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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

July 14, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Budget cutters beware: The UW is a major economic engine

The University of Washington today is releasing a study showing it brings $9.1 billion in total direct and indirect economic impact to the state. For every $1 in taxpayer funds invested, the university generates $22.56 in economic activity.

The study was performed by Tripp Umbach, the Pittsburgh-based consulting and economic research firm, using the American Council on Education’s gold standard research yardsticks for measuring college and university economic impacts. Other highlights include:

— The university is a major magnet for government and industry sponsored research. For example, $566 million went to the college of medicine alone in fiscal 2009.

— Directly and indirectly, UW is responsible for $618.1 million in tax revenues. That translates into $1.48 for every $1 invested by taxpayers.

— It is the third-largest employer in the state, generating 69,800 jobs, including 28,000 directly employed and 9,000 research jobs.

— 12,000 students graduate each year and 74 percent of alumni stay in Washington.

— The Center for Commercialization (C4C) is one of the top five university technology transfer offices in the nation. In 2009, it had 2,200 issued and pending patents.

— UW Medicine provided more than $267 million in care to state residents for which it did not receive full compensation, either as charity or bad debt written off.

Self-serving? No doubt. Open to some quibbles by critics, sure. But the larger message is far more important. The UW is a huge economic engine for the Puget Sound region and the entire state. It has been a major reason why Seattle has attracted talent and capital far beyond its size and is a player in the world economy. The importance of universities to metro and state economies is well documented, with the Bay Area and Boston being classic examples. Many states play at achieving this on a high level. Washington has actually done it.

This should give pause to the budget cutters. The UW has been consistently hammered in Olympia. Yet a sizable golden goose for the state economy — including the private sector that so benefits from UW talent, research, contracts, etc. — is at risk. It also shows the stakes for the new UW president. The state enjoys one of the best public universities in the nation. Can it keep it?

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Can strong earnings trump

High unemployment, black swans

Define ‘strong’ earnings

Comments | More in Universities/Knowledge economy

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