Another Viewpoint: University benefits plenty

May 8, 2011


Look at the bookstore on the Courthouse Square, loaded with school shirts and hoodies, packed with students and alumni buying the latest items.

Drop by the locally owned restaurants on East Church Street, serving delicious hot coffee and homemade food to customers hunkered over their laptops and tapping away on their smartphones.

Hear the roar of the crowds at the soccer games at the Smith River Sports Complex, cheering on our hometown university as we play and beat the best college teams around.

Check out the Uptown student lofts, each decorated in a unique and artsy style, and the new apartments along Kings Mountain Road built for the influx of students, faculty and support personnel.

Right now, these things are best seen with eyes closed — that’s the only way to imagine the possibilities. But we think this is what Martinsville and Henry County can become with the development of a four-year university within our borders.

Like most of our residents, we have watched with great interest the unfolding efforts to transform New College Institute into an affiliate of a four-year university. We understand the political process, and we know the future of NCI and whatever shape it ultimately takes is yet to be determined.

However, we are encouraged. As we watched the parade of university representatives visit our area earlier this year — from Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia State, Radford and George Mason — we became excited at the possibilities.

Our elected bodies are excited, too. Martinsville City Council and the Henry County Board of Supervisors have repeatedly expressed their support for NCI and its growth, and each stands ready to do whatever it can to make this dream come true.

Seeing our citizens take advantage of the opportunities for bachelor’s and master’s degrees will be a defining moment for Martinsville and Henry County. The more people with undergraduate and graduate degrees, the more Martinsville and Henry County will prosper.

It’s a fact: According to “The Changing Dynamics of Urban America,” for every 2 percent growth in the number of college graduates in a region, that region realizes a 1 percent growth in income.

It’s a fact: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a person with a master’s degree makes an average of more than $65,000 a year. A person with a bachelor’s degree makes an average of more than $50,000 a year. A person with a high school diploma makes an average of about $28,000 a year.

It’s a fact: Over the course of a career, a person with at least a bachelor’s degree will earn more than twice the money as a person with just a high school diploma.

More money equals more buying power. The more educated a community is, the more likely its residents are to have the necessary disposable income to spend at local restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters and car dealerships.

This buying power will translate into greater revenue for localities, through increased sales tax revenue, property tax revenue and personal property tax revenue.

A university also would mean more job opportunities. A university cannot operate on auto-pilot. It needs professors, maintenance people, support personnel, food service providers and security workers. That means employment opportunities for our residents and for those moving here.

Think about the graduates from this university and what they would bring to Martinsville-Henry County. Many graduates stay in their college towns because they’ve made contacts there and have already fallen in love with the community. They open businesses or go to work for current businesses. They bring new and innovative ideas on how to do things.

And they live here. The best way for localities to raise the revenue needed to operate is not to ask residents to pay more; it is to have more residents paying. More people living and working in Martinsville and Henry County means more money for K-12 education, the arts, parks and recreation, senior services, roads, water and sewer service, and other local government services.

Our civic clubs will gain more members. The United Way will see more donations. The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge and the Martinsville-Henry County YMCA will be bursting with business.

These are tangible and direct benefits for every citizen in Martinsville and Henry County, even if that citizen never enters the front door of NCI.

We regularly hear from our friends in local government across the Commonwealth. Our peers in Richmond, Blacksburg, Harrisonburg, Farmville, Petersburg, Radford, Lexington and Fairfax, among other localities, tell us of the excitement in their areas because of their universities.

They brag about their sports teams (and who wasn’t a fan of VCU and the University of Richmond during the recent NCAA basketball tournament?). They brag about their research accomplishments, their new libraries, their new public transit systems, and their community-university synergy.

We can’t wait for the day when we can line up at that bookstore, buy our T-shirts, and start bragging, too.

(Editor’s Note: Clarence Monday is city manager of Martinsville and Benny Summerlin is the Henry County administrator.)


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