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SU brings culture, learning and $91 million to city

Higher education is big business and Georgetown gets its piece of the pie, thanks to the presence of Southwestern University.

During the 2003-04 school year, university officials say their institution “made a direct economic impact of $91,036,139 on the Georgetown-Williamson County area.”

Richard Anderson, vice president for fiscal affairs at Southwestern, said the impact grows steadily each year, as salaries rise and the employee base continues to increase.

“We’ve been doing a similar model for about 20 years,” he said.

In recognition of the university’s contributions to the city, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce honored Southwestern with the “Large Employer of the Year” award at its annual banquet on January 21.

“We looked at entities that have a major impact, and SU definitely embodied that – not only financially,” said Darrick McGill, a member of the selection committee and last year’s Chamber board president. “To qualify as a large company or organization, they must employ over 50 people.” He estimated that approximately 35 local organizations fit that bill.

In addition to being a major employer, Southwestern has a tradition of reaching out to the community through a variety of programs. The university also increases the city’s cultural diversity through an ongoing series of events, said Mr. McGill.

“It’s definitely a subjective process, an open call nomination process,” he said. “And we consider all kinds of factors. A reputation for treating employees well certainly helps.”

According to Mr. Anderson, the model by which Southwestern determines its economic impact is similar to that used by universities across the nation, and takes into account more than employment. The model adds several factors and multiplies that number by 2.5, to reflect the “number of times each dollar is spent and re-spent before leaving the community.”

In 2003-04, employees of the university shared a combined payroll of more than $20 million. Student wages earned through campus employment came to about $888,000.

Mr. Anderson said the university spent more than $1.5 million with Georgetown vendors and $2 million for local utilities.

“Whenever local vendors can provide the services we need, we make sure to include them in a fair bidding process [for contracts],” he said.

Student expenditures, while difficult to estimate, also contributed. “We look at the housing outlays, food, school supplies, automobile expenses … There are a number of items,” he said.

Southwestern currently has approximately 1,250 students and 410 full- and part-time employees.

In addition to direct economic benefits, the university also provides a flexible workforce to employers, who often want only part-time help. Numerous events on campus throughout the year attract visitors to the community, and they eat in local restaurants, fill up gas tanks and shop with retailers.

“We make this impact year after year, and we feel we are an important part of the community,” said Mr. Anderson. “We’re proud of our relationship and our ties to Georgetown and the county.”

Mr. McGill agrees with both the tangible and intangible benefits. “Southwestern adds to the atmosphere of Georgetown,” he said. “It gives us a college town feel, which makes us a more attractive town to live in and do business.”

This article was reproduced with the permission of the Williamson County Sun.