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Winter 2001
THE ECONOMIC ENGINE THAT COULD
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Large universities, every bit as much as large companies, are engines of the economy. According to a recently released study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), UCLA in 1999–2000 contributed a whopping $5 billion to $6.19 billion to the local, regional and state economies. In the greater Los Angeles area, that would place UCLA about eighth, just above the oil and gas company Unocal, among economic entities.

With 26,617 employees, UCLA is the 10th-largest employer in the five-county greater Los Angeles region, which encompasses Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. That might not sound all that impressive until you realize that if greater Los Angeles were a separate country, it would have the 10th-largest economy in the world æ bigger than Spain's, or even India's with its population of a billion people.

"Major universities are as complex as major corporations," says Jack Kyser, chief economist for the LAEDC. "They have the economic impact of a huge, publicly held firm."

"If you look at how big their budget is, they are a huge export center," says Perry Wong, research economist with the Milken Institute, an economics think tank based in Santa Monica. "They are also somewhat recession-proof. If, for example, you look at the state of Michigan in the late 1980s and early '90s, you can find hardly any growth, or even any place without substantial decline. Ann Arbor [home of the University of Michigan] was an exception. It continued to grow throughout that period. Lansing [home of Michigan State] was the same. Colleges and universities have proven to be stabilizing forces in any regional economy."

Kyser says that universities are "counter-cyclical."

"Instead of going out and looking for jobs in a bad economy, students often stick around to get higher degrees. There is also a lot of retraining [in a bad economy]. For example, a lot of dot-commers are now going back to school to get M.B.A.s and other degrees after their companies failed."

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