Three universities pack a big, positive impact on the state’s economy

“What would be the loss to Michigan if the three University Research Corridor institutions did not exist in the state?”

Jeff Mason

Jeff Mason is executive director of the University Research Corridor.

It’s a question we ask every year in the development of our annual University Research Corridor (URC) Economic Impact Report, produced by Anderson Economic Group. As conversations surrounding the 2018 state budget begin, this report is particularly important in reflecting the continued impact the URC has on every county in the state of Michigan.

The URC, an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, began measuring economic impact and other key measures at its inception in 2006 in order to establish a benchmark for our universities’ performance. This report additionally provides critical data, which reinforces the economic, social and cultural impact the URC has had on our state’s economy, each year and over time.

It provides that return on investment – that necessary form of measurement – to showcase why the state should continue to invest in our universities and in higher education. It demonstrates our continued value, our prioritized efforts and the overall benefit we provide to the growth and prosperity of our state—and truly how that translates into impacting the rest of the world.

As the URC celebrates its 10th anniversary, this report marks a decade of data in which we have held ourselves accountable by consistently measuring our collective impact on Michigan’s economy. We have also benchmarked ourselves against the nation’s top university innovation clusters as a measure of our competitiveness. In analyzing the activities of these similar clusters, we can better measure our impact and compare our results to those of our peers across the country.

For instance, each year the report includes the Innovation Power Ranking, which indexes defining features of major research universities, including talent, R&D and technology commercialization. This ranking features eight peer innovation clusters from across the nation, and for the fourth year in a row, the URC ranked second on this prestigious list, ahead of North Carolina’s Research Triangle and just behind the southern California cluster.  

The universities have proven to be a solid investment for the state of Michigan. In 2015, the URC contributed $16.5 billion to Michigan’s economy, an increase of $3.7 billion since 2007, and $500 million in new tax revenues were attributable to the URC. Overall, the URC provided a net economic impact that was more than 19 times the state’s funding for the URC institutions.  

In terms of talent, our three universities conferred more than 34,500 degrees in 2015, the largest number of any peer university innovation cluster. As of summer 2016, the URC universities had more than 1.2 million alumni worldwide, with over half living in Michigan. In fact, 36 percent, or more than one in three, of every Michigan resident with a bachelor’s or higher has a degree from a URC institution.

The URC’s continual contributions to the depth and breadth of such accomplished individuals make our state stronger by attracting businesses and positioning Michigan as a competitor in the global economy.

Another measure of this competitiveness is the transfer of research and development (R&D) into the marketplace – the institutions’ ability to take research out of the lab and into the real world. The URC:

  • Had more than $2.15 billion in R&D spending

  • Attracted 94 cents of every federal dollar spent on academic research in Michigan

  • Accounted for 94 percent of all R&D (any source of funding) conducted at higher education institutions in the state

  • Surpassed its five-year average for the number of patents issued, licensing and options activity, and invention disclosures, for the fourth straight year

  • Has cultivated 210 start-up companies since 2002, including 79 which have formed in the past five years and 22 in 2015 alone  

The key findings of the Economic Impact Report demonstrate the tremendous assets these three world-class research institutions are to our state’s economy and to the lives and livelihoods of everyone in our state and across the globe. As we continue to ask ourselves “what would be the loss to Michigan if the three URC institutions didn’t exist?” – well, I think we have our answer. Perhaps the more important question we should be asking is, with all the contributions the URC schools make to our state, why aren’t we investing more in these incredible, world-class Michigan assets?

You can see the entire report on the URC website.

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Sat, 02/11/2017 - 3:05pm

We should always find claims as these somewhat questionable at very least indeterminable. For example if MSU, U of M, city of Lansing or state of Michigan pays one person (resident of Michigan) a $1000 to dig a hole in the ground and then pays another $1000 to fill it did they just contribute $2000 to the state's economy?

John Saari
Sun, 02/12/2017 - 7:09am

What are all the numbers for the total of the remaining Universities and colleges in the State. I vote for sending all K-12 to our U and c and gov pays for all education, food, healthcare and lodging. We have been forgetting our Republic origins. We need to bring it all(most) back to the Community level.

Dick Burke
Mon, 02/13/2017 - 10:38am

Interesting data on the impact of the Big Three. Would also be of interest to know the same on ALL of our public universities. There are other Research 1 institutions in Michigan.