June 1, 2014

'It's breathtaking': Lindenwood touts its $1 billion impact on local economy

Lindenwood University-Belleville and its students and staff have invested more than $114.2 million into the Belleville economy over the past four years, according to the school's first economic impact statement.

And, according to the school's projections, that adds up to almost $1 billion worth of economic impact on the Belleville area since the school began accepting full-time day students four years ago.

"It's breathtaking," Lindenwood-Belleville campus President Jerry Bladdick said. "We can see the impact this institution has on people's lives and we see the growth on campus. But the big picture is even more exciting than we imagined."

The economic impact estimate figures, calculated by Lindenwood-Belleville's school of business, are based on the "multiplier effect," a economic theory that every dollar invested in an economy has a ripple effect, boosting other businesses. Lindenwood economists calculate every dollar spent by or at the school should be multiplied 8.7 times to determine its true value to the local economy.

That $114.2 million investment, which includes things like capital development, salaries paid to an ever-growing roster of faculty and support staff and revenue brought in from student tuition and other costs, multiplied by 8.7, comes to $993.54 million.

While the numbers are shocking, Ellen Krohne, executive director of the Edwardsville-based Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, said the methods behind their calculation are sound.

"I have had a chance to look over the report and it seems fine to me," Krohne said. "They're using standards other businesses use to calculate reports of this type."

Not only did Krohne believe that the numbers were not too high, she said she believes other metro-east schools have a similar positive impact on the economy with employees and students work work and study at the schools spending their money at area restaurants, stores and gas stations.

"This area is blessed to have several fine institutions that have been investing in capital development and expansion," Krohne said of schools including Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and McKendree University. "I think they're probably making a similar contribution to the local economy."

Krohne said the billion-dollar number sounds exaggerated because financial impact statements usually are calculated for one year at a time.

"In their case, they're doing four years," Krohne said. "And that makes sense because this is the first time they're doing it, so they want to go back a little bit and create a long range picture."

St. Louis-based financial expert Juli Newmann said she thinks the figures are somewhat high. But they're impressive all the same.

Newmann said there are different theories about the multiplied value of money. She believes the housing industry, which calculates the velocity of a dollar spent at four times its worth, is more accurate. At that rate, Lindenwood would have a $456.8 million impact on the metro-east.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, who was the mayor of Belleville when Lindenwood was sold the soon to be abandoned Belleville Township High School West site on West Main Street for a dollar, said, regardless of the accounting method to which experts subscribe, the university has been an unqualified success.

"When the partnership was formed between Lindenwood and the city of Belleville, many of us were optimistic about the impact Lindenwood would have on the community," said Mark Kern, St. Clair County Board Chairman. "Today, that optimistic outlook has become a reality, not only for the city of Belleville, but for all of Southwestern Illinois."

According to Lindenwood-Belleville's first of what are expected to become annual economic impact statements, the school generated $164 million worth of business in 2011, $210 million in 2012, $281 million in 2013 and it is expected to produce $328 million in 2014.

Bladdick said he expects the financial impact of the university to continue to grow at a dramatic rate.

"With the expected expansion of the campus' physical plant, new degrees, and athletic programs, as well as the rising student population that is expected to grow by one third in the next few years, I anticipate the university's economic impact to eventually reach half a billion dollars per year," Bladdick said.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at or call 239-2626.

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