Study: CMU contributes $539 million to West Slope economy

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Diane Schwenke
Robin Brown

The economic effects of Colorado Mesa University continue to grow in Western Colorado, reaching nearly $539 million according to the latest estimate.

CMU contributes to the regional economy in other ways, local officials say, in preparing students to join the work force and attracting businesses.

“This is a big deal,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, agreed. “This cannot be overstated.”

CMU conducts a regional impact study every two years to analyze the economic effects of the university on a 14-county region of Western Colorado. The affects for the 2019 and 2020 fiscal year totaled almost $539 million.

That’s a 15 percent increase over the total estimated effect of $468.7 million for the 2017-2019 fiscal year.

CMU President Tim Foster said the gain reflects growth for the university. But the nearly $129 million in spending by students accounted for almost half of all direct spending, he said. “Students are really good consumers.”

Schwenke said that’s important for businesses that sell goods and services to students. “That number for me was huge.”

The study quantifies direct spending in five categories: the university, capital projects, employees, students and visitors. A multiplier then is applied to take into account indirect spending and calculate total economic effects. For the latest study, the multiplier was increased from 1.8 to 2.0. But Foster said that multiplier remains conservative compared to what’s used in some analysis.

For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, CMU expenditures in Colorado for everything from office supplies to furniture to maintenance totaled $43.5 million. Of that, almost $33.9 million was spent in a 14-county region of Western Colorado.

CMU spent another $40.8 million on capital projects that included construction on classrooms and residence halls as well upgraded technology and parking lots. Of that, $36.5 million was spent in Western Colorado.

CMU paid almost $35.4 million in net wages to employees. Assuming employees spent about 10 percent of their wages outside the region, $31.8 million in income was added to the regional economy.

Student expenditures remained the largest single category of direct spending. The CMU financial aid office calculated the average monthly expenditure of students for room, board, transportation, entertainment and other items at $1,735. Multiplying that average by enrollment for the 2019 summer and fall semesters and spring 2020 semester, student spending totaled nearly $143 million. Subtracting 10 percent in non-local spending brought the figure to $128.6 million.

Another $38.6 million in economic effects was attributed to spending by visitors from outside the region who came to Grand Junction for events and activities associated with CMU. That included athletic competitions, graduation and admission recruitment. By one estimate, attendance totaled nearly 473,000.

Direct spending in the five categories totaled almost $269.5 million. Multiplying that number by 2.0 produced a total economic affect of nearly $539 million.

CMU employs a total of nearly 2,200 faculty, staff and students. By one estimate, CMU spending supported an additional 877 jobs in surrounding communities.

Foster cited still other numbers in the growing amount of technical certificates and associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees CMU awards —  from a total of 860 in 2004 to a total of 1,936 in 2019. “To me, that is the more important story.”

Schwenke said CMU and its students make cash registers ring. But educational programs contribute to work force development. 

She cited as one example programs offered by Western Colorado Community College and CMU that offer a continuum of training for jobs in the health care sector. CMU also promotes entrepreneurship in students and the creation of new businesses, she said.

Brown said CMU has been “nimble” in responding to changes in the information and skills students need on the job.

Moreover, CMU remains the most important partner to the Grand Junction Economic Partnership in its efforts to recruit new businesses, Brown said. Many businesses come to the Grand Valley because of CMU, she said.