Leaders with impact

By the numbers: Report shows UND’s $1.5-billion economic punch has more than doubled in last decade

Economic impact

According to a recent 90-page long analysis from the North Dakota University System, UND’s contribution to the area economy amounted to $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2017. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

President Mark Kennedy often describes the University of North Dakota as the state’s chief opportunity engine.

The flagship also is an economic engine, whose power revs in a recent North Dakota University System report.

According to the 90-page analysis, which came out in early January, UND’s contribution to the area economy amounted to $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2017.

The study collected state colleges and universities’ expenditures – of state-appropriated funds as well as of grants, contracts and donations – and student spending to gauge their local economic sway in an 18-year period from 1999 to 2017.

In doing so, it estimates both the direct and secondary economic effects of North Dakota’s higher education. Direct impacts refer to the monies spent by each institution, while secondary – or indirect – effects measure the re-circulation of expended dollars in the economy.

UND’s $1.5-billion figure is among the highest in the 11-member North Dakota University System state colleges and universities, accounting for more than a quarter of the system’s gross business volume. Since 1999, UND’s economic weight has more than doubled.

More research

The dollars UND inject into the market percolate through vital sectors such as finance, construction, real estate and business. Research carries a crucial role in this spiral of economic betterment.

John Mihelich

John Mihelich

“The more the state supports the universities with research funding, the more we can invest in our research enterprise, and our success in research, among other things, can attract more external funding,” said John Mihelich, UND interim vice president for research & economic development.

This underlines the joint appeal of President Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani to North Dakota legislators to allocate $100 million for research activities over the next biennium at UND and NDSU.

If granted, that money – $25 million per year per institution – would add to a sort of productivity and profitability that the report does not capture – namely, the development of human capital as well as of intellectual property.

Not only does UND, like its counterparts, nurture students for careers, it trains staff and faculty who go on to devise novel technologies and techniques that could result in wide-ranging academic and commercial impacts for the state and beyond. If they settle in the state, those educated and employed at UND could energize the economy for decades.

Strategic research financing holds the key to this long-term prosperity, Mihelich said. He said, in fiscal 2018, UND has already spend over $70 million from external sources for research that could help diversify the economy and steer the state through national and global economic uncertainty.

People impact

Apart from cold, hard figures, UND’s impact bears real faces, many faces. They are the residents of North Dakota and the region, nearly 4,000 of whom comprised the on-campus workforce in 2017, while 3,000 more held jobs indirectly sustained by the University.

Throughout the years, UND has substantially buoyed personal income in greater Grand Forks, which has charted an almost 140 percent growth since 1999, to $610 million in 2017, according to the NDUS study.

UND’s current students have an impact, too. The NDUS report pins students’ 2017 direct expenditure to a little over $150 million, an amount that generated a spillover of nearly as much, mostly in the retail and housing segments.

Students’ consumption also spawned more than 5,000 jobs and some $10 million in tax revenue, which adds to UND’s nearly $50 million in various tax payments for fiscal 2017, the analysis indicates. The economic impact of students, however, stretches far into the future as North Dakota alumni, prepared at its universities, pursue the careers of the future in the state.