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Morning Sun
  • A few minor issues, but good plan for PSU, city

  • When Superior Industries left Pittsburg a few years ago, it was rough on the community. Hundreds of jobs, and with it, even more hundreds of people, began to empty out of the city, county and region. Only recently have some of those economic scars begun to heal.

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  • When Superior Industries left Pittsburg a few years ago, it was rough on the community. Hundreds of jobs, and with it, even more hundreds of people, began to empty out of the city, county and region. Only recently have some of those economic scars begun to heal.
    But imagine what could happen if the reverse were to happen. Imagine if hundreds of new jobs were created in Pittsburg. Imagine if Pittsburg continued to grow and, in fact, sped up?
    That’s the sort of vision Pittsburg State officials want in the minds of city commissioners this week.
    Tuesday, the Pittsburg City Commission will consider a proposal by PSU to essentially help cover the fundraising gap on the event center/indoor track that would be attached to the Weede Physical Education Building. With a few minor nitpicks, we think this is a plan worth pursuing for the city.
    There are two major projects on the horizon for sure at this moment, and a third left to be decided for Pittsburg State.
    The first is the long-in-the-works performing and fine arts center. As reported in the Morning Sun last week, bids came in a bit higher than expected, and some tweaking or additional fundraising will have to be done to assure the project is completed as planned. But the good news is that bids have been received and will likely be awarded this week. That means the fine arts center, which has been little more than a dream for decades, will finally become reality.
    The other project is the expanded Overman Student Center. This project will be paid for by increased student fees over many years. We agree that the time has come for an expanded, improved student center, and the students taking it upon themselves to make that happen was a good move.
    Which brings us to the third project, and the focus of Pittsburg State’s proposal, the event center. Local officials get a little dreamy-eyed when they talk about the possibilities for an event center in town. The facility, which could be built in under a year, could hold an indoor track for hosting sporting events on a national and conference scale. Beyond sporting events, the possibility for hosting regional conferences and national organizations would exist in a way it does not now.
    Coupled with the fine arts center and the improved student center, Pittsburg State would be even more attractive to students. Pittsburg State officials project the university could eclipse the 10,000-student mark by 2033. It also sees a billion-dollar impact over the next 20 years if the university grows to that level; the caveat being that the university would likely only grow to that level if these three buildings are constructed.
    When looking at the numbers, we believe they’re a little high.
    Page 2 of 2 - First, the “independent consultant” that generated those numbers is a former Pittsburg State employee. The consulting firm, Municipal Consulting LLC, is run by PSU Polymer Research Center executive director emeritus Steve Robb. Choosing a former longterm employee for your “independent” research doesn’t quite pass the smell test. We wish that the consultant had truly been untethered to the university.
    That’s not to say Robb did a bad job. After looking at how he generated those numbers, the multipliers and figures were generated by outside sources. The figures are not a product of university interference. That said, while his numbers were created by honest methods, we feel they’re still a little bit dreamy, but not by much.
    For instance, 10,000 students by 2033 is a good target, but it seems a bit high. We ran our own numbers and estimated that with an annual 1.5 percent growth, the university would only be at 9,832 students by 2033. By our projections, the university would be at 9,980 students by 2034.
    But again, that’s with a 1.5 percent growth, every year, for the next 20 or so years. What happens if the university runs into a few down years, as they did in the mid to late 1990s? We believe that 10,000 students by 2033 might be a little unrealistic. But by 2040? 2045? We have no doubt that could and will happen.
    Because of that change in time scale, we believe that the billion-dollar impact of these projects is a little bit exaggerated. Here’s an example: 500 permanent jobs are projected to be created at PSU within 20 years, effectively a new Superior Industries, based on current staff to student and faculty to student ratios. We cannot believe, given the history of cuts and consolidations of jobs and state funding, that 500 jobs is likely to happen over 20 years.
    But those complaints are minor. If 500 jobs are unrealistic, 200 or 300 might not be. If 10,000 students by 2033 is unrealistic, 9,000 students isn’t. No matter if the event center is built or not, there will be at least two major projects open for business at PSU within five years or so. That will bring about economic and university growth, if not on the scale that the projections show.
    Even if the impact of these facilities are half as good as promised, that would still be the equivalent of a company roughly the size of Miller’s dropping into town. If the projections are right, that's the equivalent of two Miller's. That’s something the city can’t and shouldn’t ignore.
    Funding the event center could be the finishing touch on significant construction projects at PSU for now. The city has the ability to close the funding gap. The city can help build its own future with these funds. We hope they do.
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