UVA:  A Tradition of Service and a Powerful Economic Engine

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UVA:  A Tradition of Service and a Powerful Economic Engine

By Ken Wilson –

Quick, name the venerable Charlottesville institution that has a $5.9 billion annual local impact and can claim credit for 53 area startups in the last 12 years. Name the renowned and historic local institution that attracts smart kids from all 50 states and 148 countries, turns them out even smarter, and entices many to stay right here to enliven and enrich the community we call home.

No Googling allowed, but no Googling needed. We all know it’s the University of Virginia, conceived by Thomas Jefferson, known worldwide for the handsome Academical Village he designed for it, famed for beloved graduates like Boyd Tinsley, Katie Couric and Tina Fey, and deservedly proud of untold lesser known but no less important graduates. Skilled and educated, creative and entrepreneurial, these highly sought after UVA grads could light out for green pastures—but they’ve already found them.

Coming Home
“They jump ship,” says Nest REALTOR®, Janice Kavanagh, of the UVA alumni who, having left town after graduation and established careers in New York and other urban centers, return to raise their families in a town with clean air and close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, a great medical center, and the plethora of sporting events and cultural riches that an outstanding university offers.

“Some of those people could live anywhere with their jobs, and they choose to come back,” she says. “Their loyalty to UVA is large, and they just love Charlottesville.“

Montague Miller and Co. REALTOR®, Anita Dunbar, can relate. Dunbar was born here, grew up in a military family and lived all over the world, but came back and re-established roots. “Even though I travel to Europe or other places, it is just so great to come home,” Dunbar says.

“I love the youthfulness and the vibrancy of having a college here. The University just brings so much to our community. Many parents of students fall in love with Charlottesville and then move here because they’ve gotten to know the University. And a lot of alumni come back and purchase homes.”

Alumni, for example, like James—he prefers to remain anonymous—who hails from Georgia, graduated from UVA in 1981, and is purchasing a home here this spring. “UVA’s presence has been a part of our moving calculus from the start,” he says. “My wife and I are both excited at the prospect of being in a college town, with its concerts, lectures, conferences, courses, academic community, etc., both for ourselves and our two teen-aged daughters.

“All of us are interested in, and actively pursue, not just a range of academic and intellectual pursuits, but our own mixes of drawing, painting, music, dress and costume making, etc. We feel sure we’ll find more ‘kindred spirits’ in Charlottesville than we’ve had in Georgia.

“Another UVA angle for our family has to do with the fact that my wife and I thought it might be good to be in-state if either of our daughters has any interest in going to UVA themselves in a few years, as that represents, to our mind, probably the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ currently available in US higher education.”

Alumnus John Stacey moved back in 2010 and was immediately glad he had. Born in Charlottesville, he graduated from UVA and Harvard Business School, then enjoyed a successful career in Silicon Valley for close to 30 years before returning home.

“UVA was a big part of my reason for coming back,” he says, and it gave him a memorable welcome. “When I first returned, I recall calling my son in California from the Lawn with the moon shining brightly and telling him that in one day at UVA I had gone to a lecture on hurricanes by the Environmental Science Department, attended a briefing at the Medical Center on electronic trends in healthcare, and capped that evening by a discussion about JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis lead by Larry Sabato in the Rotunda with Khrushchev’s son on the panel!”

Driving the Economy
All that concentrated knowledge has an economic upside. UVA proudly proclaims its mission “to serve the people of Virginia, and to lead the advancement of human knowledge and to benefit the region and the world.” That tradition of service, it notes, also serves as “a major economic engine for the Commonwealth.” A study conducted by an independent research firm in 2016 confirms UVA’s substantial effect on Virginia’s economy.

UVA had a $4.8 billion local impact in 2015, and a $5.9 billion effect on the Commonwealth as a whole. Of that, $2.9 billion was in direct impact: operational spending on goods and services within the region, including employee compensation, employee spending and spending by patients and visitors to the region. The other $3 billion consisted of indirect impact (spending on goods and services by the companies and people who do business with the University) and induced impact (money filtered back into the economy by household and vendor spending).

Across the Commonwealth, UVA was also directly or indirectly responsible for 51,653 jobs, and attracted $239 million in government revenue. In the 29 North UVA Research Park alone it owns 562 acres. Thirty companies and 1,500 people come to work there every day. Since 2006, 53 UVA related startups have been launched. Throughout the Commonwealth, UVA alumni have created 371,000 jobs; 91,530 UVA alumni currently work in the Commonwealth. Virginia-based companies started by UVA alumni produce about $395 billion in calculated annual revenues and spend $279 billion per year.

Research and Innovation for Better Living
With his West Coast experience helping start-ups, Stacey came to especially admire what he calls UVA’s “budding interest in innovation and entrepreneurship,” and he praises it today for “getting better at commercializing the research, invention, and technology it’s producing. I think a lot of people think they have to have some direct tie to the University to participate and that’s not the case.”

As an illustration, he cites the summer incubator program at the Batten Institute, part of Darden’s Graduate Business School: “In the past it’s been somewhere around 25 companies—they have an idea, or may be partly along the way in starting their company. They come in for an intensive 10-week program complete with resources and coaching and mentoring, and they’re taught everything from how to take something to a minimum viable product, to how to get funding, and how to handle tax issues.”

An association with UVA is not required for participation. “In the years I was involved in it, probably six or seven of the twenty-five teams had zero connection to the University whatsoever. They were local business people who had never gone to UVA, and had no UVA family members.” 

As a major research university, UVA pursues discoveries that could make all of our lives better, such as a recent groundbreaking discovery that uncovered previously unknown structures in the human brain. Its research enterprise generates $644.5 million in annual economic impact and is responsible for one in five jobs created or supported by the University. It also attracts funding, high-skilled jobs, and additional research and development businesses to the Commonwealth.

In regards to technology and entrepreneurship, UVA drives much of the collaborative innovation around town—innovation like a smartphone app from TypeZero Technologies that acts as an artificial pancreas to help diabetes patients actively manage their health.

Entrepreneurship drivers at UVA include the center for entrepreneurial leadership at the Darden school of business, the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at the school of commerce, as well as the Entrepreneurship Group. One UVA Alumnus co-founded Rivanna Medical, a Charlottesville-based developer of point-of-care ultrasound-based technologies, including a spine-finding device expected to revolutionize the administration of epidurals.

The National Venture Capital Association has ranked Charlottesville as the fastest-growing venture-capital ecosystem in the country. Venture funding for Charlottesville companies in 2010 was only $250,000. By 2015 it was $27.7 million. Of the nine Charlottesville companies who received the bulk of that $27.7 million in investments, six received aid from the UVA Licensing & Ventures Group.

In Fiscal Year 2015 alone, seven new startups were launched by UVA faculty or as a result of UVA innovations. Since 2006, the number of UVA-related startups totals 53. AffordableSchools.net ranks UVA #31 in the country among entrepreneurial schools. Through its extensive biomedical research, the UVA Health System lays the foundations for cutting edge new health care initiatives: TypeZero is just one of nine local startups working on biomedical research and clinical trials in partnership with the UVA Health System.

Volunteering for the Community
When the monetary value of UVA’s presence in the community is calculated, its economic value to the community increases by $70.3 million, and its social value is incalculable. Through the university’s Madison House student volunteer center, 3,179 students volunteered for 111,135 hours in 2015, serving at places including schools, health clinics, food pantries, community centers and animal shelters.

The estimated value of UVA faculty, staff and student volunteerism for local charities is $51.4 million. UVA faculty and staff are also responsible for $18.9 million in annual charitable donations. “UVA leads all state agencies in employee-giving through the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC),” says University Deputy Spokesperson Matt Charles. “Since 1999 it has given a total of more than $13 million to the campaign, which supports more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations. UVA employees donated more than $1 million during the 2016 CVC campaign that benefits a number of area charities.”

University of Virginia Health System

Access to topnotch medical care is an incalculable benefit easy to take for granted. In 1825, Jefferson himself established UVA’s medical school, the tenth in the nation. Since then it has grown to also encompass a school of nursing and a health sciences library. The nationally acclaimed, 608-bed academic medical center includes an outstanding Level 1 Trauma Center, renowned for the latest and most advanced treatment options, and voted Virginia’s #1 hospital for two years in a row (2017-2018) by U.S. News & World Report.

Excellence is a Magnet
With its academic excellence and wide-ranging academic curriculum, it’s no wonder UVA is such a source of creativity and enterprise. Named the third-best public university by U.S. News & World Report this year, and number 25 in U.S. colleges overall, UVA offers 48 different bachelor’s degrees, 94 master’s degrees, 55 doctoral degrees, along with professional degrees in law and medicine. UVA graduates are ranked 76th in the nation in earnings.

Even graduates whose careers take them elsewhere like to maintain ties and give back to the university and community that nurtured them. Stacey and Dunbar both cite 1979 graduate Katie Couric as an example. “I think Katie Couric has had a big impact on this town,” Dunbar says. “She continues to come back and talk about women’s issues.”

“I always have this tag, live where you love, and love where you live,” says Cynthia Viejo of Nest Realty. “I find this place to be a very powerful energy center that attracts all different kinds of people: artists, writers, and actors; health-conscious, community-conscious, and Earth-conscious people. UVA adds a wonderful flavor.”

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