ARLINGTON -- Not long ago, the University of Texas at Arlington was viewed as a commuter school whose students high-tailed it out of town after classes each day.In the 1980s, one City Council member remembers, you could sit in the middle of nearby Abram Street and play cards all night long.Those days are long gone.On Friday, a study by Waco economist Ray Perryman added the latest chapter in the university's soaring success story, concluding that it has a $13.6 billion annual economic impact on the state and creates more than 122,000 permanent jobs for North Texas each year.UT Arlington has already helped revitalize downtown, but the study emphasized its reach beyond the city's borders.When spinoff research and graduates employed here are considered, the university pumps $12.8 billion -- or about 4 percent -- into the regional economy, UTA President James D. Spaniolo told donors and community leaders at a Leadership Summit luncheon."UT Arlington is a significant driver of the Texas economy," Spaniolo said. "UT Arlington supports thousands of jobs and keeps Texas working. The university's impact and influence extends far beyond Arlington. It extends across the region and across the state."The Perryman Group conducted the independent study to gauge the university's impact on business activity in the state and region, the first such assessment in about a decade.The university has more than 180 degree programs and nearly 5,800 faculty and staff members, as well as a student enrollment approaching 33,500.The study's finding on the university's influence will make it easier for UTA to secure private donations, state funding and research grants, allowing it to continue the success story, officials said.Several factors went into Perryman's numbers, including campus operations, graduate salaries, startup companies formed with research funding, on-campus construction, and merchandise and food sales.Perryman said that no data is available to compare UTA with other North Texas universities or industries but that it would be difficult to find an entity with a greater influence on jobs and the economy."Since it's one of the larger universities in the area in terms of enrollment, it would certainly have a larger impact," he said.One factor in UT Arlington's favor, he said, is that more than 100,000 of the university's 163,000 alumni live and work in Dallas-Fort Worth."The employees, they are scattered over every industry in the area. When you are talking about these graduates supporting 4 percent of the overall economy for an area as big as Dallas-Fort Worth, you are not going to find much bigger."It points to ... how important the university is to the region."'Whole new world'Downtown Arlington's revitalization has been driven partly by the university's investment on its eastern edge.The crowning achievement is the $78 million College Park Center, a 7,000-seat arena that opened in February and will be home to volleyball, men and women's basketball, concerts, lectures, graduation ceremonies and other events."It's a whole new world of athletics. College Park Center is a tremendous facility," Spaniolo said.UTA also recently completed the adjacent $82 million College Park residential and retail development, which includes a parking garage with 1,800 spaces.At least seven restaurants are expected to be open in time for the November homecoming ceremony, he said.Construction has created an estimated $539 million impact on business activity in Texas, the report states.The university has left its commuter-school image in the past.Now students cram into restaurants such as Mellow Mushroom, Grease Monkey Burger Shop & Social Club and Fuzzy's Taco Shop, along with an eclectic collection of new shops.They have joined familiar downtown haunts, such as J. Gilligan's Bar & Grill.Shirlee Gandy, a university supporter and alumna, called the campus's transformation since her 1970 graduation "mind-boggling."Gandy, who attended Friday's luncheon, said she was impressed but not surprised by the Perryman Group's findings."I've known for a long time that UTA is an economic engine. We supply an educated workforce to companies all over the world," Gandy said. "I am so proud to be affiliated with this university."The quest for Tier OneContinued investment in state-of-the-art research facilities is part of UTA's effort to become a nationally recognized Tier One research university.Spaniolo said UTA's research expenditures this year are expected to top $70 million, up about $5 million from the year before.The university spent $126 million on its Engineering Research Building, a 234,000-square-foot high-tech research and teaching facility that opened in January 2011.During the next legislative session, UTA will seek funding to renovate its science research and classroom building, which dates to 1970, Spaniolo said."I don't think there's a better investment the state could make than in education," he said."It's good for an institution to take a step back and take stock of its place in the community, to assess its impact and its value.""By any measure, but especially these measures, it is clear that UT Arlington is vital to the economic well-being and the future of Texas," he said.Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578Twitter: @susanschrock
Total annual economic benefits from ongoing operations: $1 billion in annual output and 14,685 permanent jobs.
Total impact of major recent and ongoing construction projects: $502.7 million in output and 5,861 person-years of employment.
Total external benefits (including spinoff research effects and graduates employed in North Texas): Almost $12.8 billion in annual output and 122,295 permanent jobs.