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UGA reports $355 million impact in Savannah area

University of Georgia researchers say the state’s flagship academic institution has an annual economic impact of nearly $355 million on the greater Savannah area.

The number was released Monday in a report detailing a $4.4 billion annual impact across the state.

According to the university, 62 percent of its graduates remain in Georgia after earning degrees. UGA economist Jeffrey Dorfman looked at graduates’ earnings, revenue from licenses stemming from university inventions and the creation of jobs spurred by the university’s outreach programs.

Dorfman said he spent about a year doing the research.

Researchers took care to ensure they looked at the institution’s economic impact directly on the state rather than a broader area. They found that UGA generates nearly $39 for each dollar of state instructional funding.

More than 9,000 students graduate from the Athens university each year, and the college says more than more than 180,000 alumni live in the state.

Nearly 9,000 of them live in the 10-county Savannah region, and more than 1,000 students from the region attended UGA in the 2013-14 academic year.

The region includes Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Screven counties.

In Chatham County alone, UGA reports a roughly $72.5 million annual impact. More than 4,000 alumni live in the county, and more than 41,000 people here are served by UGA Extension offices.

“That’s a pretty significant impact,” Dorfman said. “The impact of the university — $4.4 billion — is a big number. The reason it’s a big number is graduates of the university earn a lot more money than if they didn’t go to college.”

Speaking specifically about Savannah, the economist mentioned the number of alumni in the area. He said he suspects a contributing factor is the HOPE scholarship — bright students from Georgia wind up attending the state’s premier public university and staying put afterward, as opposed to being lured to other high-profile schools and not returning.

“They set up shop, start businesses, earn a lot of money, pump it into the economy and we get a big impact,” Dorfman said.

Don Waters, the Savannah-based First District representative of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, said the impact is indicative of the public university system as a whole.

Locally, he said, impact can be seen at UGA’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the Coastal Botanical Gardens.

The report highlighted the contributions of the university’s Small Business Development Center, which has 17 offices throughout the state. UGA says assistance from SBDC offices led to the creation of more than 3,000 jobs last year. In addition, entrepreneurs turned to the SBDC for help launching more than 300 new businesses.

Kyle Hensel, director of the Savannah office, said he appreciates seeing a strong local presence from UGA alumni. He said there are plenty of success stories related to the school’s outreach programs.

He pointed specifically to Savannah saxophone and clarinet mouthpiece manufacturer JodyJazz, which was featured last year in Georgia Trend’s Small Business Guide. Jazz musician Jody Espina sought help from SBDC staff in setting up a local business plan, obtaining a loan and getting up to speed on search engine optimization.

While Monday’s report showcases the university’s economic contributions across the board, rather than just those by outreach programs helping startups and small businesses, Hensel said the numbers are important.

“It feels really good because it shows we help give back,” he said. “... When you see a small business owner who’s succeeded or someone who’s taken one of your classes and their business grew because of it, you feel pretty good about it.” 

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