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Higher education's impact on economy

Recently, the Board of Regents named retired Brig. Gen. Daniel Kaufman, former dean of the academic board and chief academic officer at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., to head Georgia's 35th school in the state's university system. The yet-unnamed college, to be located at the current Gwinnett University Center, will be the system's first new entity since the early 1970s.

The creation of this college in our own backyard will have a significant impact on our future economy and quality of life. While the educational benefits for our residents are obvious, the economic impact of thisinstitution and those that surround Gwinnett is enormous.

How enormous? Our region's research universities and colleges pump $82.6 million into Gwinnett County's economy each year. Our new college will only add to that.

And that's just the beginning.

Our region is a powerhouse when it comes to higher education driving economic growth. According to the Atlanta Regional Consortium for Higher Education, we rank among the nation's top 10 metro areas in total research expenditures (more than $731 million each year) and total degrees conferred (more than 28,000 each year).

A closer look at the numbers shows why our region - and Gwinnett particularly - are positioned to thrive in the emerging bioscience and established technology industries.

Looking at the types of degrees conferred, we're seventh in biological and life science degrees, sixth in health professional degrees, second in engineering degrees, and fifth in computer and information science degrees. Chicago and Los Angeles are the only two other areas that consistently rank among the top metros with us.

Successful graduation rates in these fields mean success for Gwinnett's future economy.

Our colleges and universities are key drivers in our regional economy. Even better, Gwinnett County is geographically right in the middle of it all and stands to benefit the most in years to come. Institutional expenditures total $4.6 billion each year. That's money spent right here at home in our communities and businesses.

More than 100 high-value technology companies have spun out of university research. Georgia is now ninth in the nation in terms of biotech companies. For every dollar the Georgia Research Alliance invests in resources for innovative university research and development, Georgia receives $5 in return from new federal and private funds. And that adds up to a total of $2 billion in our local economy that wasn't there before.

Studies also show graduates have higher personal incomes, are more likely to start a company, contribute more to the state's tax base, are less likely to need government help, and will raise kids who achieve greater academic success. It's a tremendous return: more economic prosperity, less government spending, a stronger competitive advantage and a higher quality of life.

So this year as we watch our very own college grow and develop, remember that it, along with Gwinnett Technical College, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Georgia State, the Medical College of Georgia, and others do much more for us than simply prepare its students for the work force - they're putting money in our pockets. And that's worth celebrating.

Jim Maran is the president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.