The traditional impacts of West Virginia Wesleyan College on the community are widely known, as it has provided educational, cultural and recreational opportunities for well over a century.
But the impact of the small, private school goes even further, pumping upwards of $50 million into the region's economy on an annual basis, according to the results of a study released Tuesday.
Dr. Tom Witt, a retired West Virginia University economics professor and the current managing director of Witt Economics LLC, said the operation of the college generates about $51.3 million into the economies of Lewis, Upshur and Randolph counties and is responsible for creating 543 jobs in the area.
Witt called his findings "conservative," explaining that the data used in his study does not account for the college's Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development's local volunteer programs, nor the visits of family, friends and others to the campus for events like Homecoming, Parents Weekend, graduation or the variety of summer programs offered on campus.
"We know the true economic impact is much greater than what we report," he said.
He also said the estimates on student spending by Wesleyan's financial aid office are too low. He said students often frequent restaurants, stores, theaters and even tattoo parlors.
"There are lots of activities outside of campus where they spend their money," Witt said.
Wesleyan has the largest number of PROMISE Scholars among the state's private institutions since 2002. There are 1,360 undergraduate students and 91 master's degree candidates. More than half of those students come from outside of West Virginia, and there are 73 international students.
"If Wesleyan weren't here, where would they go?" Witt said.
The retired professor also noted there were 197 minority students on campus, saying the "diversity of the population only enhances the opportunities for economic development."
Wesleyan employs 77 full-time faculty and 53 part-time faculty members. There is a full-time staff of 167 employees and another 67 work part-time. He said the payroll generated to these workers in the three-county region is nearly $20 million when all factors are considered.
"The vast majority of faculty and staff reside within the community," Witt said.
He said completing Corridor H would mean even more of an economic impact for the college.
"A well-developed transportation system allows people to commute," Witt said. "If Corridor H is completed, you would have more of a migration of business."
Witt likened the impact of Wesleyan to that of a stone being thrown into a pond. The direct impact of the college is similar to the point where the rock enters the water, but its ripples spread far across the surface. He said the students and employees at the college need services in the community, and those businesses hire employees to provide for those needs.
"Wesleyan's economic influences cross many sectors of the economy," Witt said, "benefiting many who do not have immediate ties to West Virginia Wesleyan College."