UCA, higher education major players in local economy

Further findings of the University of Central Arkansas’s recent economic impact study indicate that higher education institutions are powerful players in local commerce.

The study compiled by Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., applies financial language to a student, graduate and local taxpayers’ perceived pay-out in regard to the school.

In a UCA release Tuesday, the school stated that for every dollar a student invests in UCA, he or she is to receive a cumulative $5.30 in higher future income over the course of a working career.

Additionally, state and local governments see a rate of return of 7.9 percent on their investment in UCA, the study’s findings indicate.

To the taxpayer, the study states that for every dollar of state tax money invested in UCA, the citizen will see a cumulative return of $2.40 in the form of higher tax revenues and avoided social costs.

Social costs, as defined by the study, include welfare, unemployment and costs associated with crime.

Savings to the UCA service area, made up of Faulkner, Perry, Pulaski, Lonoke, Saline and Grant counties, are about $18.5 million per year.

Jeff Pitchford, vice president of government and university relations, said of the study, “This is the first study that UCA has done that goes this far in depth. We’ve had reports done in the past, but nothing to this level.”

According to the report, UCA students “expand the state’s economic base through higher incomes, while the businesses that employ them also become more productive through the students’ added skills.”

Those benefits, together with associated “ripple effects,” are said to contribute an estimated $87.7 million in taxable income to the Arkansas economy each year.

The study states that as higher levels of education are achieved, UCA students are less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol, draw welfare or unemployment benefits, or commit crimes. 

The study commissioned by UCA, Pitchford said, was done so in order to “show the value that UCA has.”

“It is not only interesting to see, but the study also shows the value that UCA has and the value of a degree to our students,” said Pitchford.

Brad Lacy, newest Trustee member at UCA and head of the Conway Development Corp. and Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, is also a UCA graduate.

Lacy is a case in point to the study’s testament. A native of Ida, just outside of Heber Springs, Lacy attended UCA and stayed in Conway for work.

“I’m here because I went to UCA. And that story is repeated numerous times in my organization and in businesses across this community,” said Lacy. “The beauty of what we have here is something that you don’t necessarily have in a lot of college towns. A lot of college towns are just that - college towns. Students are there for four to five years and they’re gone without employment opportunities.”

Lacy said that like himself, students go to Conway, graduate, find work and “never leave.”

“That’s contrary to most college towns because they don’t have the employment base to keep kids around afterward.” 

EMSI’s report cites Hewlett-Packard, which settled on Conway two years ago, and Acxiom Corp. as major employers that have benefitted from and have been the benefit for UCA. 

“You certainly could not have had a company like Acxiom grow up here without the presence of higher education,” Lacy said. “Think of the economic impact of that company. Acxiom is still today the largest employer with most likely the largest payroll of anyone in the community. Directly, the university has had an impact on our ability to grow a company like that and retain them.”

Fast-forward to 2008, he said, when Conway recruited Hewlett-Packard.

“They were looking for a place with a lot of smart young people. The fact that UCA is here and that we have two other colleges in town is very attractive to businesses.” 

Lacy said that from “all of my perspectives,” and his various roles pertaining to education and the local economy, higher education institutions and education in general are the grounds to economic success. Conway’s history is rooted in education, he said, making Faulkner County one of the “more affluent and better educated parts of our state.”

“Education is the root to economic success. If you can’t get that right, you’re not competitive today,” Lacy said. “That’s what we tell every prospect that comes to Conway - that we’re the college town where the kids don’t leave.”

More