Study Finds George Mason Contributes $1.6 Billion to Economy

Posted: October 31, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Stephen Fuller with seal background
What would Northern Virginia be like without George Mason University? Stephen Fuller, professor of Public Policy, has attempted to answer that question with his new economic impact study.

By Carrie Lake

What would Northern Virginia be without George Mason University? While the answer to this question is not clear-cut, a new study by Stephen Fuller, School of Public Policy professor, shows that the university’s total economic impact to the Commonwealth of Virginia in fiscal year 2005 was $1.6 billion – with the Northern Virginia region receiving almost $600 million.

Stephen Fuller
Stephen Fuller

“George Mason is a significant force within the Northern Virginia economy as a generator of jobs, a source of consumer spending and investment and as a host to students and visitors whose spending would not have been captured by Northern Virginia businesses in the absence of the university’s existence,” says Fuller.

Fuller, the Dwight Schar Faculty Chair and University Professor and director of the Center for Regional Analysis, presented highlights from the study, titled “The Impact of George Mason University on the Northern Virginia Economy,” to a group of local government leaders last week. The study focuses on the economic benefits generated by the university, but also highlights Mason as a desirable amenity in the region.

The Value of Immeasurables

George Mason’s immeasurable qualities distinguish it from any other institution, the report states. “The value of the university that cannot be measured likely far exceeds the [monetary] values reported in the study,” Fuller says.

For example:

  • In Fairfax County, Mason is seen as a major amenity that provides residents and businesses a cultural focus, a source of educated workers and an identity that distinguishes the county from other jurisdictions that lack a major university.

  • In Prince William County, Mason is a collaborator with the business community, offering joint-venture opportunities to new and expanding businesses. Local residents also see it as an amenity and community facility, and this role will increase as western Prince William County develops.
  • In Arlington, Mason is a center of education that emphasizes professional programs. It also serves as a common ground for debate and a place where the business community and government can come together to discuss new and challenging issues.
  • Mason’s newest location in Loudoun County extends all three roles to a portion of Northern Virginia that is projected to experience substantial population and employment growth over the next 25 years.

Quantifying the Economic Impact

Not unlike other universities, George Mason generates jobs and income and does business with suppliers. Its students buy goods and services from local merchants, and it attracts visitors who in turn contribute to the local economy. Most of these types of benefits can be measured in dollar terms.

The total output of university spending for fiscal year 2005 ($1,597.6 billion) is broken into categories below:

  • Employee earnings = $610.5 million, or 38.2 percent
  • Procurement of goods and services = $500.9 million, or 31.4 percent
  • Student spending = $384.7 million, or 24.1 percent
  • Retired faculty spending = $33.3 million, or 2.1 percent
  • Visitor spending = $20.5 million, or 1.3 percent
  • George Mason University Foundation spending = $47.7 million, or 3 percent

Stephen Fuller at podium
Stephen Fuller presented highlights from his George Mason University impact study to government leaders last week.
Creative Services photos

The summary below focuses on Northern Virginia:

  • Total annual spending during fiscal year 2005 associated with George Mason University totaled $582.7 million, with $405.9 million of this spending, or 70 percent, taking place in Northern Virginia.

  • Payroll spending by the university, totaling $255.2 million, was the largest single source of economic impact, accounting for 44 percent of all direct outlays. Northern Virginia captured 81 percent based on the place of residence of university employees.
  • The university’s procurement of goods and services from vendors was the second largest source of economic impact – totaling $151.3 million – but had the smallest percentage (31 percent) accruing to businesses based in Northern Virginia.
  • The third largest source of economic impacts was off-campus student spending, estimated to total $137.7 million with $125.3 million or 91 percent captured by businesses in Northern Virginia.
  • Spending by retirees, visitors and the George Mason University Foundation combined accounted for $38.4 million in total spending or 7 percent of all university-related spending in 2005.

In addition to the annual benefits Northern Virginia economy receives, the university’s planned capital spending will have a significant impact.

The proposed construction-spending program for the 2004-08 period includes $231 million for new construction at the Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William Campuses. In addition, the Mason Foundation is investing $67 million in capital construction at the Arlington Campus. If all this construction occurs as planned, it would generate $430.5 million total economic value to the Northern Virginia economy over the five-year period. It would also support an increase of $62.3 million in new personal earnings accruing to residents of Northern Virginia and generate 4,911 new year-round, full-time equivalent jobs.

About the Study

“When you do an economic analysis you should only count new money – that’s the money we are getting in this region that we wouldn’t have gotten if the university had not been here,” Fuller says.

As a result, student spending by part-time students who were Northern Virginia residents prior to admission to Mason was not included, as this spending would likely have occurred in Northern Virginia in the absence of the university’s existence. Similarly, a substantial share of the spending of full-time undergraduates living at home in Northern Virginia was excluded.

Fuller distributed an executive summary and presented a Powerpoint presentation on his study at the meeting.

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