As a major employer and resource for Athens county, Ohio University continues to have a ripple effect on the economy of Athens and Southeastern Ohio. But the question of how OU impacts Athens is twofold – how much money do they provide, and what programs are they building to promise a more prosperous future.
When it comes to what the university currently spends and earns every year, according to university documents, with adjustment, OU had a total of $842 million allocated for estimated revenue in its 2020 budget and $778.3 million estimated for total expenses.
Most of the university’s expenses deal with salaries and payroll, with $366.4 million of the 2020 budget dedicated to this category.
Meanwhile, the university still makes a majority of its revenue from tuition and room and board costs. In the 2020 budget, $413.5 million, exactly 54.5% of the university’s revenue budget, was estimated for tuition and room and board payments.
The university additionally makes a large sum of revenue from money set aside by the state, with $174.5 million estimated to come in from state appropriations during 2020. Smaller portions of university revenue come from federal, local, and state grants, private gifts and support, and internal and external sales.
But aside from the university’s own internal budgeting, there is the question of how OU gives back to its students, the Athens community, and the state of Ohio as a whole.
An internal study in 2017 found that OU graduates added $2.9 billion and 40,021 jobs into the Ohio economy that year. Additionally, OU alumni from the past 30 years created $2.2 billion in added state income in 2017 alone. This is equivalent to supporting about 32,000 jobs in the state.
The same study also showed that current students continue to benefit from attending OU, earning an average of $4 in future salary for every $1 spent on tuition and supplies.
The university also offers some direct resources to support the local and state economy. One of the most noteworthy resources is the Innovation Center, which was originally started in 1983 and serves as Southeastern Ohio’s tech and innovation incubator. It previously won awards for the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year award and the Rural-Based Entrepreneurship Center of the Year, among others, in 2019.
The center leverages many resources from the university, including aligning clients with research being conducted at OU, hiring students to work with the center or directly with client companies, and working with partners on campus at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. In addition to university connections, center clients can also access digital memberships, office and lab space, connections with investors, banks and venture groups, and assistance from the Athens County Economic Development Council.
Additionally, Stacey Strauss, the director of the Innovation Center, sits on the board of the Athens County Port Authority, which plans funding to build industrial parks and acquire buildings and land for companies to use.
Strauss believes that it is not only the resources at the center itself, but these connections with other entities in the state and county that make the center effective for its clients.
“A lot of people consider us the first point of entry for people that have an idea or want to learn more about entrepreneurship, and then we directly, or indirectly with partners, help them do that,” Strauss said. “It’s a really critical thing. We’re more than just a building.”
The center primarily helps companies that are technology based but hosts a wide range of companies under its roof, including companies in medical devices, biotech and pharmaceuticals. Some of the center’s biggest client success stories include RXQ Compounding, a chemical company which recently opened a facility in Albany, and Diagnostic Hybrids, a medical company which was previously acquired by Quidel and has a branch operating in Athens.
These companies’ continued presence in Athens county plays into another goal of the center: keeping companies in Southeastern Ohio. The center has already brought high-paying jobs into the region. According to Strauss, the average annual salary at an Innovation Center client company is around $58,000 a year, which is more than double the average annual wage in Athens county. Not only are these jobs well-paying, but these companies’ presence feeds into the small business economy that Strauss states is vital to the country as a whole.
“It is critical not only to our local economy but the nation’s economy in general that people have resources that can help them start a business,” Strauss said. “The majority of our country is employed by a small or medium business that have 50 or fewer employees, and that’s where our specialties lie.”
OU’s economic and local development is particularly important as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives all over the country. Specifically, the Voinovich School is using its resources, including their Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to help small business owners effectively use state and federal business resources during the pandemic.
In addition to the university’s assistance with pre-existing businesses, Strauss sees the Innovation Center as another place where people can go to work through creating their own business and opportunities in uncertain economic times.
“Everything is cyclical, and right now and during the 2008 and 2009 downturn, people started businesses, and that’s certainly something we’re expecting from the fallout from COVID-19,” Strauss said. “So people should know that if they have any questions about anything small business related, we’re happy to help and take those calls and point them in the right direction.”
In times of both restless and steady economic environments, OU remains a permanent part of Athens that is continually growing and reflecting on its impact on the community and county. Both the school itself and the city it resides in are ever changing, with new university budgets and development programs moving alongside each other each year. And those steady changes are already paying off to create a brighter economy future for OU students, partners, and beyond.