What a Difference a University Makes in a Community


BEAR Press Release

There is hardly anyone left in Castle Country who can remember what the area was like before an institution of higher learning was started in Price in 1938. Opening as Carbon College, and as a partner with the school district until 1959, the university that now stands in north Price is a far cry from what it originally was.

Over the years, it has changed a great deal, not only physically, but also in what it provides the community. The Carbon College that began turned into the College of Eastern Utah in the 1960s and then in 2010 into Utah State University Eastern. It moved from a small college that taught trades and offered some two-year degrees to a full fledged university that now offers all kinds of training for the trades, the high tech industry, four-year degrees and graduate degrees as well. These changes have impacted the area in so many ways, but seldom does anyone mention the economic influence the campus has on Carbon and Emery counties.

What if the school had never been founded or had failed in those early years? What if it had been closed in the early 1950s when J. Bracken Lee was the governor of Utah and he attempted to influence the legislature to close the school because he saw it as an unneeded expense to the state? What if, in the early 2000’s when the school was struggling financially, it had gone away instead of merging with Utah State University? What would a closure of this 84-year-old school mean to the area economically?

While the statistics for the past concerning the financial influence of the school in Castle Country are hard to define now, figures today show a picture of an institution that not only provides jobs for hundreds of people, but also spends money with local businesses. Just as important are the people the school attracts who come to the area and who infuse revenue into the economy while they are here.

The first thing to examine when it comes to dollars provided to the area are the employees and their compensation. With 244 employees, the university is one of the largest employers in the area and the payroll sits at about about $3.9 million per year. That money creates a ripple effect through the local economy with eight of every $10 staying in the two-county area. In addition, the money multiplies and is used again and again in the local economy. For example, a university employee receives their wage and then in return spends it on fuel, groceries or entertainment. The purchase of those products then pays the wages of the employees at those businesses and the cycle continues. On average, a dollar bill will cycle eight times before it leaves the community.

The university also spends a good deal of money “supporting” each employee with such things as tools, office supplies, equipment, computers, etc. That expenditure equals out to about $3,200 per employee per year, with at least half of that going into the local economy. Many items must be purchased on state contract, but local spending on a large number of things still causes a strong current in the local economy. This economic impact on the community is estimated at just under $400,000 annually.

Student spending itself is hard to pin down. Obviously, students who live off campus and possibly have jobs or maybe even live at home spend differently than students who live on campus. USUE can house 740 students in its residence halls. Those students are on meal plans and many do not even have cars. But, they still spend some money in the community for various reasons. However, gauging that is difficult. Studies estimate that off-campus students spend an average of $1,100 per month, while students living on campus spend only $200 per month on living expenses. This list includes everything from rent, food and fuel expense to internet, entertainment and other miscellaneous items.

However, one thing that could affect the amount of money spent in the community by students in the future is possible private student housing built off campus. In that case, the money and the taxes that the owners of the buildings collect would go into the local economy. It would also lead to more off-campus spending because these students would be cooking their own food and buying things for their living quarters. Understanding that flexibility would be needed by owners with students on semester systems and leases would be a must if these kinds of living quarters were to be built.

That also brings up another point. While a lot of students from other places that attend USUE and graduate never return to Castle Country, some do. More importantly, many who are from here who receive their education at the school and then go away for further training come back and make their lives here, earning more money because of that education, thus spending more. A good example of that is a number of physicians in town who grew up in the area and have now returned to practice medicine.

Another area of impact lies in construction. While this is not something that takes place all the time, capital projects certainly affect the area when they are underway. While the general contractors on buildings are almost never from the local area, local subcontractors are often used and the main contractor may also hire individuals from Carbon and Emery counties to work for them. Every building built or renovated on campus can infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into the community.

Another thing USUE is influential on economically is visitation to the area. Many people come to the area for sports competitions, workshops and seminars, graduation programs, recruitment and for other purposes. The average visitor spends $81 per day in the local economy. While the number of visitors to USUE and the area for university activities cannot be exactly ascertained, it would be an impact of tens of thousands of dollars per year.

The school has also brought new people to the area, many of whom have stayed, that would not have resided here without the existence of the school. For instance, there are dozens of former USUE employees who went to other places to work, started their own businesses or have retired that now live in the area that would have never been here, impacting the daily spending that goes on locally.

But, probably the biggest impact the school has had on the area is the fact that it provides so many kinds of education. One can get a PhD in some things at the university, but it is the training programs that have the biggest impact. Many people come to the school for only a semester or two to receive training in a skilled area, and then go off to jobs in industry making three times the money they could make without those skills. The impact of that on Castle Country, and on people’s individual lives, makes everything else the institution contributes pale in comparison.

While USUE does not seem to be at the center of everyone’s life in Eastern Utah, its unseen force on people’s lives, including economically and socially, is vast and comprehensive. It is an anchor of the community that keeps the area going through good times or bad, lean times or times of plenty.

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