Report: Universities boost local economy

Universities in the D.C. area are major economic drivers and valuable beyond their educational impact, a report funded by colleges found, offering a different opinion from chronic neighbor complaints that local colleges do not offer surrounding communities any benefits.

The study – commissioned by the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area – said that 14 local universities inject $11.3 billion into the District’s economy and directly provide 68,000 jobs. Universities also support 125,000 full-time jobs through university spending.

GW is the second-largest private employer in the area, with Georgetown University leading the pack at the No. 1 spot. The 14 institutions feed three percent of D.C.’s gross regional product and pump an additional $1.40 to the economy for every $1 they spend.

Stephen Fuller, the author of the study and director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said he sought to portray the critical role universities play in the region’s economic success.

Fuller hopes the results of the study will influence the way city leaders approach their relationship with local universities, making policies that “build them stronger and don’t tear them down.”

The report comes as a rebuttal to GW’s neighbors’ criticisms of upcoming University development projects, which locals say do not benefit the community.

Fuller cites Boston as a city that values its reputation as a college town and sees economic potential in students.

“They make a big deal about it,” Fuller said. “In the District of Columbia, you never hear the city leaders saying that they need to grow universities because they’re the major source of future growth, or this is our competitive advantage.”

David Lehrman, a commissioner of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said that while GW’s economic contributions benefit the region, open dialogue with the community is equally important.

“My sense is that overall the University is a positive influence. I do not think 20 years ago the University was as good at its game as it’s gotten over the last few years,” Lehrman said. “When they are at their best, they will listen to a whole host of ways in which they can do things better.”

The report is a welcome change after tensions between the University and neighbors reached an all-time high under former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

“GW continually strives to be a good neighbor, and this report shows the tremendous value we and other universities bring to the region and our communities,” University spokesperson Candace Smith said.

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