allegheny College Founded in April 1815 by the Rev. Timothy Alden, Allegheny is the 32nd oldest college in the USA and the oldest college in continuous existence under the same name west of the Appalachian Mountains.  (Pa.) was spurred to perform its own economic impact study in 2006, after seeing several other enterprises in the region (not colleges or universities) offer information on their own economic impact. Located in Meadville in the Lake Erie Lake Erie

Great Lake; once so polluted, referred to as Lake Eerie. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 887]

See : Filth
 region of the state, Allegheny had been making estimates of its impact for years. But officials wanted a firmer grasp on the effect on the area. Two Allegheny economics professors, Behrooz Afrasiabi and Stephen Onyeiwu, took on the task, spending nearly a year on the project.

Allegheny President Robert Cook Robert Cook can refer to:
  • Robert Cook (computer graphics designer)
  • Robert Cook (Ohio politician)
  • Robert Cook (programmer)
  • Robert Cook (veterinarian)
  • Robin Cook (British politician)
 says the study (which found a $93 million impact) offered a hook to talk about the many different benefits of a college. "A combination of our higher-than-average employee compensation, the fact that we don't swing with economic cycles, and the fact that we're not moving anywhere--those things create a tremendous economic flywheel," says Cook. "The college can serve as an anchor for the community."


Because economic models show how money can be recycled in a community, the study highlighted ways it could be a more positive force in the community, says Cook. "It re-emphasized the importance of doing business locally."

Making a Study Your Own

There is no single perfect model for an economic impact study, since a study's size and scope will be determined by different objectives. They can be comprehensive enough to include even the value of volunteer time by university employees, or simple enough to include little more than payroll and budget data.

In the end, what's important is that a college or university make a case for itself not just with numbers but beyond them. "We're not doing this to have a dollar impact on a community," says New Mexico's Popp. "We're doing it to have an impact on society. But hopefully [the economic impact] is another plus."

Lessons Learned

ECONOMIC IMPACT STUDIES CAN COST ANYWHERE FROM A FEW thousand dollars to well over $60,000, so do your homework before commissioning one. A few colleges and universities who have done these studies offer this advice from their own experiences:

* Get help from the government.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis ( offers a wealth of information--some of which can be obtained for free, and some for a fairly nominal cost. "They're incredibly helpful," says Victoria Mullen, who commissioned one for Marist College (N.Y.). "If I could do it all over again, I'd go there first."

* Don't let the study stagnate stag·nate  
intr.v. stag·nat·ed, stag·nat·ing, stag·nates
To be or become stagnant.

[Latin st

"There's a tendency to do something Like this, put out a press release, and then put it away," says Jim Golden, associate vice president of The College of William and Mary (Va.). "That might not be enough of a reason to do it." Golden, for example, has used his college's study as a starting point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo

commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the
 for in-depth analysis of the value of the college's community volunteers and outreach efforts.

* Calculate costs.

Going in-house might seem cheaper, but hidden costs may add up quickly, says Tony Popp of New Mexico New Mexico, state in the SW United States. At its northwestern corner are the so-called Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet at right angles; New Mexico is also bordered by Oklahoma (NE), Texas (E, S), and Mexico (S).  State University's Department of Economics and International Business. "When I'm using my time to do an economic impact study, it means I'm not writing a journal article or something else."

* Give it time.

Good economic impact studies are complex, and they can take six months--or more--to complete. "You don't have to invent the form from scratch, and there are commercially available sophisticated models, but it's still a significant amount of work to gather the data and enter it properly into the model," says Allegheny College (Pa.) President Robert Cook.

* Beware be·ware  
v. be·wared, be·war·ing, be·wares
To be on guard against; be cautious of: "Beware the ides of March" Shakespeare.

 of bias.

Even if you've got perfectly capable institutional researchers in-house, an outside firm can help head off concerns that you're cooking the books. "We hired a higher education higher education

Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art.
 consulting company Noun 1. consulting company - a firm of experts providing professional advice to an organization for a fee
consulting firm

business firm, firm, house - the members of a business organization that owns or operates one or more establishments; "he worked for a
 with a national reputation, says Harrisburg University's (Pa.) Executive VP Eric Darr. "We knew our constituents would be more likely to believe a well-recognized firm than some folks from Harrisburg. We paid more money, but it was well worth it."

Going Outside

THINKING OF HIRING AN OUTSIDE FIRM FOR YOUR INSTITUTION'S economic impact study? Don Messmer, the president and co-founder of The Wessex Group, a Williamsburg, Va.-based consulting firm, advises asking these key questions of each firm you interview.

* Have you done this before?

Find out the firm's general experience," as well as specific work performed for other colleges and universities. "Ask them to show you samples of what they've done," says Messmer. "How do they write and communicate? Do they cover the things you'll want them to cover?"

* What's the process?

A good firm will make sure you're involved--and you should expect to make a significant time commitment of your own. "Sometimes colleges think that all they have to do is sign a contract and a few weeks tater they'll get a report," says Messmer. But you'll need to be prepared to putt information from accounting records, payroll records payroll record,
n a printed form on which detailed records are kept of the amounts of money paid to auxiliaries. The record has columns for all the necessary tax deductions so that a detailed record is available for tax reporting and cost accounting.
, and an array of other data sources.

* How will you tailor the study to help meet our objectives?

No firm that does an economic impact study can guarantee specific results, but it can get data to answer the kinds of questions that your audience will want to know. An economic impact study used to bolster support for new development along the perimeter of the campus, for example, may look different than one making a case for state or federal funding.

Erin Peterson is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.
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Author:Petersen, Erin
Publication:University Business
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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