By Dr. O. Ash Morgan, associate professor, Department of Economics, assistant director of the Center for Economic Research & Policy Analysis, and Dr. John W. Dawson, associate professor, Department of Economics, research associate at the Center for Econom
In 1899, Blanford and Dauphin Dougherty founded Watauga Academy to create opportunities in the mountains of North Carolina. Today, as Appalachian State University, the residential campus continues to live up to this vision by being a hub of activity for learning, exploration, culture and entertainment. In 2012, economists at Appalachian’s Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis estimated that the university’s annual economic impact is worth $560 million to the local economy, which supports approximately 6,100 local jobs and $36 million in additional taxes to local governments. While the numbers are critical to the local economy, they do not begin to capture the broader impacts to society at large arising from the academic mission of the university.
Appalachian also provides a stabilizing influence on the regional economy. While no region is immune to economic downturns, the university’s presence provides a buffer to recessionary pressures and a platform for economic recovery and growth. The Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 reduced employment for all areas, but the increase in post-recession employment levels has been nearly 50 percent greater in Watauga County than in the wider western North Carolina region. The local economy’s stronger recovery was largely due to Appalachian’s ability to maintain student enrollment and minimize faculty and staff layoffs, thereby supporting the continued activities of students and faculty that support the local economy.
Looking forward, Appalachian provides a conduit for future regional economic development. The lack of a college-educated workforce constrains most rural economies, but the High Country benefits from many Appalachian graduates choosing to stay in the area. The strong workforce provides a foundation for economic development, which is illustrated by plans for development of a client-ready business park on a 214-acre site in Watauga County. (The purchase of the site should occur in September 2013, subject to public approval.) The challenge is to create enough employment opportunities to match the supply of the college-educated workforce. When economic forces are leaving rural economies in decline across the country, the importance of Appalachian to northwestern North Carolina cannot be overstated.