At the Core of Community Involvement
Bringing New Prospects to an Old Mining Town
Infusing a City Center with Life
When the state of Rhode Island was wrestling with a budget shortfall in 2009, it undertook a review of state government operations that included using a team of students from JWU’s College of Business. “The Governor’s Five,” as they called themselves, worked with every department, interviewing managers and eventually creating a list of ideas to increase efficiencies.
While it was just one small way that Johnson & Wales was helping to cope with the economic crisis, the impact of the Providence Campus on the state and local economy is very big. With roughly 10,500 students, it is the largest of any of Rhode Island’s private universities. It employs thousands of people and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.
“They create lots of jobs and the kids spend lots of money,” says Thomas Deller, acting president of the Providence Economic Development Partnership. “That helps the local businesses who are downtown and throughout the city to survive. The fact that they are a major employer, giving jobs to Rhode Islanders, is a great benefit to the city and the state.”
Johnson & Wales has been in Providence since its founding in 1914. The growth of the campus in the downcity area was a key component in the revitalization of Providence that began in the 1980s. But when the economic recession hit in 2007, a year ahead of most states, business and government leaders were reminded of the university’s substantial role in the state’s economy. As Rhode Island’s unemployment rate marched upward, eventually nearing 13 percent in 2009, JWU continued to invest and grow. The number of employees at the Providence Campus, which is actually at several locations in Rhode Island, rose by 1,021 from 2005 through 2009, bringing its total employment to 2,100. In fiscal 2009, new construction in the state slowed, but the university spent about $42 million to build new facilities and make improvements to existing structures. The centerpiece of that investment is its 82,000-square-foot Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence on the Harborside Campus, which opened in 2010.
Take away the Providence Campus and the Rhode Island economy would have a hole that would be unmatched by a similar exodus in the cities inhabited by any of the other JWU campuses. A study by Appleseed Inc. determined that in fiscal 2009 the Providence Campus directly and indirectly accounted for nearly 3,800 jobs in Rhode Island, and $327.6 million in economic output.
But the school’s place in the city extends beyond the numbers. The area has benefited from the university’s emphasis on entrepreneurship through the number of businesses JWU grads have started. Alumni of the Providence Campus have founded or own more than 220 businesses in Rhode Island, including nearly 100 in Providence. Another 100 graduates of the campus are presidents, CEOs or other principals of Rhode Island businesses.
“What’s interesting is that you hear about a brain drain and students who get educated in one place and move with that knowledge someplace else,” says Irving Schneider, Ph.D., president of the Providence Campus. “In Rhode Island, a good portion of our students who stay here really contribute to the field of their study.”
Wales was founded as a business school, since the university began what is now the College of Culinary Arts in 1973, Providence has become renowned for fine dining.
an entrepreneurial spirit“Johnson & Wales is like an incubator for our industry and other industries,” says Dale Venturini, president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. “We have one of the strongest independent food service and restaurant industries around the country, simply because they are here in the neighborhood and they give us people who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Their dream is to have their own, whatever their own means, whether that’s to be the general manager of a hotel or to open their own restaurant.”
In keeping with the university’s commitment to community service, students at the Providence Campus contributed 94,185 hours in the 2008–2009 academic year through service learning, residence hall activities, clubs and as individuals. The outreach programs involved students in all areas of study.
Culinary arts students participate in the Nutritional Cooking Demonstrations Series, in which children, at-risk adults and seniors learn how to make nutritious choices. Accounting students in the College of Business assist low and moderate income residents as part of the Volunteers in Tax Assistance program. In the Veggin’ Out Farmers Market program, JWU teams with the R.I. Department of Health’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC ) and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, to teach at-risk populations how to prepare healthy meals using locally grown produce.
“Community service-wise, we do a lot,” says Schneider. “That includes the university’s leadership and the students.”
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