Rhody's Edge

By Mary Jo Curtis / January / February 2006
April 18th, 2007

Rhode Island's economy outperformed the nation's on several key yardsticks over the past five years, and a new report examining Brown's economic impact on the region indicates the University played a key role in this success story.

The state's seventh-largest private employer, Brown accounted directly and indirectly for more than 7,500 jobs in 2005, as well as $753 million in statewide economic output, according to the report Brown University and Rhode Island: Growth and Opportunity, prepared by Appleseed Inc., a New YorkÐbased educational consulting firm. The University spent $144.6 million on research, up 72 percent since 1999, making it the state's leading center of scientific research and development - and heavily contributing to Rhode Island ranking seventh among state economies in terms of research intensiveness.

"There are major research universities that obviously have bigger total numbers, but in relative terms, I think there are few places where a research university has an impact on the regional economy comparable to Brown's," says Appleseed President Hugh O'Neill. "Brown's role is very significant relative to the size of the state." That impact is particularly keen in the life sciences and biomedicine where, because of partnerships between area hospitals and Brown Medical School, Providence has emerged as "a fairly significant center for biomedical research," O'Neill notes. "I can't think of a city of like size in the United States with research that's comparable."

The report provides strong evidence that what's good for Brown benefits the state: hiring new faculty and staff, building research facilities, and providing better financial support for students. Brown spent $53 million on new construction in fiscal year 2005, generating nearly 470 full-time jobs in construction and related industries. It plans to invest another $336 million in facilities over the next five years. Brown also added some 400 jobs between 2000 and 2005, bringing the total number of employees to 3,757 and accounting for 4.3 percent of the state's private-sector job growth between 2000 and 2004. Its spending on payroll, purchasing, and construction in fiscal year 2005 indirectly created more than 1,800 additional regional jobs.

Students spent an estimated $40 million for off-campus housing and personal needs last year, Appleseed reported. That, combined with what campus visitors spent, generated another 840 jobs. Brown paid $12.8 million to state and local governments, while its spending on payroll, purchasing, and construction indirectly generated another $19.7 million in state and local tax revenues.

The steady growth of the University's research enterprise and its investment in new facilities have helped build the infrastructure needed for growth in the state's knowledge-based industries. In the past five years, Brown research launched twenty-two start-up companies, and the decision to expand off College Hill "has already started to have significant consequences - most obviously in the Laboratories for Molecular Medicine," O'Neill says. Brown's involvement in developing Providence's Jewelry District as a research hub, he adds, "represents an active collaboration with the city and state in planning for the future of that area."

Some initiatives launched through the Plan for Academic Enrichment "represent significant new directions for the University" and contribute to the state's human capital, O'Neill explains, including the creation of new graduate programs and the establishment of partnerships with the Marine Biological Laboratories, Trinity Repertory Company, and other institutions and school systems. Brown has also played an important role in Providence's revitalization and its culture, and the Plan for Academic Enrichment is drawing new and talented people to the state; the number of alumni choosing to live in Rhode Island has increased steadily, to a current level of more than 5,500.

"This report confirms Brown does much more than just educate," comments Michael E. McMahon '69, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. "Is it a coincidence the governor, mayor, and head of economic development are all Brown graduates?

"Aside from its direct economic impact as one of the state's leading employers," he continues, "Brown infuses our community with talent, ideas, and many of the raw materials driving Rhode Island's growth and prosperity."

O'Neill predicts Brown will become an even stronger force in the state's economic growth as the University continues to intensify its investment in new research and educational activities."I think we'll continue to see new graduate programs, a significant increase in the investment in new facilities and continued growth of the research enterprise," he says. "That will translate to more employment and a greater economic impact."

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January / February 2006