UC Merced contributing to Valley’s economic recovery, say campus officials

The nearly $1billion UC Merced’s channeled into the region’s economy since the campus’ inception has greatly contributed to the San Joaquin Valley’s economic recovery, according to data released Tuesday by university officials.

The value of wages and benefits paid, construction contracts awarded, and goods and services purchased within the Valley between July 2000 and Aug.31 of this year amounted to $946million, the university reported. That compares with $815million at the same time last year, an increase of $131million. At the current rate of growth, university officials expect to reach the $1billion mark near the end of this year, according to a UC Merced press release.

Statewide, UC Merced’s total economic contribution now exceeds $1.7billion.

“UC Merced’s contribution to the regional economy continues to grow at a much faster rate than the overall economy,” Dorothy Leland, UC Merced chancellor, said in the release. “Although unemployment and poverty in the region remain among the highest in the state, we are very pleased that our growing presence here is beginning to have a significant impact.”

Every dollar UC Merced invests in the local economy, according to Leland, is multiplied several times over as university employees, contractors, students and others purchase goods and services in the area.

“The ripple effects of UC Merced’s direct expenditures are hard to measure precisely,” she said, “but it’s clear that funds invested in local wages, goods and services continue to circulate throughout the economy, boosting employment and stimulating additional investment by others. We see this process accelerating as we continue on a steady growth path in the years ahead.”

Now in its ninth academic year, UC Merced’s enrollment has grown from 875 students in its 2005 inaugural year to nearly 6,200 this year, the release said. The university anticipates enrollment of approximately 10,000 students by 2020.

The university employs more than 1,300 people, not counting student employees. To accommodate projected growth, campus officials say they have modified near-term development plans to allow faster, more cost-efficient construction of campus facilities, and the university is looking to acquire additional off-campus space in the city of Merced to house most of its administrative personnel.

“We are making good progress in both of these areas,” Leland said, “but will have to moderate enrollment growth somewhat over the next few years until our physical capacity catches up.”

Frank Quintero, Merced’s director of economic development, said research and teaching at the university is setting the stage for the city’s exploration of new industrial sectors. Quintero’s office has met with representatives from the solar power and biotech industries because of UC Merced’s presence, according to the release.

Earlier this month, the university announced its expenditures on research activities in the 2012-13 academic year amounted to more than $17.3million, a 9percent gain over the prior year, and cumulative research expenditures are now more than $100million.