Ohio University Students Drive Local Economy

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The bobcats are back. Ohio University students returning to Athens, means more customers for local businesses.

Josh Thomas, owner of Brenen's, said the number of customers in his coffee café increase by about 30% when students return to town.

“What happens when the students come in is we no longer have a 45 minute lunch rush. We have a 2 hour and 45 minute lunch rush, especially move in weekend. Thursday through Sunday is just four days of solid business,” he said.

The same is true for Art Ostrike, owner of Jackie O's Pub and Brewery also sees an increase in customers when students return.”When the students are here, there's obviously more business happening for the small businesses that are here,” he said.

According to an Ohio University Board of Trustees report that will be presented Thursday by President Roderick McDavis, university spending supports over 14,300 jobs, and generates 1.5 billion in economic output for the state.

But Ostrike said recent changes at the university have cut back business. Last year's switch from quarters to semesters made summer break longer, keeping majority of the student population away from Athens for a few extra weeks.”That's been a pretty big change.This was the toughest summer that we've had thus far,” he said.

However, compared to nearby communities, Athens is thriving. Meigs County now has the highest unemployment rate in the state. Richard Vedder, a distinguished economics professor at Ohio University, said while it has its economic drawbacks, the student body drives the local economy enough to distinguish Athens from surrounding towns. “What would Athens be like if it didn't have students? And I think Athens would be sort of like Nelsonville, Ohio or Logan, Ohio. Smallish town with maybe 5000 people, with relatively low incomes, the environment of the Appalachian region of Ohio,” he said.

While parking may be scarce and employees may be busier, Ohio University students are back, spending away at restaurants, bars and shops in Athens.