Citizen Brown

By Darlene Trew Crist / January/February 2013
January 7th, 2013

At the heart of every town-gown dispute is whether having a private university in town really benefits a city. More specifically, because a nonprofit institution like Brown doesn’t pay taxes—though it does make negotiated payments to the city every year—is it doing its fair share to help the local and state economy around it?

Mike Cohea
Sunrise view of Providence from the roof of the Sci-Li building. 
To answer this question, Brown hired Appleseed Inc., a New York City-based economic-development consulting firm, to do the numbers. In November, Appleseed released its final report, Building Rhode Island’s Knowledge Economy: The Economic Impact of Brown University, which concludes that Brown spent more than $178 million on research in fiscal year 2012, helping to create Rhode Island’s so-called knowledge economy. The report also details how Brown faculty, students, and staff are translating knowledge and discovery into new technologies, products, processes, services, and businesses.

“Research, innovation, and creativity are essential components to strengthening Rhode Island’s economy,” President Paxson said when she released the document. “This report illustrates that Brown has an important role to play in economic growth.”

With 4,459 employees—81 percent of them live in Rhode Island—the University is the state’s fifth-largest employer. Brown also generates significant economic activity through construction and through student and visitor spending in the state.

Highlights from the report:


Brown spent $179 million on research in fiscal year 2012, making the University Rhode Island’s leading center of scientific research and development.

Patents and licenses In fiscal year 2012, Brown filed 98 patent applications on technologies first developed at the University. In addition, it was awarded fifteen new patents, entered into six licensing or option agreements for commercial use of new technologies developed at Brown, and received nearly $1.6 million in licensing revenue.


A minimum of twenty-five new Rhode Island-based companies were conceived at Brown, creating 450 local jobs.


Of the $132 million spent on construction in 2011, nearly $90 million was devoted to medical and research facilities, resulting in 208,000 square feet of new or renovated space and creating 705 full-time equivalent jobs.

Local officials are apparently impressed. “Brown,” says Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, “is Providence’s major-league franchise, and the University’s successful development as an internationally renowned research university is a driving force in our efforts to create jobs, attract investments, and grow Rhode Island’s capital city into a regional hub of the twenty-first-century knowledge economy.”

Download a PDF of the Appleseed report at

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January/February 2013