construction worker fitting pipes together in a foundation

Study shows college a major economic player

Anne Matthews News

Southwestern grads added $80 million to local economy

SOUTH COAST — What is the economic impact of Southwestern Oregon Community College to the South Coast?

Your mind might immediately go to a college’s output — highly skilled nurses, forestry techs, teachers, welders, chefs, firefighters and more. These people are part of the picture. Most of Southwestern’s graduates stay here and work in our towns — Brookings, Reedsport, Myrtle Point, Coos Bay, Bandon — all of the little towns in the region.

The lifeblood of our economy

There are thousands of Southwestern alumni on the South Coast and throughout Oregon. According to a newly released economic study by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., these hard-working graduates generate big money in the region. Their net income during 2018-19 was $79.4 million. They spent that income locally for homes, apartments, gas, food, restaurants, bikes, pets, supplies, even taxes. And the list goes on.

The payoff goes the other direction, too.

During that same time period, the college’s students spent $5 million in tuition, fees, supplies and college loan interest. Yes, it’s expensive, yet there’s a big payoff. EMSI estimates these students will earn nearly $50 million more in income throughout their lives thanks to their job training at Southwestern. By being skilled workers, they will also save the state an estimated $4.2 million in social service costs.

For every $1 a student invests, they get a $5.40 return in higher earnings. That’s a 26.4% reliable return on investment. Not bad, when you figure the stock market returns 10 percent over the very long term, with volatile short-term swings, and savings accounts return only 1%, so says Forbes magazine and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

An economic supplier

The college and its campuses in Brookings and Coos Bay also enrich our economy through payroll and operations spending.

Southwestern infused $104.3 million into Coos, Curry and western Douglas counties in 2018-19. The college fuels 3.3% of the region’s gross regional product, or put another way, it supports 1,979 jobs. With an annual payroll of $19 million and 427 full- and part-time teachers and workers, the spending impact surges through little businesses, medical clinics, banks and support for community organizations.

Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, Timm Slater, said businesses also benefit from the college’s ability to adapt training unique to a business’ needs for specialized workers.

“When new industries come, or local businesses want to change, the college is willing to put together programs to facilitate growth of those businesses,” he said. “Businesses define their needs, and the college defines a program in a way that provides them with competent, excited people.”

Building toward the future

EMSI’s study of the college also touches on the impact of construction and technology spending. In 2018-19, the college spent $1.1 million on construction. Really, that was just the spark for $36 million in projects that are coming online. In 2018, the college broke ground on the new Health & Science Technology Building, which will open in January 2021. Right now, workers are installing $11 million in energy conservation and infrastructure upgrades on the Coos Bay and Brookings campuses. And, the college invested $1.5 million this year in athletic facility upgrades.

Much of this work is continuing during the COVID-19 slap to the economy. The college’s projects have helped many, many local workers and businesses thrive in a severely troubling economic time.

“Construction projects like these are important for people as employees. They’re also important for contractors to profit and display their competency and work,” Slater said.

From Slater’s perspective, Southwestern is a foundation in the economy that has been growing stronger for 60 years and always keeping the community’s vision on the future. And more, he said, there’s the aspect that the college’s graduates can move on to universities or gain four-year degrees through Southwestern’s University Center.

“You know that saying, ‘You can get to anywhere from here,’” Slater said.

That’s another story.

Photo: Construction worker connects piping for the new 25-million Health & Science Technology building at Southwestern. The building features new labs for Nursing, Paramedicine, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Geology.