Column: Study shows Emory has $5.1 billion impact on Atlanta

By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 11, 2011

One of metro Atlanta’s greatest economic engines is none other than Emory University.

The university recently commissioned New York-based Appleseed Inc. to conduct an independent, third-party review of its economic impact.

Emory President Jim Wagner said Nov. 8 that the university is the fourth-largest employer in metro Atlanta, with more than 23,300 jobs. Emory directly and indirectly supports nearly 50,000 jobs statewide.

Emory also directly spends more than $2.5 billion a year on payroll, purchasing and construction. The overall economic impact of the university is more than $5.1 billion a year, according to the study.

As impressive as those numbers are, Wagner said that they don’t tell the whole story. The economic impact is only one facet of the many ways the university contributes to a community.

By educating well-rounded scholars in a multitude of disciplines including the liberal arts, Emory (and all other universities), contribute to the future economic vitality of a region, he said. Innovation and creativity are vital to building a 21st century economy that will be able to provide job opportunities for generations to come.

“It’s not just about a trained workforce but an educated workforce,” Wagner said.

Also, a university is one of the most solid anchors that exists in a community because it won’t pull up stakes and be lured away to another state because of economic incentives.

“It’s not an option for Emory to imagine itself being anywhere else,” Wagner said. “This is therefore our community.”

Much of Emory’s economic impact can be attributed to Emory Healthcare, which directly employs 11,000 of the university’s 23,300 employees.

Emory researchers, primarily those in the health sciences, generated $450 million in sponsored research in the 2010 fiscal year and were awarded $535 million in new research funding.

About 41,000 of Emory’s 109,000 alumni live in Georgia, and about one-quarter of Georgia’s physicians have been trained at Emory, the report stated.

The last time Emory commissioned an independent impact study was in 1995, when it was determined that the university had a $2.4 billion economic impact.

In 2000, the university did an in-house study and found that it had a $3.4 billion economic impact.

The latest economic impact report comes as the university marks its 175th year after having been chartered as Emory College in Oxford, Ga., in 1836.

National Philanthropy Day

One example of Emory’s economic and community impact was at the 2011 National Philanthropy Day on Nov. 8 at the Georgia Aquarium.

The Volunteer Fundraiser of the year was Ben F. Johnson III, the retired managing partner of the Alston & Bird LLP law firm. Johnson, an Emory University alum, was nominated by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Woodward Academy, where he has chaired the board for nearly 30 years.

Johnson also is chair of Emory’s board of trustees, a post he’s had for nearly 11 years.

The Philanthropist of the Year was Wendell Reilly, chairman of Berman Capital Advisors and managing partner of Grapevine Partners, a family office and private investment firm.

Reilly also is an Emory alum, and he was nominated to be the Philanthropist of the Year by Emory University for his role in chairing the university’s campaign for Arts and Sciences.

What was particularly telling during the luncheon was that both Johnson and Reilly met their spouses while attending Emory University. Johnson said he fell in love with his wife, Ann, at Emory, a condition that continues today. And Reilly also met his wife, Mary Laney Reilly, while in college. She is the daughter of former Emory University President Jim Laney.

Woodruff Reception

A festive mood welcomed the top patrons of the Woodruff Arts Center at a reception held at the Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 2.

It was a return appearance for the annual Woodruff reception after a multi-year absence — partly due to Gov. Nathan Deal’s and first lady Sandra Deal’s willingness to allow alcohol to be served in the mansion — a reversal of the policy that existed under the administration of former Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The alcoholic fare consisted of Georgia wines and Georgia-brewed beer, which the crowd of top arts center donors didn’t seem to mind.

Deal said the importance of the arts really hit home to him during a recent economic development trip to China when Lian Wengen, the chairman of Sany Heavy Industry, was asked why he had decided to put a $25 million research and development center at its Peachtree Center plant.

“I thought he was going to say they have a great workforce,” Deal said. “I was hoping he would have said it was a well-managed state with a good governor. But he said: ‘Georgia is where I like because I like Margaret Mitchell and ‘Gone With The Wind.’ ”

Deal added that “arts and culture are sometimes what people identify with a place.” He went on to say that 1.4 million people who visit one of the divisions of the Woodruff Arts Center each year, “is an important ingredient of what makes Atlanta and what makes Georgia.”

First lady Deal also spoke of the architectural history of the mansion. In attendance was civic leader Lynda Courts, whose father — Thomas Bradbury — had designed the West Paces Ferry mansion.

Brad Branch, a top executive of Deloitte, spoke of how honored he was to be chairing the 2011-12 Woodruff Arts Center campaign. Last year, the campaign raised $8.8 million, “about $150,000 above our goal.” Branch said they decided to set this year’s campaign goal at $9 million. “We are up to $1.6 million currently.”

Larry Gellerstedt, CEO of Cousins Properties Inc. and chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center board, compared the cultural amenity to an economic development project.

Gellerstedt asked the governor to imagine what it would be like to have a prospect like the Woodruff Arts Center, saying: “Let’s make sure we don’t forget the great treasures that are here.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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