If the University of Massachusetts were a city, it would be the second largest in the state.
The university would have about 300,000 "citizens" -- including alumni, students and employees.
But what if one viewed the university not as a community, but a business?
According to a new study from the UMass Donahue Institute, UMass is one of the state's prime economic movers, generating more than $4 billion in economic activity each year, and one of its top 10 employers (15,000 people work for the UMass system).
The state invests $524 million a year in UMass, which generates an additional $1.5 billion in funding from several sources, including tuition fees and federal and private research funding. That $2 billion in annual spending generates an additional $2.3 billion in economic activity, according to the study, for a total economic impact of $4.3 billion.
The study's authors conclude that every $1 the state invests in UMass generates $8 of economic activity.
That doesn't necessarily mean the state gets a positive return on its investment from a tax-dollar standpoint, lead author Michael Goodman told The Sun, but it's certainly a worthwhile use of state money. UMass has a particularly profound impact in Greater Lowell, Goodman said.
"There's clearly additional returns to the commonwealth," Goodman said. "The economy in the Merrimack Valley is driven largely by this innovation economy."
The study found that UMass Lowell in fiscal year 2006 generated $466 million in economic activity and created 2,831 jobs. (The entire UMass system contributed more than 29,000 jobs.) UMass Amherst and UMass Medical School (Worcester) led the way, each contributing more than $1 billion in economic activity.
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, agreed with Goodman that citizens are getting their money's worth from the UMass system.
"It's become quite a bargain," Widmer said. "The taxpayers are getting a great value."
He advocated pumping even more money into the university, because it will provide "the talent we're going to need to draw on over the next generation to drive our economy."
Every year, UMass graduates 11,000 students, more than 60 percent of whom stay to live and work in Massachusetts -- a huge resource for a state that has in recent years seen its younger residents flee in droves.
Fred Breimyer, former president of the New England Economic Partnership, said UMass' contributions are "critically important, not only for the current economy but for the future economy."
The study said future areas of growth include a statewide life sciences network, a fully integrated marine science and technology corridor stretching from Rhode Island to Gloucester, and a statewide cluster of excellence in nanotechnology. UMass Lowell will likely be the epicenter of that third goal, with an $80 million nanotechnology manufacturing research center on tap for the city.