While the University of South Florida has been ticking off in-house successes such as endowment growth and an improving graduation rate, a new report finds the school's strides are reverberating well beyond its campuses. A consultant found USF through its innovation and economic development efforts generates more than $400 million in statewide economic impact. That's an impressive figure, reflecting what an asset USF is to the Tampa Bay area.
USF reached that mark by investing in research and entrepreneurship, and those efforts account for more than 3,000 high-wage jobs yielding $149 million in household income, $224 million in gross domestic product and $52 million in tax revenues, according to the Washington Economics Group consulting firm. More generally, the consultant said, USF has created a business environment that is attractive to new companies and skilled professionals. It's the kind of high-quality economic development the area needs and can build on for years to come. It's also more effective than local government incentives that essentially pay companies to move to or stay in Tampa Bay. Too often that approach has created competition within the region for quality employers — to the exclusive benefit of the employers.
USF's investments are visible in myriad other ways. The university ranked ninth in the nation among public universities for U.S. patents granted in 2015. The 90 patents were awarded in such technologies as pharmaceutical drug delivery, solar energy, medical devices, nanotechnology and specialized electronics — all burgeoning fields in the new economy. It tallied a record-breaking $458.5 million in research grants and contracts during the 2015-16 academic year, surpassing the previous year's mark by $18 million. And there's plenty more to come. The USF Heart Health Institute and new medical school campus, a $153 million, 11-story complex coming to downtown Tampa, will be a landmark and a source of quality jobs.
With all of its accomplishments, USF remains a well-rounded institution. It's part of the state's new Complete Florida initiative, which aims to help the 2.8 million Floridians who have college credits but no degree transition back to school and finish. Some 40 percent of USF students receive need-based Pell grants. It has added dorm space and will have 7,000 students living on campus by next year. Its freshman retention rate nears 90 percent, while this year's freshman class was the strongest ever academically. USF is on the verge of attaining "pre-eminent status" as a top-tier state university, while remaining true to its mission as an accessible public institution that aims to serve the entire region.
USF is reaping the rewards of its long-term investments in research, technology and business incubation. So is the rest of Tampa Bay and Florida — to the tune of a $400 million economic bump. That includes added tax revenue. But high-paying jobs might be the most important piece of that pie, helping the region expand beyond a service economy into one that supports families and fuels quality growth.