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January 18, 2007

ULM is key to economy

If you haven't driven through the University of Louisiana-Monroe campus lately, you've missed a first-hand view of progress and energy at work in the community.

The construction on DeSiard Street is complete. Not only is the ride smoother but the area is free of orange cones and construction debris. The view of ULM's campus with its budding new landscape is a welcome and remarkable symbol of progress.

After a month-long hiatus, students returned to ULM's campus last week. There was the usual last-minute scurry to settle back into dorm rooms that have, for the most part, been updated or newly constructed. Students no longer need to pack a weekend suitcase to escape a dorm room that feels more like an institution than home.

ULM's 8,500 students unleash a detectable energy in the community that is absent during semester breaks. These students bring the culture of 42 states and 49 countries to Monroe. We appreciate the benefit of diversity these students young and old infuse into our midst.

Of course, the university itself raises the area's quality of life and represents a major economic stimulus for Ouachita Parish and beyond.

It is a rare day that the university does not offer the public an opportunity to enjoy and participate in its cultural events. There are concerts, large and small; theater presentations that are produced by local talent; poets and novelists who read and discuss their work; art showings and a plethora of other diverse academic and cultural activities. Too often, the community fails to support them.

Of course, sports activities abound. Returning students will be happy to know the Warhawk basketball teams men and women continued their winning ways over the break. Locals ought to join the excitement.

A 2004 study conducted by Jerry Wall with the former ULM Center for Business and Economic Research indicated that the university with a $302.6 million impact is the most important economic engine in Ouachita Parish. It represents about 9 percent of the market's economy. This week, Wall told The News-Star, "Given the exodus of State Farm and Guide, the impact of the university is proportionally greater now than it was then."

Now more than ever, the salaries, career opportunities, work-force development, community services and enhanced quality of life that ULM provides this area must not be taken for granted. We ought to insist on adequate state and federal funding for its programs, and just as important, we ought to expand our own cultural horizons by participating in the myriad of activities on campus.

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