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Report pegs UMass system’s economic impact at $7.5b

President Marty Meehan cites ripple effects as he seeks more state aid

Marty MeehanChris Morris for The Boston Globe (custom credit)

To Marty Meehan, the University of Massachusetts system isn’t just an educational institution. It’s a potent economic force.

The UMass president shared new figures when he testified before members of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees on March 6 with the goal of proving just how potent: The UMass system generated $7.5 billion in economic activity in the 2018 fiscal year, a nearly 10-to-1 return on the state’s investment in the system, compared to $6.2 billion three years earlier.

A number of factors are driving those big numbers: There’s the university’s massive spending on goods and services, not to mention the annual spending of its nearly 18,000 employees and its roughly 75,000 students. Then there were several big construction projects, such as the Olver Design Building at UMass Amherst and a new residence hall at UMass Boston. The UMass Donahue Institute crunched the numbers, and estimated that all that spending supported some 32,000 private-sector jobs.

Meehan is seeking more state aid from the Legislature. This time, the request he made is for a $575 million appropriation, a 2.6 percent increase from this fiscal year. Meehan said in an interview on March 6 that if the Legislature grants his request, UMass would be able to freeze tuition rates for the next fiscal year.


For Meehan, the quest is personal. He grew up in a modest Lowell neighborhood and said he probably wouldn’t have been able to afford college if not for access to a public university — in his case, UMass Lowell, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1978. He eventually served 14 years in Congress and then led UMass Lowell from 2007 to 2015 before becoming president of the entire UMass system.

He was the first undergraduate from one of the UMass campuses to become president of the system. “The education I got allowed me to achieve what I’ve been able to achieve,” Meehan said. “I want the same opportunity to be there for future Massachusetts residents.”


In the previous three years, Meehan has held a “state of the university” address at the UMass Club at the top of the One Beacon tower around this time of year. But this year, Meehan is doing something different. He plans to hold a number of meetings around the state to highlight the university system’s local economic impact. The first one was supposed to be held on March 23 at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, not far from UMass Dartmouth. But that event and another meeting planned for April in Lowell are being rescheduled in light of coronavirus concerns.

Meehan noted that the university provides another major benefit to the state economy that’s not reflected in that $7.5 billion figure: Roughly 80 percent of UMass students are Massachusetts residents, and most join the Massachusetts workforce after they graduate.

Every CEO that Meehan talks to says they need more highly skilled workers, such as the engineers and computer scientists that UMass produces, as well as a more diverse workforce. UMass can help meet the demand.

“Thirty-five years ago, there was a perspective that some public leaders have, [about] why do we need a world-class public research university when we have Harvard, MIT, and all these world-class private institutions?” Meehan said. “UMass educates people from Mass., and they stay in Mass.” — JON CHESTO


Gleaning intelligence from smartphones

Forget about the millennial generation. Peter Prodromou has a different demographic in his sights: the impulse generation.

It’s a phrase the longtime marketing executive uses to describe his target audience: all consumers, regardless of age or background, who respond to what they see on their phones. Prodromou says the age of the smartphone has reprogrammed us to be more impatient, make quicker decisions, and have shorter attention spans.

Prodromou will be chasing the eyeballs of the impulse generation this year in his new role at Boston Digital, a 50-person marketing firm in Charlestown. Founder Chuck Murphy recently promoted Prodromou to president, from his previous job as chief growth officer.

In Boston PR circles, Prodromou might be best known for his time at Racepoint Global, the public relations firm run by Larry Weber. Prodromou had risen to be CEO of that firm but the two parted ways in 2018.

Murphy invited Prodromou last year to join Boston Digital as chief growth officer to help him rebrand it from its former name, Boston Interactive. (Prodromou also took a minority stake in the firm when he joined.) “We really hit it off, and we realized we had similar goals and visions for what the next generation of digital marketing should be,” Prodromou said. — JON CHESTO

Winter of content for Southern newcomer

If you’re going to move here from the South, this was the winter to do it.

Just ask Adina Erwin, the new senior vice president for business operations at TD Garden. Erwin moved here to work for arena owner Delaware North from the Atlanta area; she’ll report to TD Garden president Amy Latimer. Although she got her master’s degree in sports management at UMass Amherst, she spent most of her career in the South. This relatively snow-free winter has been a bit of a relief. “I thought this great weather . . . was part of my welcome package,” she said.


TD Garden isn’t the same as the old “Gahden” that Bostonians recall fondly, but Erwin is impressed with the legacy that lingers to this day from years-ago Bruins and Celtics victories. (The existing building opened in 1995.)

“People still align this venue with that legacy,” Erwin said. “Coming here is not like coming to a new venue that’s been built, nice and shiny, that you’re having to create all from scratch . . . It’s an honor to come here. You’ve been passed the baton.” — JON CHESTO

Immigrant center takes a broader focus

The Irish International Immigrant Center has come a long way from its early days more than 30 years ago, when volunteers gave legal advice to immigrants during informal sessions on Monday nights at the Kells, a now-shuttered Irish pub.

Under the leadership of executive director Ronnie Millar, the nonprofit now has a staff of 30 people and an annual budget of $2.5 million. And as of Feb. 26, it also has something else: a new name.

The organization is now called the Rian Immigrant Center, to counter the mistaken notion that it provides discounted legal advice only to Irish immigrants. In fact, it helped about 3,500 immigrants and refugees from roughly 120 countries last year. The name still reflects its Irish roots: Rian is an Irish word for pathway or track.


The center now provides legal, wellness, and educational services in several locations, including at its downtown offices, Boston Medical Center, and Rosie’s Place. And until it closed last year, the Green Briar, a beloved Brighton pub, was home to legal sessions, often alongside Irish music sessions. — JON CHESTO

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.