A research university producing more than 700 new health professionals and biomedical scientists each year to address the health needs of Georgians? A community of researchers making important scientific discoveries? A thriving medical center providing cutting edge care for patients in need?
An engaged community advocate, donating both time and dollars to support charitable organizations throughout the CSRA and state? A good partner, working with other health systems, colleges and universities, to further the goal of educating the future health care workforce of our region?
We are all that.
BUT GEORGIA Health Sciences University also is an enormous economic engine -- a $1.045 billion enterprise that has a substantial economic impact on Augusta, the region and Georgia.
How substantial? A recent study commissioned by the University System of Georgia noted that Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University had a combined impact of more than $1 billion on the area's economy ("Colleges' impact on area tops $1 billion," The Augusta Chronicle, June 17).
But that was only for the educational piece of these enterprises. Not counted was the substantial contribution these and other USG institutions make to the economy through other avenues -- for example, the businesses created from university-based science and research or the impact of university-based sports activities (such as our vaunted Jaguars, the national golf champions two years running). In many cases, these impacts can be substantial. Consider football at the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech -- or our health system at GHSU.
We are significantly underestimating the economic impact of these important institutions. When we do so, not only do we fail to recognize what is being contributed but, much more importantly, our communities and our state are making economic and investment decisions using incomplete data.
FOR EXAMPLE, according to a recent study by Tripp Umbach, a nationally recognized market research firm that specializes in economic impact studies, GHSU has a $2.1 billion direct annual economic impact on the Georgia economy. That is a $14 return for every state dollar appropriated for our institution. This economic impact is even more impressive considering that only 16 percent of our enterprise's revenue comes from state appropriations.
To put that impact figure in perspective, sporting events in Atlanta have generated more than $1.8 billion in economic impact to the Atlanta area over the past 10 years ("Sports in Atlanta generate economic impact," Atlanta Business Chronicle , July 12, 2010). GHSU generates more than that for our state every year. Now that's something to cheer about.
And when the downstream impact of our workforce, industry and affiliated providers was included? Well, the economic impact of GHSU on the state of Georgia soared, exceeding $8 billion annually. That's not an impact to be ignored.
IN ADDITION TO generating a very tangible economic return, GHSU generates jobs for Georgians. We are one of Georgia's top 20 employers and the second-largest employer in the CSRA, directly providing jobs to some 10,000 individuals and generating another 50,000 jobs across the state. Those 50,000 jobs are the approximate equivalent of the combined population of three of our neighboring counties -- Warren, McDuffie and Burke.
Clearly, GHSU is an important, although often under-recognized, economic engine for our community and the state. But we bring many other critical economic benefits to the table as well.
For example, we provide more than $100 million in uncompensated care each year, and we attract more than $90 million in medical tourism to Georgia each year. That's spending from patients who travel to Augusta to seek services from physicians and other caregivers at GHSU's medical center and associated facilities.
Our impact -- economic and otherwise -- is great, but we are not resting on our laurels. Today we have a $2 billion direct annual economic impact on the state. We also have our sights set on increasing that figure to $3 billion in the next seven to 10 years. That means infusing another $1 billion to our local economy each year -- roughly 2.6 times the size of annual tourism spending in Richmond County (see 2009 "Travel Economic Impact on Georgia State, Counties and Regions," U.S. Travel Association, October 2010).
WE HAVE BOLD plans for the state's health sciences university -- plans that stand to generate even greater returns for Augusta and the state as a whole.
But Georgia Health Sciences University does not exist in a bubble. The future of GHSU is intimately entwined with the future of our city, our region and our state. If GHSU grows, we all do; if it does not, then it is very likely that our city will not either. So I encourage you to partner with GHSU to forge the future of this community and our great state!
Our investments should not rest only with GHSU. We are a region blessed with other fine colleges and universities and outstanding hospitals and health systems that, as we continue to develop synergies and partnerships, will help transform our community into a biomedical and health-care destination -- like Greenville, S.C., or Birmingham, Ala., or Gainesville, Fla., or Charleston, S.C.
Can we do it? Absolutely! But not if we don't start now -- because the competition has a head start.
So don't just sit on the sidelines. Get on board, and let's meet the future head-on together.
(The writer is president of Georgia Health Sciences University and CEO of the Georgia Health Sciences Health System.)