UConn touts its economic contribution but touches off a political dustup

The University of Connecticut outlined its significant impact on the state’s economy in a report released Wednesday, but it immediately became the center of a partisan dispute in Connecticut’s gubernatorial campaign.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined UConn officials in Hartford Wednesday morning to celebrate the report, which concluded that spending by the state’s flagship university generated $3.4 billion worth of economic activity – about 1.5 percent of the state’s economy – in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and is poised to do more in the future.

But Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, charged Connecticut’s flagship university with funding an inappropriate “political puff piece” less than two months before the election, to help the Democratic governor’s campaign.

The university retained Tripp Umbach, a Pittsburgh-based economic consulting firm, to assess the university’s effect on Connecticut’s economy in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

That study, which cost UConn $49,700, analyzed a number of positive impacts involving the main campus in Storrs, the various branch campuses, the UConn Health Center in Farmington and various university research entities.

“This report provides an empirical foundation for concluding what’s long been clear anecdotally: UConn is essential to the success of our state,” said University President Susan Herbst.

Today’s announcement demonstrates that UConn is more than a university – it’s a unique resource that can be leveraged to create new jobs and sustain long-term economic growth and innovation across Connecticut,” Malloy said.

“UConn’s economic impact will continue to grow with investments like Next Generation Connecticut that create jobs, spur business activity, and help position Connecticut as a global destination in science and research.”

UConn, including staff, students and campus visitors, spent about $1.5 billion on goods and services in 2012-13, the study reports.

Since many of those dollars were spent with local businesses, that, in turn, triggered $1.9 billion in indirect economic activity, as those businesses re-spent the money.

One out of every $68 in the state’s economy two fiscal years ago was attributable to UConn, the report states.

Tripp Umbach also estimated that one out of every 90 jobs is attributable to UConn, which employed 10,505 faculty and staff directly while supporting more than 13,700 other jobs in hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and construction, security and information technology.

“Through its local spending, as well as direct and indirect support of jobs, the presence of the university stabilizes and strengthens the local and statewide tax base,” the report added. “The university is an integral part of the state’s economy, generating revenue, jobs and spending.”

UConn employees, students and vendors paid more than $202 million in income, sales, corporation, property or other taxes to state and local governments in 2012-13.

An estimated 57 percent of the 8,000 students who graduate UConn each year remain and work in the state.

And the university’s roughly 100 research centers and related institutes gradually experienced increases in patents issued and filed, as well as gross licensing income, between 2008 and 2013.

But, the consultants noted, the chief evidence of the research efforts’ value is the $242 million spent in this area in 2012-13, creating almost 2,100 jobs for researchers, support staff or partner businesses developing new products.

The Foley campaign issued a written statement asking, “Of all the things UCONN could study, why are they studying this?”

It added that ordering the study to influence Malloy’s campaign “would be an improper use of public resources and would substantially erode public confidence in our public institutions.”

UConn spokesman Tom Breen said that “the project goes back well over a year,” adding that Tripp Umbach began work on the report last fall.

Breen also noted that two of the major initiatives the legislature and Malloy approved for UConn over the past four years don’t even figure prominently in this report.

A partnership with The Jackson Laboratory to develop a major bioscience research cluster around the health center in Farmington wasn’t approved until late 2011, and was in the earliest stages of development during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

And Next Generation Connecticut, a 10-year program to dramatically expand science, engineering and technology programs on UConn’s main campus in Storrs and at its Stamford branch, didn’t launch until this year.

The study does cite these projects briefly, mentioning their potential to greatly expand the university’s research operations in the future.

“If the university can maintain and grow its strong faculty base, it will continue to attract, and consequently spend, increasingly higher levels of research dollars and the number of jobs supported will rise,” the study notes.

It also mentions long-running UConn partnerships with GE and United Technologies Corp.

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