I’ve had the good fortune to live in small, medium and large cities. I’ve spent time in villages and towns and I grew up in the kinds of suburbs that had no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth. And actually if you count my college years I’ve even lived in rural areas. I guess I’ve been around the block a bit and the truth is each place has its gifts. Some gifts you cherish, others you’d like to give back. I tend to be a glass is full sort of a guy so I’m grateful for the experiences of each place and while I’d never dwell on the downsides they do provide a basis to appreciate how much the Kent area has to offer. Moving and acclimating to the eccentricities of each place is always hard but appreciation isn’t earned easily. It’s learned through those times we’d just as soon forget. I may not actually forget them but I’m pretty good at boxing them up and using them as inspiration for appreciating what I have today.
If you drove a mile in my shoes when I lived in Washington DC you’d be averaging close to 3 hours a day sitting in your car, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic that left no room for error. I loved a lot about DC but not the traffic. My commute in Kent: 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
Kingsport Tennessee had some fantastic mountain views. I could eat breakfast on my screened in porch overlooking the confluence of the north and south forks of the Holston River as it wound it’s way along the base of Bay’s Mountain. That beauty combined with Tennessee’s friendly taxes made it a haven for retirees. I love retirees as much as the next guy but there’s nothing like living in a University town and all that youthful enthusiasm to keep you feeling young and renewing your joie de vivre.
Anyways, I could go on about my appreciation for all things Kent, which is why I was pleased to see back to back articles in national magazines that preached the gospel of university cities as the cure for what ails our national economy. The message was if you’re lucky enough to live in a university city you’re probably better off than any other place in the country.
The research primarily focused on jobs and it cited hard data showing that unemployment is consistently lower in university cities than anywhere else. That appears to be true in Kent as well. Despite the fact that Kent is the largest City in Portage County, and Portage County reported the highest unemployment rate (10.2%) in the 7 county region, Kent is holding on at 6.8% a good 2% points below the statewide average of 8.8%.
We found foreclosure data that showed similar favorable Kent data, with fewer foreclosures in Kent, stronger housing prices and lower vacancy rates. Now don’t get me wrong — the bottom has fallen out all around us and it has impacted Kent too so it’s hard to sound to proud when you’re quoting lower unemployment rates that are indeed rising but the fact is Kent has the good fortune of having a major employment center at Kent State which as you’ll read in the articles that follow helps keep our economy floating a little higher these days.
Town, Gown, and Unemployment
by Richard Florida
It’s clear that the economic crisis is having uneven impacts on different types of workers and different kinds of communities. Highly educated people and highly educated places are holding up much better than others.
But among the most stable places in the current downturn are college towns.
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for March 2009, Martin Prosperity Institute researcher Patrick Adler put together the following graph which plots the unemployment rate for various states, major commercial cities, and college towns. The results speak for themselves:
Top College Towns For Jobs
Matt Woolsey, 05.19.09, 5:45 PM ET
Brigham Young University hasn’t felt much of an economic squeeze over the past year. Small businesses on the fringes of campus are making money off students, and construction continues on university buildings and dorms.
While the U.S. as a whole continues to pray for a stronger Dow Jones industrial average, a boost in the S&P 500 and a clear-cut recessionary bottom, Prov, Utah, where the university is located, has added jobs to its economy. Over the last year, there’s been a 2.97% rise in jobs in Provo; the national unemployment rate has now hit 8.9%. Last year, the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank, credited Provo’s rise as a regional financial center, expansion of information technology services and university spending and expansions. These factors were enough to land it first on our list of best college towns for jobs.
There are also business booms in college towns like College Station, Texas (home to Texas A&M and up 2.06%); Baton Rouge, LA, (up 2.16%), which Louisiana State calls home; and Durham, NC (up 2.49%), where Duke University have been major drivers of economic activity.
Research universities tend to be great environments for business, as they’re flush with cheap, highly talented labor (recent grads), and the massive research and development budgets universities have. Plenty of the world’s top companies, including Dell, Cisco Systems and Google, began in university settings.
“Universities provide the future educated labor force and are centers of innovation, which creates an ideal ecosystem for start-ups,” says Antonio Ubalde, chief executive of ZoomProspector.com a San Francisco-based corporate relocation and start-up consulting firm. He notes that new technologies developed in many schools wind up growing into businesses of their own: “Research universities spin off academic innovations into commercial enterprises.”
Behind the Numbers
We defined “college towns” as U.S. metropolitan statistical area and metropolitan divisions–geographic entities defined by the US Office of Management and Budget used by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing federal statistics–where employment from universities, four-year colleges, two-year community colleges and university medical teaching hospitals supplied 2% or more of area jobs. Jobs created at for-profit universities and strictly Internet-based universities were not counted. Using Data from Moody’s Economy.com, we looked at year-over-year job growth in each college town. While jobs in the U.S. as a whole shrunk by 3.5% from March 2008 to March 2009, there were 62 college towns that experienced job growth.
Our list includes plenty of idyllic college communities, such as Charlottesville, VA, home to the University of Virginia and its grand Jeffersonian architecture, where 12.7% of metropolitan residents are employed by the university, and jobs are up 2.47%; as well as Athens, GA, where you’ll find the University of Georgia and more than enough bars and music venues to entertain its 35,000 students. Employment in Athens is also up 2.47% for a year ago. Also on the list, however, were bigger metros like Seattle (2.19%) and Oklahoma City (1.51%), where clusters of large universities have continued to create jobs through the downturn.
Why? “Across business cycles, college towns are steady and predictable,” says John Stapleford, senior economist at Moody’s Economy.com who notes that for every job created by a university or college, between one-half and one full job are created in the surrounding economy. “That money comes from the spending patterns of the university, the spending of employees, spending of the students as well as the flow of visitors.”
The question for the coming year, especially for smaller college towns, where employment is highly dependent on the universities, will be how the huge recent losses of university endowments will affect job creation and university spending. Harvard has lost 30% of its $37 billion endowment in the last year, and according to university president Drew Gilpin Faust, the university will delay construction on its $1 billion Allston, Mass., science complex. That means fewer jobs and far less residual spending around Harvard’s campus.
Of course, Harvard’s endowment still tops $20 billion, so save your empathy. The effects on the economies of less wealthy schools, such as North Dakota State or the University of Alabama, will likely be greater.