U of A Plays Vital Role in Economic Development of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas has always had an impact on the Arkansas economy, but a report released yesterday revealed that in 2018 that impact was in excess of $2.2 billion. This was an increase of approximately $1 billion since 2014. This figure was calculated by looking at the university’s construction expenditures, research expenditures, spending by students and visitors, payroll, and technology transfer to the marketplace, among other things. Implicit in our land-grant mission is an active role in the economic development of the state. This report makes clear just how important that role has become.

There are a lot of ways to talk about the significance of the university’s economic impact on Arkansas, but perhaps the most important thing to note is that the $166.8 million in state appropriations the university received in 2018 were leveraged 13.56 times. That means each dollar appropriated by the state of Arkansas to the university generated an economic impact of $13.56. By any measure, that is an outstanding return on investment. We have always prided ourselves on being good stewards of state resources, and this figure confirms our pride is not misplaced. In a time when people are increasingly questioning the value of public universities like ours, we think it’s important to emphasize the connection between the work we do and the impact it has on the state.

For instance, in 2018 the university earned more than $90 million in research awards. This represents a 4.8 percent increase over the previous year and roughly a 34 percent increase over the last 10 years. Combined with the university’s contributions, these awards translated into research expenditures of $175 million. While the purpose of this research is to make lives better by improving our health and safety, reducing inefficiencies and costs, and spreading new innovations and knowledge, it certainly doesn’t hurt that most of every dollar generated by research awards is spent in Arkansas on salaries and supplies for funded research.

Research also yields the intellectual property underlying startups and local businesses. In 2017, the university received 54 invention disclosures, filed eight new patent applications, and received 13 patent issues. Still, we think we can expand and accelerate these efforts, and have an even bigger impact on the state economy. Last fall, the U of A received a $23.7 million grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to support research and commercialization. These funds will be used to invest in signature research areas, outstanding faculty, and support staff needed to drive research and discovery.

Not all research can or even needs to be commercialized, but where there are strong commercial applications, our campus researchers will now find a more efficient pathway to the marketplace. Ultimately, we can do a better job of creating start-up companies based on university research, or licensing patents based off that research to companies.

It also bears mentioning what the overall figure of $2.2 billion does not reflect: the wages earned by more than 77,000 U of A alumni who live in the state, a total of about $2.7 billion. Alumni also paid more than $210 million in taxes supporting our state. If you combine that with the more than $89 million in university-related taxes paid, the U of A is contributing, directly or indirectly, approximately $300 million in state income, state sales and local taxes annually. Nor does the $2.2 billion reflect all the ways the university impacts the state through the arts and humanities, increasing civic knowledge and engagement, advising young entrepreneurs and all our other outreach efforts.

Since its founding in 1871, the University of Arkansas has awarded more than 200,000 degrees and become a bigger and bigger economic engine for the state with each passing year. Our mission provides transformational opportunities and skills. We solve problems through research and discovery. We grow local businesses, create jobs and provide hundreds of millions in state and local tax revenue. And while our economic impact on the state is important and growing, the most important thing we continue to do at the U of A is educating students — people who will make a significant and lasting impact on the state for decades to come.

And that’s great for Arkansas.

Published in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette February 21, 2019