Higher education, high pursuits

Universities in Colorado and Wyoming have generated tens of billions of dollars in economic activity over the years and will no doubt do so for years to come, even as prospects for state and federal funding dim.

Technologies developed at the universities – from biotechnology to renewable-energy solutions – have formed the basis of scores of new companies in just the past few years.

Revenue from royalties based on the sales of products protected by university patents, including legal settlements, totals more than $100 million.

The University of Colorado alone is among the top 10 universities nationwide in the number of companies created.

These universities provide essential research and train a large number of scientists and engineers. That, of course, is why federal funding is crucial for them.

At CSU, for example, more than 80 percent of the university’s research funding comes from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, said Bill Farland, vice president of research.

The rest of its funding comes from the private sector and foundations; a small amount comes from the university itself to match some of the grants it receives.

“With the slowing down of the economy, the federal agencies who provide these competitive funds have been, for the most part, flat, or just a few percent above, keeping (up) with inflation, for the last couple of years,” he said.

Much is at stake, including innovations that could change life as we know it.

More immediately, Colorado’s higher-education system alone supports nearly 98,000 jobs and $4.25 billion in wages and salaries, according to a 2006 study commissioned by the state Department of Higher Education.

College degrees, as everyone knows, boost the earnings potential for graduates.

Coloradans with a four-year degree earned a median annual income of more than $45,000 in 2007, according to data from the American Community Survey. Median earnings for residents with only a high-school degree were just $28,200.

Here’s a look at the economic impact of institutions of higher learning in Colorado and Wyoming where cutting-edge discoveries are being made.

CU Anschutz Medical Campus

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora received nearly $400 million in research funding in 2010. Its economic impact amounts to more than $2 billion in total economic activity statewide.

Anschutz employs more than 8,000 workers and has a total employment impact of more than 17,000 jobs in Colorado.

Anschutz Medical Campus serves more than 500,000 patients annually at its hospitals, University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado. It’s also home to the schools and colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dental Medicine and Public Health.

Researchers here have accomplished an impressive list of breakthroughs.

Last year, for example, scientists in the school of medicine showed that a kind of human cell generated from stem cells and transplanted into spinal cord-injured rats can repair damage to the nervous system and help the animals regain movement.

The medical school also pioneered an approach to analyzing thyroid problems that could eliminate the need for tens of thousands of thyroid surgeries nationwide annually.

For every dollar of state funding, it’s estimated that the UC Denver School of Medicine generates more than $52 in clinical revenues, grants, contracts and other revenues.

University of Colorado

Packing a $5.3 billion economic impact, the University of Colorado has 57,400 students and nearly 27,500 faculty, staff and student workers, according to a CU study released earlier this year. Other studies have estimated economic impact of the third-largest employer in the state at as high as $6 billion.

CU, which has four campuses, boasts $2.6 billion in direct spending. Average annual earnings of its employees totals nearly $45,000 – directly accounting for $1.2 billion in economic activity.

Student spending topped $500 million, with CU-Boulder accounting for the lion’s share at nearly $318 million.

The university system secured more than $793 million in research funding from federal, state and private sources in fiscal 2011.

“It’s a lot of federal dollars coming back to Colorado for research,´ said Brian Lewandowski, research associate for the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. “It’s not local money being spent; it’s additional, external dollars being infused into this state’s economy.”

Of course, some of the federal dollars leave the state because CU and other universities here do research with faculty from other schools nationwide, he added.

At the same time, technology emerging from CU research labs has led to the founding of 11 new companies with a focus on life sciences and clean energy in fiscal 2011.

“That’s another benefit of having any of these research universities here,” Lewandowski said.

Colorado State University

CSU’s nearly 100,000 Colorado-based alumni account for more than $5.2 billion in annual household income, representing 3.7 percent of the state’s total household income, according to a 2012 report by the university.

“It’s a very strong statement about the impact of the university generally on the state and the local community,´ said Farland, CSU’s vice president of research.

Those earnings generated $365 million in income and state sales-tax revenue and $202 million in local sales and property tax revenue.

As the largest employer in Northern Colorado, CSU employs about 6,200 workers. The university supports a total of 13,140 jobs through direct employment and related spending.

Annual household income generated in the state by CSU’s direct and indirect employment amounts to $403 million annually.

Annual student spending in just Fort Collins totals $168 million, supporting 628 non-university jobs in the city, according to a 2009 CSU report. CSU’s total contribution to city of Fort Collins’ coffers, including sales, property, use and other taxes, totals nearly $13 million.

The number of inventions by CSU faculty and researchers surged 132 percent between 2007 and 2011 vs. the previous five years.

CSU Ventures, the university’s technology transfer group, reported 515 new inventions during the period. The increase puts CSU in the 99th percentile among institutions with more than $125 million in annual research funding.

Additionally, CSU has created 20 start-up companies in the past five years, leading to hundreds of private-sector jobs, according to the 2012 report. Driving innovation in the state, the university’s research resulted in 277 patents, patent filings and patent disclosures last year.

CSU also has licensed 136 technologies to private enterprise since 2007.

CSU generates more than $300 million in research spending annually that funds studies in the fields of engineering, biophysics, veterinary medicine, chemistry, atmospheric sciences and business.

Colorado School of Mines

Colorado School of Mines in Golden has 31 active technology-transfer licenses that netted the university nearly $125,000 this year. It issued nine patents and established two startups.

Mines research significantly affects industry statewide. For one, Mines Chemistry Professor Kent Voorhees invented bacterial detection technology licensed to Longmont-based MicroPhage Inc. The company reached an agreement with health care giant Cardinal Health to distribute the technology to help patients with life-threatening infections.

The school’s payroll also contributes to the state’s economy. Last year, Mines paid $69 million to 3,730 employees, including student workers.

The school’s broader economic impact on the region has included $150 million in spending in campus design and construction since 2009. That has resulted in the creation of about 1,100 jobs.

University of Northern Colorado

UNC spends about $23 million annually on goods and services within the state of Colorado, according to a UNC study that analyzed economic impact last decade. Almost $8 million of the total is spent in Northern Colorado, mostly in Greeley.

Student spending within the Greeley and Weld County areas was estimated to range from $53 million to $72 million per academic year, contributing additional state and local sales tax revenue of over $3 million.

About $63 million is paid annually to nearly 5,900 full-time and part-time workers in Northern Colorado. More than $55 million went to employees living in Weld County, including $49 million to Greeley residents.

The study pegged faculty and staff spending in the state at between $10 million to $15 million. Spending in Weld amounts to between $8 million to $12 million. It estimated spending in Larimer County at more than $1 million.

In addition, the university spends an average of more than $15 million annually on facility improvement and construction in Colorado.

University of Wyoming

The university’s impact on the economy of Wyoming is plenty evident, though the university has not done its own economic impact study.

The school employs nearly 4,500 nonstudent faculty and staff and nearly 3,000 student employees throughout the state. Nonstudent and student employees enjoy a combined payroll of $199 million.

The university is no slouch in technology transfer.

Most of the some 65 technology companies in Laramie have ties to the school, said William Gern, vice president of Research and Economic Development. Before 1994, less than a dozen technology companies were located there.

“We estimate that 85 percent of the technology-based companies in Laramie have some relationship to the university, whether they’re spinouts, startups, (or) whether they’re incubated by the … Wyoming Technology Business Center,” Gern said.

These tech companies, estimated to employ more than 600 people, tend to pay higher wages and benefits – an average of $35,000 annually with a total payroll of $21 million.

The companies also produce products and services sold outside the region, according to a 2012 Laramie Technology Workforce Project report.

“This introduces new dollars into the community and supports local service providers, retailers, and infrastructure needed for a growing, healthy local economy,” the report says.

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