Queen’s as economic powerhouse

University contributes estimated $1billion investment to Kingston annually

Stooley’s owner Mike Tomlin says Queen’s students make up 90 per cent of his customer base. The remaining 10 per cent is made up of Queen’s faculty and staff.
Stooley’s owner Mike Tomlin says Queen’s students make up 90 per cent of his customer base. The remaining 10 per cent is made up of Queen’s faculty and staff.

You won’t find Mike Tomlin complaining about student presence in the Ghetto.

Tomlin, owner of Stooley’s Restaurant at the corner of Division and Johnson streets, said Queen’s students make up 90 per cent of his customer base, with the remaining 10 per cent made up of the University’s faculty and staff members.

Tomlin said he operates the restaurant according to the academic calendar. Stooley’s closes for two weeks in December and Thanksgiving when students go home for the holidays.

“You hate to close for Thanksgiving, Christmas—we can feel [a break] during Reading Week, Christmas and the summer,” he said.

During the school year, Tomlin said, he sometimes sees the same students two or three times a day.

“It’s the location,” he said. “Starbucks actually helps us. … It brings more people to this corner.” Tomlin bought the property and started the restaurant 19 years ago. He said Stooley’s has since outgrown the location, but he’s hesitant to move farther from campus.

“I don’t like to be too far away from Queen’s; I believe it would be detrimental,” he said. “I don’t know how loyal students would be if we went farther.” Tomlin isn’t alone. There are many other small businesses that cater to Queen’s students, especially in the downtown area, said Doug Ritchie, managing director of Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area.

Ritchie said students shape the nature of downtown businesses.

“We have lots of independent, small, boutique-y fashion stores that probably a city this size wouldn’t support without the addition of the major university, young-person market,” he said.

Ritchie said the two other colleges in the city­—Royal Military College (RMC) and St. Lawrence College—don’t have as much of an impact as Queen’s because they’re smaller.

“[Students from those colleges] certainly aren’t as visibly present on a daily basis as Queen’s students,” Ritchie said. “If anything, it’s geography. ... The student body lives in an area that mingles with the downtown business district and a high percentage of students are pedestrians, so the easiest place to shop is downtown.” Ritchie said the University’s acquisition of the Prison for Women and construction of the Queen’s Centre mirror the expansion taking place downtown.

The area surrounding the upcoming large-venue sports and entertainment centre at King and Barrack streets, slated to be completed in February, is underdeveloped, he said. The city plans to develop the area by building more businesses in it.

“[Queen’s] is in a growth spurt right now and it sort of parallels the city’s building of the new downtown arena,” he said. “I’m sure part of the business plan [for the arena] is to do concerts and other events that are attractive to the Queen’s market.

“We’ll have about 20 per cent growth in the square footage of downtown,” Ritchie said. “We’ll be bigger with more business and, you know, the Queen’s market is part of the reason that’s possible.”

A 2003 report by the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning estimates Queen’s direct impact to be more than $567 million per year.

This is divided into student spending at $207.3 million, faculty and staff spending at $186.3 million, students’ parents and visitors spending at $6.4 million and University spending on local goods and services at $36.5 million—including $7.8 million on taxes.

The School of Medicine, which has its own category because it receives privately sponsored research grants as well as government funding, directly contributes about $131.4 million annually to Kingston’s economy.

These figures represent the direct impact of Queen’s on the economy. The report also estimates that—based on the diversity of the local economy and the number and demographics of residents, among other criteria—every dollar Queen’s spends directly is multiplied by 1.8, which brings Queen’s total economic impact to an estimated $1 billion-plus per year.

Roger Healey, manager of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, said he has seen other reports that use higher multipliers.

“We wanted to be as conservative as we could so we wouldn’t be accused of embellishing the [University’s impact],” he said.

Growth in student population and the addition of construction expenses since the report was published means that number has increased, Healey said. The office is coming out with an updated report next year.

Healey said he thinks the University is the biggest economic contributor to Kingston.

Healey said the second-largest operation in Kingston would be the Canadian Forces Base (CFB).

Cpt. Dan Madryga, CFB Kingston’s public affairs officer, said the federally funded base generates more than $400 million per year into the local economy. That translates into a buying power of more than $1 million a day.

The CFB doesn’t calculate the multiplied effects of direct spending, Madryga said.

A large portion of the base’s impact on Kingston is due to the number of employees and their high turnover rate. There are more than 6,500 military and civilian employees in the city.

Madryga said most employees come from outside Kingston but move here to take their jobs. Posts range from several weeks to several years.

The annual turnover rate is between 25 and 30 per cent. This means there are always new employees moving in with their families, which leads to an economic boost, especially within the real-estate industry. “We have an annual turnover of about 500 homes per year,” Madryga said. “That’s close to $7 million in real estate fees.” He said the base, which includes RMC, also gives more than $8 million of business to local contractors and subcontractors per year.

A 2002 Kingston Economic Development Corporation report lists Queen’s as the city’s second-largest employer, with 4,200 employees in 1999.

The military base is Kingston’s top employer: in 2002 it employed 5,200 people and now employs more than 6,500.

The Corrections Canada penitentiary system—which includes seven provincial and federal institutions—employs 2,670.

Many of the people Queen’s employs also come from out of town. History professor Barrington Walker moved to Kingston from Toronto in 2002.

“It was an adjustment to move here from a big, urban centre,” Walker said. “[But] you build a life once you get there.” He said he thinks his story is typical of most academics.

“The primary consideration is the opportunity to teach at a first-rate university.” Walker said he thinks the city benefits significantly from Queen’s professors and students living in town.

“There aren’t a lot of high-paying jobs in Kingston,” he said. “I think Kingston would suffer if Queen’s wasn’t here.” Some professors prefer to commute to Kingston rather than live here. English professor Edward Lobb moved from Kingston to Toronto and continues to teach at the University.

“I decided to move to Toronto because I wanted more in the way of a cultural life,” Lobb said.

Economics professor John Hartwick said he thinks the University makes a substantially larger contribution to Kingston than any other industry.

“Queen’s has a lot of high-paying jobs and these professors have reasonably large houses and pay substantial municipal taxes,” Hartwick said, adding that students also have a large spending power in the downtown area.

Hartwick said Kingston isn’t unique as a university-town.

“There are lots of university towns in Canada and I don’t think they whine about being dominated by one payroll,” he said. “We live in an area where you take what you get.” Hartwick said the University’s expansion is good for Kingston’s economy.

“The more Queen’s expands, the better it is for the economy, but it’s not always good for the resident-University interface,” he said.

“If the University expands where it is not going to be in conflict with residents’ homes, like the women’s prison or the art centre downtown, these all create a lot less tension than, say, the new physical education centre ... you know, the hole.”

Queen’s impact on Kingston (2003)

$567.9 million
Total estimated direct economic impact

$207.3 million
Student spending

$186.3 million
Faculty and staff spending

$6.4 million
Visitors (parents, guests)

$36.5 million
Local goods and services

$131.4 million
School of Medicine

Full-time faculty (excluding clinical medicine)

Full-time staff

Full-time undergraduate and graduate students

Source: Queen’s University and the Kingston Area: An Economic Partnership report

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.