Erica Brooks family

Freshman Erica Brooks, second from left, is flanked by family who traveled from Pennsylvania, New York and Scottsdale to help get her settled in for her first semester at NAU. Photo by Gretta Miller

Flagstaff locals can feel the difference in late summer as the temperatures start to slide and the population increases by nearly 20,000 Northern Arizona University students. But less apparent is that throughout the year, the equivalent of a small town comes to campus, often for stays of more than a day.

In fiscal year 2013, which ended in June, hard numbers and forecasts add up to more than 32,000 visitors to Flagstaff for campus business such as tours, orientations and youth camps.

The revenue to NAU alone exceeded $2 million, so it doesn’t take much imagination to hear the cash registers ringing as families stay, eat and shop in town while the kids check out campus or perfect their soccer technique. A study by the Arizona Rural Policy Institute at NAU estimated that visitors of all types to NAU spend $78 million a year in Coconino County, mostly in Flagstaff—and that was three years ago.

“These activities may not draw a lot of attention from the community, but they do bring in plenty of people,” said NAU associate vice president Jane Kuhn. “Events on campus, from weeklong camps to daily tours, clearly have an impact on the local economy.”

Freshman Erica Brook, of Long Island, N.Y., came to campus in August for a two-day freshman orientation session and was joined by her mother, brother and six other extended family members.

“We’re a very close family and we all wanted to be a part of this,” said Brook’s cousin, Hayley Conboy, whose family of four made the trip from Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Brian, met as NAU undergrads in the ’90s and were eager to share their excitement for their alma mater. “We have so many great memories of our time here as students. A lot has changed since then, both on and off campus, but it’s been so much fun discovering it all.”

Brook’s mother, Heidi, said making the trek to Arizona from New York meant they couldn’t bring along everything they wanted. So they spent a lot of time shopping locally to set up Erica with everything she might need for her dorm room, classroom and to get around campus. That included school supplies and books, new bedding, decorations and cleaning supplies, a new bike, a skateboard and lots of winter gear.

“We all enjoyed eating out at the local restaurants, and we also made a visit to Lowell Observatory,” she said “We even checked out a local storage company in anticipation of Erica’s move home next summer.”

Conboy’s parents, Marty and Shelly Kornbluth, also joined them from Scottsdale. While Erica got settled in on campus, the rest of the family settled in for four nights at a local hotel.

“I would come back to NAU in a second if I could,” Conboy said. “I can see why people live here.”

Emotional ties may not be the primary draw for all visitors, but the lure of Flagstaff shows up clearly in the numbers. Camps for youth sports, education, music and other interests led to more than 70 events and 8,300 attendees in FY13.

On the academic side, 10 orientation sessions in May and June drew 4,017 students plus 5,601 parents and guests; a total of 1,950 were registered for August sessions. In all, 23,660 students and guests participated in daily campus visits, Discover NAU and group tours, up from 18,599 in fiscal year 2012.