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Report: Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine a $17M boon to Westmoreland

| Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Lake Erie College of Osteo­pathic Medicine at Seton Hill University in Greensburg brought $17 million into Westmoreland County last year through salaries, lodging, groceries and other daily living expenses, according to a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm hired by the medical school.

“It's spending by staff, students, LECOM itself, visitors who come to visit people,” said Paul Umbach, a founder and president of Tripp Umbach.

The economic impact studies are commissioned occasionally to provide college officials, business leaders, elected officials and the public with an idea of direct economic impact the nonprofit medical schools have on their communities, said LECOM's communications director, Pierre Bellicini.

“You hear a lot today of education institutions being asked to contribute to local governments in lieu of taxes. ... These kind of questions and these reports show how much we already contribute,” Bellicini said.

A similar impact study was done in 2009, he said.

“That (2009) was our first year in Greensburg, and we've gone from just about 100 students to 440 students there. We've also shown, based on the study, 146 percent economic growth just in Greensburg, which is our smallest campus,” he said.

The medical schools serve as an important anchor in their communities by producing jobs and millions of dollars in revenue, Umbach noted in the study.

“LECOM's total impact has nearly doubled in just five years, even though the college receives little to no state and federal support,” according to the report.

The medical school's Greensburg campus brought $10 million in direct economic impact into Westmoreland from staff salaries and benefits and related purchasing by faculty and students, Umbach said. Indirect impact, such as visitors spending at restaurants or for lodging, generated $7 million, he said.

The consultants plug the number of employees, students, visitors and other factors into a software model to help determine the figures, Umbach said.

County and Greensburg officials gave a thumbs-up to the study's finding.

“The figure does not surprise me in the least,” James Smith, president and chief executive officer of the county Economic Growth Connection, said in an email. “When you factor in tuition, housing, food, transportation, incidental shopping (such as groceries), it wouldn't surprise me if the figure was actually higher.”

“I think it's a testament to the partnership that Seton Hill has with the community,” he said.

“The growth and expansion of our post-secondary schools continue to have a positive economic impact on our communities, and we certainly support any future growth,” said Jason Rigone, county director of planning and development and executive director of the county Industrial Development Corp.

Nearly 78 percent of the 403 medical students who were taking classes at Seton Hill or were involved in clinical rotations lived in the Greensburg ZIP code in 2013-14, said Steve Gifford, Greensburg Community Development Corp. executive director.

“Greensburg benefits greatly from LECOM joining our community,” he said. “Many of the LECOM students are going to be in Greensburg and the greater Greensburg area, and have definitely tightened up the rental market.”

The study proves educational institutions can help Greensburg prosper, said Barbara Ciampini, the city's planner.

Some landlords renovated formerly unused buildings or unused floors in their structures to make apartments for the medical students, Ciampini said.

“It's helping us use our historic buildings to their full extent,” she said.

The 25 staff members at the medical school have “good, quality jobs” with good paychecks that are spent in the community, Umbach said.

“It's a new campus, and the economic impact will continue to grow over the years,” he said.

Overall, the medical school and its affiliates generated $593 million nationwide in 2013, including through its facilities in Pennsylvania and Florida, according to the consulting group.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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