A new study conducted by Western Michigan University in partnership with Southwest Michigan First shows that WMU had a $1.6-billion-dollar impact on the local economy during the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
The study highlights a number of things such as annual spending among the average student, the number of people employed by the University, or for the University and capital project spending.
Associate Vice President for Community Outreach Bob Miller thinks the number is rather high but he credits the economy as the reason for the high number.
“I think the numbers that are reflected are in fact quite large,” Miller said. “A lot of that has to do with the economy. The economy is good and people are working.”
Miller mentions that these studies are not done annually. In fact, it’s been about 10 years since a report like this was done.
“We just felt that it has been quite some time since we took a snapshot and it was time to do it again.” Miller said.
Even when these reports aren’t done, according to Miller the University has always been considered an asset.
“It was community leaders that petitioned the state legislature to site the normal school in Kalamazoo in 1903,” Miller said. “I think Western has always been considered an asset but to have that put into numerical context, I think people were surprised to learn that it’s that high $1.6 billion dollars or that every student spends on average $11,513.”
Miller thinks these reports are crucial when looking overall at the community.
“I think the community really appreciates that WMU is an asset,” Miller said. “But this puts it in a numerical context as to just how much of an asset we are.”
Miller thinks this report is important when showing it to the community as well.
“I believe that it’s important to show the community that there is an economic impact,” Miller said.
When the report was done 10 years ago, the economic impact had on the local economy was approximately $900 million according to Miller. When Miller saw this report he was surprised.
“To have it [the economic impact] grow this substantially, it was surprising,” Miller said.
A similar study released in 2001 said the economic impact on the community by WMU was $564 million.
One example indicated by Miller had to do with something that was not in the report because it was before the fiscal year that was studied.
“When Sangren Hall was being built, there were times when there were several hundred skilled trade persons working on that building,” Miller said. “They weren’t WMU employees they were subcontractors hired by the construction manager.”
To Miller, this is the kind of the economic impact looked at in the study.
As the revitalization of the South Neighborhood is being discussed, Miller assures that this will result in more jobs which means more growth.
“That will result in literally hundreds of jobs that’ll be working on those projects,” Miller said.
While Miller believes that everyone considers WMU an asset, CEO of Southwest Michigan First Ron Kitchens says he’s heard people say otherwise.
“I’ve heard people complain about how WMU doesn’t pay taxes on their buildings, how they don’t pay taxes to the library or the roads,” Kitchens said.
While Kitchens is a big advocate for WMU, it was a surprise to him how big the economic impact was.
“I’m a huge supporter of the University,” Kitchens said. “I didn’t expect it [the dollar amount] to go that high.”
For everyone out there who supports WMU, Miller believes the community has a huge impact on students.
“They [the community] make students for the most part feel very welcome, they appreciate that they’re here,” Miller said.
Miller wants to assure students how much they mean to the community.
“You mean a lot to this community, your energy, your intelligence, your vibrancy, the level of excitement you bring to the community,” Miller said. “You’re meaningful to this community in a variety of different ways.”
According to MLive, the cost to create this report was $14,500 which was split between WMU and Southwest Michigan First.