WMU News

WMU's economic impact tops $564 million

March 27, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University's economic impact on Kalamazoo County now tops $564 million, according to the most comprehensive examination conducted since WMU's economic impact was first assessed in 1988.

The University's presence in the county is responsible for the creation of more than 7,200 jobs and the attraction of visitors from outside the country for some 600,000 visits annually. Those are just two of the facts highlighted in a new study of "The Economic Impact of Western Michigan University on Kalamazoo County," that was unveiled by WMU President Elson S. Floyd in a speech Monday (March 26) to the Kalamazoo Rotary.

"It is important for the University to continue to fuel economic development, growth and vitality," Floyd said of the findings. "This is solid evidence of our partnership with the greater Kalamazoo area. It's a partnership to which we are deeply committed."

Floyd shared a number of findings from the study during his talk. They include:

WMU spends $310 million in University funds in the county, dealing with 4,000 businesses ranging from construction companies to banks and retailers.

Student spending exceeds $227 million annually, with the average student spending about $9,000 locally, in addition to the amount paid in tuition.

Students' families and friends as well as those attracted by events or business on campus spend $27 million annually in the community.

With 3,458 faculty and staff members, WMU ranks as the county's second largest employer, with 2.82 percent of all those employed in the county.

Total job creation by WMU is 7,214, accounting for 4.6 percent of the county's total work force of those who are self-employed or employed by others.

The study was done by Dr. Bassam E. Harik, WMU professor of economics, using new survey data and an economic model refined since the University last estimated its impact on the county in 1997. The University first assessed its impact in 1988 and subsequently released updated estimates in 1992 and 1997. The study is based on new phone surveys of students conducted in May and October 2000 to assess student expenditures and details on visitors as well as other economic factors considered in the economic model used.

Harik says this new information as well as refinements to the model used to analyze the information make the study the most accurate to date. The economic conclusions in his study, he says, represent a conservative estimate of the University's economic impact, both because of his approach and because the study does not include such factors as spending by WMU retirees living in the area or income generated by royalties and patents.

"This is a very conservative estimate," Harik says. "My approach is that if I'm not sure on something, I like to err on the conservative side. There is a real probability that we have underestimated WMU's impact on the county."

Floyd noted that the county should expect to see even more impact in the years to come.

"The establishment of our College of Engineering and related Business Technology and Research Park will cement our relationship with the community while adding additional jobs and employment, as well as help our faculty to engage in their research and scholarship, and provide internship opportunities for our students," Floyd said. "That's precisely the role that our University should and must play in this community."

The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research ran the new data on their regional economic model. Assistance in funding for the study came from the University and Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. WMU's Kercher Center for Social Research conducted the two surveys.

Media contact: Matt Kurz, 616 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu

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