Column: Public universities strengthen Arizona’s economy

Arizona’s economic landscape is constantly evolving – from the early days when the “5 C’s” drove jobs and prosperity, to today’s modern, 21st-century economy spurred by tourism, defense, aerospace, technology, manufacturing and healthcare.

Among this vital mix of forces shaping Arizona’s future are the economic and fiscal impacts of Arizona’s public universities.

As a first-of-its-kind analysis of public higher education in Arizona demonstrates, our public universities are firmly cemented among the giants of Arizona’s economy – with Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona generating billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs every year.

An independent analysis by Elliot D. Pollack & Co., in partnership with the Maguire Company, examines the direct, indirect and induced economic and fiscal impacts resulting from Arizona public universities’ operations, research activities and spending by employees, students and the universities. According to the report, Arizona’s public universities are vital economic powerhouses – contributing $11.1 billion to the state’s economy and more than 84,000 jobs in fiscal 2017. These numbers are comparable to the fiscal and economic impacts of the state’s largest military installations at $11.5 billion in economic output and more than 76,000 jobs.

This analysis employs a conservative methodology to ensure the reported economic impacts slightly understate rather than overstate the impacts of Arizona’s public universities.

A breakdown of the numbers reveals far-reaching impacts such as spending by out-of-state visitors who come to the universities for sporting and other events. In fiscal 2017, spending by these visitors alone supported more than 2,000 jobs and $3.8 billion in economic output. That’s not all:

  • Research conducted at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona not only has the potential to lead to groundbreaking discoveries, but also results in total economic impact of more than $2 billion.
  • State, county, city and other local government tax revenues generated from annual operations of the universities – including faculty, student and visitor spending – are estimated at $451 million.
  • An estimated $2 billion was spent by students in fiscal 2017 for housing, utilities, groceries and other items. This spending alone supported nearly 20,000 jobs and $3 billion in total economic impact. University faculty and staff members supported more than 11,000 jobs and economic impact totaling $1.7 billion.

Just as important as the results of this report is the fact that ASU, NAU and the UA educate thousands of highly-skilled workers for the state during an era when jobs increasingly demand skills beyond high school. Through this workforce, the universities contribute to the vitality, growth and innovation of the economy.

Arizona’s public universities are essential contributors to the fabric of our state and the strength of our economy. Ensuring these institutions remain dynamic centers of learning and cutting-edge research is essential to securing opportunity and prosperity for current and future generations of Arizonans.

Karrin Taylor Robson is the founder and president of Arizona Strategies and a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, shares how public universities are a powerhouse for the state economy.

Karrin Taylor Robson

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