Federal labs and university research pump $3 billion into regional economy

Federal laboratories and research universities provide an estimated $3 billion in money and jobs to the community annually in Colorado, a key economic driver in the region.

Federal research funding makes up the largest chunk of the total, based on reports. About 30 federal laboratories in Colorado brought an estimated $2.3 billion into the state economy in 2012 based on a September 2013 report from CO-LABS Inc., an economic development group that helps create connections between business, educational and government sectors in Colorado.

The Business Research Division at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business conducted the report, titled Colorado Economic Impact Study: Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Federally Funded Research Facilities in Colorado, FY 2011-13.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, in Golden is the largest federal lab in the state, with 2,300 federal employees. The federal lab complex brought in an estimated $814.8 million in net economic impact to the state in 2012, according to the study. NREL jobs generated $403.4 million in wage impacts in 2012, making the lab one of the largest employers in Jefferson County, according to the study.
While budgets vary from year to year, Boulder also is home to some of the largest federal labs in the state by number of employees, according to the study.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, each had approximately 1,000 employees in 2012.

NOAA led the way in terms of its statewide economic impact — an estimated $277.7 million in 2012, according to the study.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, provided an estimated $187.7 million in economic impact to the state in 2012.

The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP, provided an estimated $159.3 million in economic impact.

In all, Boulder County enjoyed $743 million in economic impact in fiscal year 2012, the year most closely examined in the CO-LABS study.

Other, smaller, federal research labs located in Boulder that were examined in the study include the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, and the National Ecological Observatory Network, among others.

Colorado’s federal labs help foster the innovation that fuels the state and the nation’s economy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said when the study was released.

“Leveraging the labs’ research and technology with the state’s innovative entrepreneurial spirit creates a strong foundation for Colorado’s business ecosystem,” Hickenlooper said.

Statewide, federal labs accounted for 7,966 full-time, part-time and contract jobs in 2012. Nearly 3,600 of those jobs were in Boulder County, paying average annual earnings and benefits of $107,942, according to the study.

Research universities

Add in statistics from Colorado’s research universities, and it’s easy to understand why the state is known for its well-educated workforce and high-paying jobs.

Colorado’s research universities bring in an estimated $1 billion annually, supporting 50,000 jobs, according to research done by Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

The University of Colorado’s four-campus system, CSU, the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, the University of Wyoming in Cheyenne and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden all are revenue generators for their local and regional economies.

The University of Colorado system appears to have the biggest economic impact on the state of any research university. CU’s four campuses are in Boulder, Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs.

Overall, CU’s fiscal impact on Colorado totaled $5.3 billion in 2012, officials said. The Boulder campus alone pumped $1.5 billion into the regional economy in 2012, according to a report prepared by the university. Student spending brought $318.7 million to the Boulder area in 2012, and visitors spent another $16.2 million, according to the university.


The CU-Boulder campus’s reputation as a top research school continued to be bolstered by partnerships with federal labs in 2012, the most recent period for which information was available, university officials said. Annual research awards increased to $359 million in 2012 from $210 million a decade earlier. More than 1,000 undergraduates and 1,160 graduate students participated in research projects, according to the university.

CU-Boulder has numerous partnerships with federal labs including collaborations with NIST, NOAA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, or UCAR, and the previously mentioned NCAR.

Colorado State

In Fort Collins, CSU supports 13,140 jobs through direct employment and related spending, according to university statistics. It’s the largest employer in northern Colorado, according statistics. Since 2007, CSU has licensed nearly 140 technologies to private companies, according to information on the university’s website.

Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley expenditures from faculty, staff and students resulted in $131 million in direct and indirect impacts in Weld County in 2012, according to Nate Hess, a university spokesman. Their spending supports 1,441 non-university jobs in Weld County, Hess said.

In addition, the university spends about $23 million annually for goods and services in the state, Hess said. And university-related events – from commencement ceremonies to the UNC Jazz Festival, contribute an additional $4 million to the local economy each year, he said.

Research funding at the university amounted to $20 million in the past two years, Hess said.

University of Wyoming

At the University of Wyoming, faculty members received a record $86 million in external funding for research in fiscal year 2012, most of it from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, according to figures from Bill Gern, vice president for research and economic development at the university.

About 60 percent of research grant money typically goes to university salaries, which is used to buy goods and services in Wyoming. Gern said. He estimated the spin-off economic impact of research dollars to be about $90 million across the state annually.

Wyoming also continues to reap untold benefits from a supercomputing center in Cheyenne built by Boulder-based NCAR, which opened in October 2012. The state of Wyoming invested $20 million, the Wyoming Business Council kicked in $4.5 million to create infrastructure for the site, and the University of Wyoming agreed to provide $1 million annually for 20 years to help pay for the supercomputer. In exchange, the University of Wyoming received access to 20 percent of the computer’s computational system annually.
“Simply stated, UW’s research activity is an enterprise zone for the state — a big one,” Gern said.

Back in Colorado, administrators at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden do not have economic impact information about how the school affects the state economy, said Marsha Williams, a spokeswoman.