Denver’s economic engine

DU campus in front of the Rocky Mountains

DU's billion dollar boost for metro area

All along the Front Range, the University of Denver is known for its great minds, rigorous academic programs, stunning campus and nationally competitive sports teams.

But that’s just part of what DU brings to the city it calls home. A recently released Development Research Partners study finds that DU also is a powerful economic engine for the six-county metropolitan area, generating an economic impact of nearly $1 billion a year.

Titled “The Economic and Fiscal Benefits of the University of Denver,” the report establishes DU as an “anchor institution” that brings significant economic benefits to a city celebrated for its entrepreneurial energy and dynamic marketplace.

“[It shows] how critical DU’s role as an economic engine is to the health of Denver overall,” says David Ethan Greenberg, DU’s vice chancellor for institutional partnerships. “A large part of our vision is the qualitative role DU plays in Denver, from engagement to quality of research to our role as a thought leader. But the flip side is that DU has been a physical presence in Denver for 152 years, and we are, in a quantitative way, an essential component of the Denver economy.”

The study was commissioned by the University as part of its strategic-planning process, which resulted in a 10-year blueprint for innovation known as DU IMPACT 2025.

Chancellor Rebecca Chopp notes that the report confirms that DU and Denver enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with wide-ranging significance. “We know that Denver and the University of Denver are integrally connected, through our partnerships throughout the region, our collaboration to address pressing challenges and the civically and ethically minded graduates who remain here after graduation,” she says. “But this report shows how we fit into the structure of the local economy — how much our day-to-day activities benefit residents, businesses and the tax base.”

DU, with 3,830 faculty and staff members, is Denver’s second largest private non-retail employer, right behind United Airlines. What’s more, DU purchases goods and services from Colorado companies, brings out-of-town students and visitors — and their dollars — to the metropolitan area, and conducts $22.2 million in research each year, with more than 83 percent of funding coming from sources outside of Colorado.

Based on calendar year 2015, the study breaks the University’s $958.2 million economic impact into two categories: direct and indirect. DU’s direct impact — which totals $449.9 million — includes the initial dollars spent by the institution for construction, capital investment, business operations and employee compensation.

Its indirect impact, meanwhile, adds up to $508.3 million and includes what the report calls “spin-off effects.” In other words, it measures how those initial dollars are circulated throughout the local economy. So when DU purchases supplies from a Denver vendor, that vendor pays its employees and makes purchases from other vendors.

One of the big beneficiaries of the University’s direct impact is the construction industry. DU’s construction spending in 2015 totaled $40.7 million. In the last 20 years, the report notes, DU has invested $640 million in facilities and infrastructure, an average of $32 million each year, through recessions and boom periods alike.

Direct spending by students — on everything from food and clothing to housing and transportation — equaled $115 million.

“Seventy percent of first-year DU undergraduates are from outside Colorado, and 70 percent of our graduates choose to live here,” Greenberg says. “What DU does is import investment into Colorado. We’re doing it in terms of dollars spent and in terms of attracting talent.”

Visitors to campus, numbering roughly 32,700, spent $8.5 million in the metro area in 2015. Whether in town for a sporting or cultural event, whether visiting campus for a tour or conference, they also purchased 16,600 room nights, making them significant contributors to Colorado’s tourism base.

DU’s faculty, staff and students contribute to the region’s tax base in a variety of ways. They account for $13.1 million annually in regional tax revenue, helping to support the community’s infrastructure.

As Chopp notes, it all adds up to an impressive impact. “To my knowledge, DU has never quantified its contributions to the metro area,” she says. “But we’re proud to be in Denver and proud to play such a big role in the region’s economic life, as we commit to being an even greater partner in the region.”