by William Donovan
If you choose to attend Tulane, you make your way to New
Orleans. Notre Dame will gladly provide directions to
South Bend and Stanford has no address beyond
California. Yet here is Johnson & Wales University, the
largest private university in Rhode Island, catalyst for
revitalization in downtown Providence, opening
campuses in the South, Southeast and Rocky
Mountains. It’s a growth model that veers from
traditional higher education. With the number of
college-age teens in decline, JWU anticipated by more
than a decade, trends toward students staying closer to
home for their college experience. The entrepreneurial
approach has paid dividends for students, alumni and
the four host communities JWU calls home.
When Johnson & Wales moves in, local economies benefit.
And the benefits have been substantial. In Denver and Charlotte, local leaders were
involved in bringing the university to their cities. They believed that
thousands of Johnson & Wales students, plus the university as an employer and consumer,
along with its history of community service, would have a positive impact on their cities.
Research and anecdotal information say that has been the case.
A study by Appleseed Inc., a New York-based economic development consulting firm that works
with colleges around the country, found that Johnson & Wales has been a significant economic
engine in the cities where it has a campus.
beyond the classroomAppleseed used a model that determines the direct and indirect economic impact of
the campus in each city. Appleseed combined the number of Johnson & Wales
University employees with the number of jobs supported by the university’s spending
on supplies, services and construction; and then added the number of jobs generated
by the spending of students, employees and visitors to the campuses, and determined
that in fiscal 2009
Yet Johnson & Wales University’s impact goes beyond the dollars and jobs in
those communities. Each time the university has expanded into a city, it has revived
an area fighting blight and abandonment or one in need of an institution to bring it
back to life.
For Johnson & Wales, the expansion is simply good business. Establishing
campuses in other cities means reaching more students. University President John
Bowen ’77 says the majority of JWU’s students live within a 500-mile radius of
“Instead of being like Notre Dame that has built a reputation on football and
taken that nationwide, we are dedicated to having a strong reputation in every region
we’re in as well as nationally,” says Bowen.
Locating in struggling areas of a city means lower acquisition costs and
the opportunity to be the center of that area’s rejuvenation. In North
Miami, the school bought a closed hospital. In Charlotte, JWU moved
into a blighted area being redeveloped. In Providence, the university
has worked with the city to renovate dilapidated structures that are
“It’s a simple value statement: leave it better than you found it,”
Bowen says of the university’s choice of locations. “Anyone can go out to
the middle of the country and desecrate a 20-acre parcel and build
megastructures. I don’t believe that’s good for the environment or for the
type of students that we attract.
“Take something that’s a problem area and turn it around,” he adds.
For Johnson & Wales students, community service is an important
component of education. The university’s impact in its four communities
is felt by their involvement with nonprofit organizations, elementary and
high schools and civic organizations. During the 2008–2009 academic
year, students, faculty and staff performed nearly 160,000 hours of
The charitable efforts have not gone unnoticed. Since the President’s
Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll was created in 2006,
all four JWU campuses have been named to it for each of the three years
since. The Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition that colleges and
universities can receive for supporting community service.
Providence, North Miami, Denver and Charlotte have also been the
beneficiaries of JWU’s academic emphasis on entrepreneurship. A 2008
career progression survey of JWU alumni from the 10 preceding graduating
classes found that one in five graduates was a current or former
business owner. These young entrepreneurs from all four campuses are
active in a wide range of industries in the U.S.
Two campuses, Providence and Denver, host a federally funded
Small Business Development Center (SBDC). During the past two years,
the R.I. SBDC has assisted more than 5,000 entrepreneurs, helping
businesses earn an additional $92.5 million in revenues and create or
retain 1,020 jobs in the state. The SBDC at the Denver Campus provided
consulting services to 66 businesses during 2008 and 2009. In fall 2008,
students taking the College of Business course, Small Business Consulting,
provided more than 444 hours of research, strategic planning and
consulting services to the SBDC’s clients to meet their course objectives.
By attracting students with a desire to be entrepreneurs, Johnson &
Wales brings people to its campuses whose small ideas in class might
become bigger ideas for a community years later.
“You attract a student to this area, if they like the city they’ll open a
business here,” says Bowen. “The largest limo company in Providence
was started by one of our students 15 years ago. He got a loan from his
parents and bought a car. Now he’s up to about 30 cars, paying taxes,
employing drivers, buying cars locally. He’s adding to the community.”
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