Author: Sam Fahmy

Published

Jeff Humphreys
Jeff Humphreys

The University of Georgia pumped at least $2.1 billion into the Athens-area economy in fiscal year 2007, according to a new study that measures the economic impact of the 35 institutions in the University System of Georgia.

According to a study conducted by the Selig Center for Economic Growth in the UGA Terry College of Business, the university spent nearly $572 million in salaries and $315 million in operating expenses during the time period. The university's 33,405 students spent nearly $414 million, bringing the direct economic impact of UGA to $1.3 billion. For every dollar of initial spending, an additional 59 cents is generated for the local economy through subsequent spending, bringing the university's total impact on the Athens-area to $2.1 billion.

"There's a huge benefit that comes from the University of Georgia being in Athens — even for people who don't work or study here," said Jeff Humphreys, director of economic forecasting for the Selig Center. "There are actually more jobs that owe their existence to the university off-campus than on-campus"

He notes that UGA directly employed 8,700 people in FY 2007. Spending by the university and its faculty, staff and students creates an additional 10,200 jobs, bringing the total number of university related jobs to nearly 19,000. Put another way, each on-campus job creates 1.2 jobs off-campus.

The findings are part of a larger study that the Selig Center conducted for the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP), an initiative of the Board of Regents' Office of Economic Development. The study found that the 35 institutions of the University System of Georgia had a direct impact of $11 billion on the state. UGA's $2.1 billion economic impact accounts for 19 percent of that figure, making it the single largest contributor to the system's statewide impact.

Humphreys points out that the study undoubtedly underestimates the true extent of UGA's economic impact. It doesn't take into account spending by UGA retirees, consulting and investment income from UGA employees and, most notably, spending by people who visit Athens because of the university.

"There are literally tens of thousands of visitors that come to Athens every year because of the presence of the university," Humphreys said. "They come for meetings and conventions, to visit their sons and daughters and to see sporting and cultural events."

The study also doesn't take into account the impact of the creation of new businesses through UGA programs such as the Georgia BioBusiness Center, expertise offered through the Small Business Development Center and the impact of volunteer and service-learning activities of students, faculty and staff.

"The main limitation of the study is what's not included," Humphreys said, "but we wanted to use data that all 35 institutions could provide so that we could get a true apples-to-apples comparison. Any way you look at it, UGA has the largest economic impact of any of the USG institutions."

The work updates previous economic impact studies done for FY 1999 and FY 2004, but Humphreys notes that the most recent figures for UGA are not comparable to previous figures due to changes in the way the university accounts for and reports HOPE Scholarship funds and Stafford loan funds.

The Selig Center report comes on the heels of a May report by the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education that found that the Atlanta metropolitan area (including Athens) led the nation in higher education enrollment growth. The study found that enrollment increased by 62 percent — from nearly 109,000 to 176,000 from 1989 to 2005, the last year for which figures are available. The Atlanta area was one of five metro areas with more than $1 billion in research expenditures.