Study: University of Tennessee puts $1.7 billion into state economy

The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus was responsible for nearly $1.7 billion in income statewide in 2017, fueling  35,232 jobs and generating $166.4 million in tax revenue, according to a new study from UT’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.

The seven-page report compiles UT employee pay and benefits, university spending on construction and supplies, and off-campus spending by students and visitors.

The total doesn’t count the value of entrepreneurial spinoffs at Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus & Research Park or Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said Bill Fox, Boyd Center director. Nor does it include the rest of the UT system, just direct results from the Knoxville campus, he said.

“All that’s built into our number is the spending that took place in 2017,” Fox said.

'Very, very conservative numbers'

The university’s athletic program probably accounts for a bit under 10 percent of the total, he said.

While he didn’t cite figures, Fox said UT’s economic impact is greater than any other Tennessee university, considering enrollment, research and football attendance.

The money brought in by UT is probably about 10 percent of Knoxville’s economic activity, and 0.66 to 0.75 of a percent of Tennessee’s economy as a whole, he said.

The study used “very, very conservative numbers,” so the total impact is likely even higher, Fox said.

Fox and Lawrence Kessler, Boyd Center research assistant professor, compiled the study.

Fox and Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis presented the findings Monday afternoon at Tyson Alumni House on UT’s campus.

This is third time the Boyd Center has done such a report on UT, Davis said. Previous iterations were in 2009 and 2015. The Boyd Center also does the state’s official economic forecasts. It’s good to demonstrate the university’s value to the state and local economy, but that’s not UT’s core mission, he said.

“Let me be clear: our goal is not to create economic impact,” Davis said. “Our goal, our mission in life, is to educate students.”

The university’s contribution to the state economy is up $100 million from 2015, when the last such report was compiled; and up more than $785 million from a decade ago.

That growth is due in part to inflation, but also to more students and the construction boom, Fox said. As UT continues to expand, he and Davis said, even faster growth can be expected in the coming years.

Last year the state committed $211 million to UT’s base budget, Davis said.

“Now from my standpoint, that’s a pretty good return on your investment,” he said.

In fall 2017 UT Knoxville had 28,321 students, more than half the total enrolled in the UT system. The UT Knoxville campus had 9,744 employees, including more than 1,500 full-time faculty. The university also has campuses in Chattanooga, Martin, Memphis and Tullahoma.

This is a record year for UT in several areas, Davis said: in research contracts, in enrollment – at least since the mid-1980s – and in alumni contributions.

Freshman enrollment is up 5 percent, and overall university enrollment up 2 percent, Davis said.

Also in 2017 UT paid $575 million in salaries and benefits, according to the study. Another $636 million went for construction projects, maintenance, utilities and supplies, the report said.

More than $1 billion in campus construction is underway or being planned, the report said.

That impact will be realized over the next several years, Davis said.

Research, culture and entertainment

Sports fans, attendees at other UT events, and students renting, shopping and eating off campus put another $288 million into the local economy, according to the study.

“We produce research, and we product culture and entertainment,” Fox said.

The university buys a vast range of supplies, from footballs to construction material to food, and that means income for vendors’ employees, he said.

Those paychecks, whether for vendors, UT’s own employees, or those who serve students and visitors off-campus, are multiplied when they are in turn spent on housing, food and other goods in Tennessee, Fox said.

“A dollar spent can create more than a dollar in income,” he said.

Nearly 58 percent of UT’s 245,000 alumni live and work in Tennessee. Holders of UT graduate and professional degrees earn an annual median of $56,683, more than twice the median income of someone with just a high school diploma, according to the study.

More than 85 percent of those who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher are active in the state labor force – either working or seeking work – compared to 70 percent of high school graduates, the study says.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit


Published August 31, 2018