UCSD Touts Its Economic Impact, Including 193 Companies and $37 Billion in Annual Spending and Personal Income

It’s a curious thing, when a major public research university commissions an independent study to assess its economic impact, especially when we’re talking about an individual school in the University of California system. In this case, the University of California, San Diego, hired a consulting firm in San Francisco to remind the public just how big and important it really is.

The study, released by university officials yesterday, dutifully reported that UCSD contributes more than $7.2 billion a year to the California economy. The full report is available here.

When asked why the university launched the study, UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox told reporters who gathered for the announcement that it was intended for campus planning purposes and was commissioned “about a year ago.” That was roughly the same time when allegations of academic misconduct were flying at the Preuss School, a tuition-free charter school on UCSD’s campus for poor and minority students.

The turmoil at the Preuss school erupted as a statewide furor over undisclosed pay for UC administrators was finally subsiding, a controversy that included UCSD’s Fox.

But none of that was dredged up again at the press event.

Fox explained that UCSD paid $130,000 for a report that was more independent and provided a more detailed analysis than UCSD had obtained from previous internal studies. Whatever the rationalization, the 98-page study by CBRE Consultants yielded insights on the economic ripple effects of UCSD’s role as a hotbed for new technologies.

The study reported that UCSD faculty and alumni have started at least 193 companies, a conservative estimate, and that 67 remain “independent and operational” in the state today. Those companies now generate more than $10 billion in annual sales, with Qualcomm accounting for $8.8 billion of the total. The San Diego wireless giant was founded by former UCSD engineering professor Irwin Jacobs.

Using economic multipliers, the study found that startups coming out of UCSD have created 129,570 jobs and generate more than $37 billion a year in direct and indirect spending and personal income.

UCSD alumnus Steven R. Hart, co-founder of San Diego-based satellite and digital-communications firm ViaSat (NASDAQ: VSAT), may have provided the most succinct commentary, though. In light of the financial crisis that has been dominating the news, Hart said, “I can’t help but think about the type of entrepreneurialism that goes on around a university and the type of innovation that takes place in the financial sector. We’re not thinking of new ways to leverage debt and develop new types of mortgage-backed securities.”

Hart, a mathematician, explained afterward that the innovation in and around universities is instead focused primarily on advances in new technologies and products, from satellite transmitters and terminals to molecular biology.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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