U.Va. has profound impacts on local economy

Spending, employment has both positive, negative effects

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“[The University] is the single most important economic engine in our community," Hulbert said.

Celina Hu | Cavalier Daily

The University plays a large economic role in the Charlottesville area, acting as both a center for tourism and spending, as well as a major employer.

The University employs more than 20,000 individuals annually, University Deputy Spokesperson Matt Charles said in an email statement.

University alumni also often remain in the Charlottesville area and work for employers such as the University Health System, Albemarle County Public Schools, State Farm, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, SNL Financial and University graduate schools, among others.

Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce President Timothy Hulbert said the University is the crucial center to the economy of the city.

“There is an enormous amount of spending and purchasing by the students and faculty and staff,” Hulbert said.

A 2007 study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service found there was more than $1 billion in University-associated spending in 2005 in the Charlottesville area, stimulating local economic growth year-round.

“The University of Virginia has been a part of our existence from the get go,” Hulbert said. “It is the single most important economic engine in our community. The two largest economic components of that engine would be the academic and the health systems.”

The University Health System is the largest employer in Charlottesville, Everette Fortner, University associate vice president of Career and Professional Development, said in an email statement.

Currently, more than 300 students and alumni from the University are employed through the Health System, and more than 10,000 individuals altogether currently work through the Health System.

The University and Charlottesville communities also encourage a great deal of entrepreneurship for students and alumni, Fortner said.

In a recent 2014 Batten Institute case study to measure the economic impact of University alumni, results showed entrepreneurially active alumni have created 65,000 companies and are responsible for creating upwards of 371,000 jobs in Virginia alone.

Currently, University President Teresa Sullivan serves on the Board of Directors of the Regional Chamber of Commerce, providing another foundation for collaborations between the University and the Charlottesville community, Charles said.

“I can't imagine Charlottesville without the University of Virginia, and we don't have to,” Hulbert said.

Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos said she believes the University’s economic role in the community — while doubtlessly substantial — has both positive and negative impacts.

“The University is a huge intellectual capital we have here in Charlottesville. That's valuable,” Szakos said. “As our largest employer, it is also responsible for a lot of real low-wage jobs, which I believe drives wages down in general, which is a big issue.”

The University played a key role in maintaining the Charlottesville economy during the recession, but it exacerbates other issues within the community, Szakos said.

Not only does the Univeristy drive down wages for certain industries by not requiring a living wage, but the University student and faculty community can also negatively impact the availability of affordable housing and the congestion of parking and traffic, Szakos said.

“Students can often pay more rent and so houses get divided into apartments rather than be available for families,” Szakos said.

Szakos said she would like to see several changes by the University to encourage a better sense of community and economic prosperity in Charlottesville.

“I would love to see the University adopt a robust living wage and require contractors on University grounds to do the same,” Szakos said. “Around housing, I would love to see more collaboration with the city to provide more workforce housing for folks who find it really difficult to live in the city.”

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