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Elon study finds $3M economic local impact by Sustainable Alamance

A recent study by Elon economics students has found that Sustainable Alamance, a community initiative helps local residents attain self-sufficiency, has had a $3 million local impact during the past five years.  

A recent study by Elon economics students has found that Sustainable Alamance, a community initiative helps local residents attain self-sufficiency, has had a $3 million local impact during the past five years.

‚ÄčThe new study is part of an ongoing partnership between Elon and the local nonprofit organization that has proven to be a success for the university, Sustainable Alamance  and Alamance County. Along with the study, Elon students have created videos like the one featured below to help with the marketing of Sustainable Alamance's mission. 

Under the leadership of founder and executive director Phil Bowers, Sustainable Alamance exists to build a stronger and more sustainable community by identifying, developing and including underutilized human resources that are effectively prevented from participating in the local economy, particularly those with previous criminal convictions.

This is normally a difficult task, as many businesses do not seek out employees with criminal records and aren’t as likely to hire this population. Without employment, Sustainable Alamance’s clients struggle with financial issues such as the ability to pay rent or support their families. According to Bowers, he started this organization because he “saw something that needed changing.”

The partnership between Sustainable Alamance and Elon University began when Toddie Peters, professor of the religious studies, and Steven Bednar, assistant professor of economics, met with 10 Burlington community leaders. Bednar proposed providing a service-learning component to his students, and then Bowers asked the class to conduct an economic impact study.

The students conducting the economic impact study found that Sustainable Alamance has provided nearly $3 million in positive economic impact to Alamance County in the past five years. The return on investment for Sustainable Alamance is more than $10 for every dollar invested, the study found, with Alamance County taxpayers saving money on things such as public defenders and incarceration costs.  

While facts and figures are important, the most crucial impact of Sustainable Alamance is on the very population it is helping. These are people, not case numbers, each with his or her own set of skills and talents. Those involved with Sustainable Alamance with past criminal records have a 9-percent recidivism rate, compared to a national and state average recidivism rate of 50 percent.  

According to Bednar, his students have had the privilege of learning about different models for combating poverty. “I think my students will remember their first meeting with Phil and his colleagues, where it was impressed upon the students that their work will make a meaningful difference for the lives of many,” Bednar said. “Phil put the economic impact report on the Sustainable Alamance website and has used the work to show quantitatively that his model works.”

Bednar said the students who conducted the study gained hands-on experience for their economics degree. This partnership has proven beneficial to both Elon University students and Sustainable Alamance, he said. “I think the biggest takeaway is that this type of study is not easy to conduct, and that the skills they have acquired through their economics degree played a vital part in making progress towards the completion of the study,” Bednar said. “It took persistence and creativity in a few cases to access the data necessary to conduct the report.”

Bowers concurs that both sides of the partnership have benefit from this study. He says, “While receiving a lot of the fruits of the labor of Elon Students (video, marketing, economic impact), I believe that we can both benefit by continuing to push the boundaries on the dialogue about poverty and its impact on individuals and our community, and at same time expand the dialog on what ‘helping the poor’ looks like and what it should look like.”

According to Bowers, the most important aspect of the partnership between Sustainable Alamance and Elon University is the friendships that develop between people of both sides of the economic spectrum. “Perhaps we have been able to work together to put a name on a previously unknown person, and perhaps we can come to a better understanding of personal responsibility and systemic causes of poverty and how to address these together without fear knowing everybody matters,” he said.

Most importantly, Elon students have helped tell Sustainable Alamance’s story, Bowers said. The work of Elon students, including videography and the economic impact study, have shaped the way Sustainable Alamance is understood, he added.

“[Things that have helped tell our story are] professional videos that have allowed some of our guys to tell their story in their own words in a setting that was accepting and safe from them to do so, a detailed study of the economic impact of our work, and having me in the classrooms to talk about our work and invite questions from students studying the personal impacts of poverty and social justice,” he said.

This partnership is demonstrative of the importance of community involvement and awareness at Elon University. Through the partnership between Sustainable Alamance and Elon, students and clients alike have benefited from Elon’s economic impact study.


Mary Sheehan,
11/3/2016 8:25 AM