Regional development center analyzes Western’s economic impact

CULLOWHEE – What are the economic and social ramifications of a university with 8,400 students, 455 faculty members, and 790 staff members – with more on the way?

That’s exactly what Western’s Center for Regional Development is attempting to determine through a project designed to demonstrate the university’s impact on Western North Carolina and beyond.

“With the significant enrollment growth of the past two years, the substantial increase in new faculty, the historic amount of capital improvements taking place on campus, and the high number of new academic programs coming on line, it is time to take a hard look at the positive impact that Western is having on its primary service area,” said Jay Denton, a program manager with the CRD.

The counties selected for the analysis are Jackson, Macon, Swain, Haywood, Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania.

In their analysis, researchers will assess the economic impact of direct and indirect spending by the university’s faculty, staff and students. They will examine the effect that Western’s construction and renovation projects are having on the region’s economy, and they will investigate the role the university plays in bringing visitors to the region and the economic impact of visitor spending. The study also will gauge the impact the university is having on quality-of-life issues for the surrounding region.

Inhyuck “Steve” Ha, associate professor of economics and a faculty fellow in the CRD, will serve as the principal investigator for the project. Professor Michael Luger of the Carolina Center for Competitive Economies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill will assist in the analysis of visitor spending. Luger has conducted similar analyses for other institutions in the UNC system.

The first part of the study is now under way, as CRD staff members are surveying faculty, staff and students using an Internet-based survey engine. Hard copy surveys are available for those without e-mail access.

To increase survey participation, the CRD is offering $1,000 in cash prizes as incentive to complete the survey. Winners will be selected by random drawing on Dec. 1.

The last economic impact analysis of the university was completed by Max Schreiber of the College of Business in collaboration with the Mountain Resource Center in 1997.