Study Finds that Fairfield Drives $1 Billion in Local Economic Impact.

Study Finds that Fairfield Drives $1 Billion in Local Economic Impact.

When Al DiGuido considered places to expand his Westport-based Saugatuck Sweets, he looked no farther than neighboring Fairfield.

Why? “Fairfield U. was a primary driver for opening in Fairfield,” DiGuido said of his popular ice cream and candy eatery. “We get a significant amount of volume during the weekends and evenings from students. The more people who know about us at Fairfield U., the better.”

It’s a good bet that nearly every retailer in town — and more than a few landlords at the beach — would echo his sentiments. According to a recently released study by the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC), the University’s impact on the local economy in 2014 — the year in which the data was collected — exceeded $1 billion.

The total ‘direct’ spending — the amount of money spent directly by the University and University employees, students and visitors — was more than $600 million, with $50 million contributed by employees alone. Over $400 million more was contributed due to ‘induced’ spending, which is defined as the additional employment and expenditures of local industries that result because of direct spending.

Generating economic activity and providing educational tools to enhance the state’s economy are key ways that Fairfield serves the greater community, according to interim University President Lynn Babington, PhD, RN.

“As we encourage the Jesuit mission of ‘men and women’ for others, our students understand the importance of giving back to their communities,” Dr. Babington said. “As our state continues to navigate challenging situations, we are proud that our entire Fairfield University community can significantly contribute to our home state of Connecticut.”

The CCIC study paints an intriguing portrait of just how the University’s staff and students — as well as its solid alumni base — provide an economic jolt across the region.

Included in the total dollar estimate were jobs created and the number of alumni living in the state. Fairfield generated more than 7,300 jobs and opportunities in the state in 2014. At the time of the study, both locally and statewide, 19,336 University alumni lived in Connecticut.

Currently, the University employs 800 full-time workers, with another 23 at the part-time level. When asked how having Fairfield University in town is beneficial, Chamber of Commerce President Beverly Balaz didn’t skip a beat.

“I think the obvious answer is, certainly, employment. It’s one of the largest employers we have in Fairfield,” adding that the employees spur “real estate purchases and housing… clearly shopping and dining, and all that good stuff.”

The employment advantages goes both ways. With more than 5,000 undergraduates and graduate students each year, the University churns out a strong base of highly educated potential employees for local businesses.

“Having the University right here? Love it!” she said. “I have seen nothing but a positive impact.”

Mark Barnhart, the town’s community and economic development director, agrees with Balaz, pointing out that in addition to its students, local Fairfield alumni also “provide the backbone of a lot of nonprofits in the area, not to mention having businesses of their own.”

Being able to access Fairfield’s 200-acre campus and its facilities is also tough to place a value on, Barnhart added. International students, noted visiting speakers and the full slate of offerings at the Quick Center are all positives for local residents. “It really adds to the vibrancy of the town,” he asserted. “It contributes to the richness of life here.”

Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau, who grew up near the University and often played on campus, said he couldn’t picture a Town of Fairfield without Fairfield University.

“I can’t imagine how different the town would be,” he said, noting homebuyers often choose Fairfield because it’s a college town. “Look at all the culture and sports and intellectual opportunities the University affords… You just wouldn’t have that without the University.”

“One of the priorities of Fairfield’s strategic plan is to continue to help our town grow,” said Kevin Lawlor, Fairfield University executive vice president and COO. “We encourage our students to use their Stag Cards for purchases at local businesses. And FUEL, our business incubator, helps students bring their business ideas to life and make an immediate impact on the local economy.”

FUEL, or Fairfield University Entrepreneurial Laboratory, is an initiative between the Dolan School of Business, Kleban Properties, and the town. Based downtown, it provides local entrepreneurs with the services and advice they need to start new businesses, many of which stay rooted in the local economy.

A March 2017 report from the Fairfield Economic Development Commission (EDC) mentions FUEL as a success story for providing networking, shared office space and funding assistance to promising new businesses.

“Building off that effort and establishing incubator space as well, either at the university, downtown, or elsewhere, would help grow the town’s local businesses and, eventually, its grand list,” the report reads.

It also names Lawlor and former University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., as “key (town) stakeholders” who helped shape the commission’s vision of the town’s current economic conditions and potential for development.

The EDC report refers to a positive symbiotic relationship between the Town of Fairfield and the University that has improved town-gown relations in recent years. It goes on to propose that, “future planning efforts should consider student access to downtown via walkways, bikeways and roadways, which would allow students to more easily access recreation and internships in Fairfield.”