Ridgewater College's area economic impact measured at $155 million in 2021-22

A Minnesota State study has found that Ridgewater College's impact on Willmar, Hutchinson and the surrounding area was $155 million in 2021-22. Minnesota State's impact on the state was $8.4 billion.

Ridgewater College's sign shows a welcome message on Sept. 3, 2020.
Kelly Boldan / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMARRidgewater College has an annual economic impact of $155 million on the communities of Willmar and Hutchinson and the surrounding areas, according to a state study.

The Minnesota State system of public colleges and universities released the study, based on 2021-2022 information, according to a Ridgewater news release. The study takes into account tax revenue, capital projects, student spending and employee volunteer time and donations.

“While this report provides clear data on the economic impact of Ridgewater College in our local area, it also provides strong evidence of the return on investment from the state funds that we receive every two years.” Ridgewater President Craig Johnson said in the release.

“Especially at a time when we are working hard to increase state support for the Minnesota State system, it is important to recognize that every tax dollar we receive is multiplied seven or eight times in terms of what we provide back to the community,” he added.

Craig R. Johnson, Ridgewater College President, Hutchinson and Willmar, Minnesota
Craig R. Johnson, Ridgewater College President, Hutchinson and Willmar, Minnesota
Contributed / Ridgewater College

Minnesota State commissioned the comprehensive impact study to be conducted by Parker Philips, a consulting firm specializing in economic impact analysis, according to the release. The firm prepared a report on the impact of the entire system and individual schools.


The report on Ridgewater says 3,573 students were enrolled as full- or part-time students on the two campuses in the 2021-22 academic year. The number includes online students and 133 veterans.

“Ridgewater College is an important part of the Willmar Lakes Area economic engine, and we are proud they call our community home," said Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. "It’s difficult to find someone in the region that hasn’t been touched by Ridgewater College."

The college's economic impact has a ripple effect throughout the area and its quality of life, he added.

"Under the leadership of Dr. Johnson and his team, Ridgewater continues to make a difference in the lives of those people they touch, and also those of us who live here feel that impact each and every day.”

The survey findings of Ridgewater’s economic impact:

  • $11.9 million in combined local and state tax revenue from Ridgewater, its suppliers, students and visitors, a figure $2 million more than five years ago.
  • $75.1 million in spending on operations and capital projects.
  • $79.9 million in student and visitor spending.
  • $80.3 million in alumni annual impact.
This graphic depicts the economic impact of Ridgewater College on the communities it serves, according to a study by Minnesota State.
This graphic depicts the economic impact of Ridgewater College on the communities it serves, according to a study by Minnesota State.
Contributed / Minnesota State

The $80.3 million alumni impact is a result of more than 21,700 Ridgewater alumni who live and work in Minnesota.

“These graduates are an integral part of the Minnesota workforce, impacting the economy not only through their spending, but also through the extra earning power generated by their Ridgewater College degree,” according to the report. Over their estimated 40-year careers, Ridgewater alumni are expected to generate $3.2 billion for the economy.

The report demonstrates the value and return on investment of Ridgewater College, Johnson said.


“Every year, we positively impact thousands of individuals in our local communities and beyond by providing them with knowledge, skills and confidence to achieve their full potential, support their families, and strengthen our communities,” he said. “That’s the real bottom-line value of Ridgewater.”

As one of the larger employers in the region, Ridgewater supports and sustains 1,165 jobs, 813 direct and 352 indirect, according to the report.

Employees and students donate nearly $300,000 to local charitable organizations annually and tally $1.6 million in volunteer time, for a total generosity factor of $1.9 million, according to the report.

“This impressive report is also a testament to the incredible partnerships between the Willmar and Hutchinson communities and Ridgewater College,” said Katie Kleinhuizen, director of marketing and community outreach, in the release. “Our partners work with faculty and departments to bring relevant career skills into the classroom and support students through philanthropic endeavors to provide experiential learning opportunities.”

Graduates are prepared to have a positive impact on their employers and the region, she added.

“As an open-access institution, we provide a critical resource to area residents,” Johnson said. “We take pride in providing resources and opportunities to help people rebuild and change their lives.”

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More than 44% of students are Pell-grant recipients, typically those with the greatest financial need. That compares to 37% for all of Minnesota State.

More than 21% of Ridgewater students are first-generation students attending college, more than the statewide level of 17.8%.


The survey found that the full Minnesota State system of seven state universities and 26 colleges contributed more than $8.4 billion to the state’s economy in fiscal year 2022. It is the 11th-largest employer in the state.

For every $1 in state appropriation, Minnesota State generates nearly $11 in economic activity, according to the survey.

See the full report for Minnesota State and Ridgewater College at .

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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