The CMU effect: A lot of economic blessings to count

here are those who regard economic impact studies with suspicion — sometimes justifiably so — the benefits of this industry sector or that event are inflated. But the analysis conducted every two years of the economic effects of Colorado Mesa University in Western Colorado is, if anything, conservative in quantifying the role of CMU.

And that role, in the apt word of one local official involved in economic development, is “profound.”

For one thing, the analysis is based on what the university directly spends on operations, employees and capital projects. Those are easy beans to count, not hopeful guesses. The analysis also considers what students spend based on a monthly average calculated by the CMU office of financial aid and what visitors to CMU and its many activities spend based on an average calculated by the federal government.

The analysis then uses a multiplier to account for what happens when CMU buys goods and services and pays wages and those dollars go to local businesses that in turn buy goods and services and pay wages of their own. But with a multiplier of 1.8, the calculation in the CMU study is more conservative than those used in other studies.

After doing all the math, the overall estimated economic impact of CMU during the 2015-2016 fiscal year topped $447.5 million. That’s a 7.3 percent increase over the estimated $417 million CMU contributed to the regional economy during the 2012-2014 fiscal year.

But here’s the other thing, and that’s what the analysis doesn’t account for in the economic effects of workforce development. Perhaps the biggest benefit of all of CMU is preparing students for jobs.

CMU has been responsive to the needs of area employers in those preparations, whether its working with the University of Colorado to offer engineering degree programs or working with local health care providers to address the shortage of nurses in rural areas.

Add to that like so much frosting on the cake the many and varied efforts of CMU to promote economic development, including participating in the Rural Jump-Start Program offering tax incentives to encourage new business operations or joining in the operation of a sports commission that brings in competitions, spectators and dollars. By the way … the presence of a university also ranks among the most attractive attributes that help in recruiting new businesses to an area.

Given the stubbornly slow recovery of the Grand Valley following the recession — especially compared to other areas of Colorado — it’s understandable to view the local economy as a glass half empty.

But as the latest study of the economic effects of CMU details, we should instead count our blessings. CMU has not only brought a measure of stability to an economy otherwise subject to the roller coaster ups and downs of energy development, but also provided steadily growing benefits.

There’s every reason to suspect those benefits will continue to grow.