Report: UMass Lowell Presence Boosts City's Downtown

01/19/2011
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

Additional media contact: Jim Cook, The Lowell Plan, 978-459-9899 or jcook@prospeed.net

First of its Kind Study with Lowell Plan Measures Economic, Social Impact

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ University of Massachusetts Lowell students, faculty and staff provide a significant stimulus to the city's downtown economy, representing a potential $10 million in annual spending in Lowell, according to research released today by the Lowell Plan Inc. and UMass Lowell.

The Downtown Initiative Report, undertaken by The Lowell Plan and UMass Lowell, underscores the university’s role in creating a vibrant, thriving downtown that not only enhances student and faculty recruitment and retention, but also attracts private investment, expands the economy and creates jobs in the city of Lowell. 

“This study quantifies for the first time what we have long known about UMass Lowell: that the university has a significant positive impact on downtown Lowell,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan.

“The Lowell Plan sees this report as a critical step toward shaping new strategies that will increase UMass Lowell’s already significant economic impact on downtown,” said Jim Cook, executive director of the Lowell Plan Inc. “The data reveals a high level of interaction among University students, faculty and staff, and downtown businesses and organizations, which is very encouraging.”

The comprehensive study was the first-ever effort to analyze UMass Lowell’s impact on the downtown Lowell economy as well as the social fabric of the city. It was launched after the University acquired the former DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Lowell in 2009 and transformed it into the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, which now houses some 500 students, has 31 year-round guest rooms and an additional 252 available during the summer tourism season, and offers space for community and university events.

“The University’s expanded presence downtown with the Inn & Conference Center and Tsongas Center immediately changed the dynamic in a very positive way,” said City Manager Bernie Lynch. “The city’s planning and development team is working with the University, Lowell Plan and all downtown stakeholders to strengthen the business sector and overall quality of life downtown.”

The report’s key findings include: 

  • Collectively, students, faculty and staff spending represents a potential $10 million impact in Lowell, according to survey data on frequency of downtown visits and spending estimates volunteered by participants in surveys and interviews and through a pilot student-spending diary project.
  • A sample group of commuter and resident students who tracked expenditures in Spring 2010 reported spending $37.10 weekly in Lowell and $60 weekly outside of Lowell.
  • 91 percent of faculty and staff reported visiting downtown approximately eight times each academic year and spending an estimated $30 on each visit; 82 percent of students reported visiting downtown in the past year and 30 percent said they go downtown once a week or more.
  • 85 percent of business owners surveyed expressed interest in UMass Lowell expanding its presence downtown.
  • 78 percent of downtown businesses characterized their relationship with the University as good or excellent.
  • 58 percent of downtown businesses offer student discounts.
  • Faculty, staff and students engage not only with businesses but also with community organizations ߝ some 34 percent of students and 30 percent of faculty and staff have volunteered in Lowell.

The comprehensive study included interviews with downtown business owners, neighborhood associations and non-profit groups, surveys of faculty, staff and students and insight from student focus groups. The research team consisted of UMass Lowell faculty, graduate students and staff.

Highlighting UMass Lowell’s role as an economic driver, the report states that the university employed 1,200 in 2009 with a total payroll, including benefits, of $121 million. The nearly 400 full and part-time employees who resided in Lowell earned $23 million in wages and benefits in 2009.  In addition, UMass Lowell contributed approximately $200,000 in direct and in-kind support in 2009 for local cultural and community programs, including the American Textile Museum, Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL), Lowell High School Athletics, the Merrimack Valley Repertory Theatre and the Paul Sullivan Foundation. University spending on research topped $56.7 million in Fiscal Year 2009, and will climb with the completion of the Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center during the 2012-2013 academic year.

Other research has recently underscored UMass Lowell’s position as a catalyst for the local economy. UMass Lowell generates $490 million annually for businesses in Lowell and the Merrimack Valley and supports more than 3,100 jobs, including 1,700 non-university jobs locally, according to a December 2010 report from the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute. 

More on UMass Lowell’s economic impact (pdf)

Looking ahead, the report offers recommendations for enhancing the relationship between UMass Lowell and downtown business and cultural establishments, including:

  • Establish a campaign to make more students aware of discounts available at downtown businesses as well as the more than 30 local businesses that accept the UCard;
  • Build community awareness of events sponsored by UMass Lowell, non-profit organizations and cultural venues to encourage participation;
  • Support the development of additional entertainment venues for all ages, particularly the under-21 student population;
  • Present events for parents of UMass Lowell students to encourage them to visit Lowell;
  • Continue to strengthen and broaden volunteer, service learning and other experiential learning opportunities for students in downtown Lowell.

Download the full report (pdf)

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UMass Lowell offers its 14,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts, Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu