People in the San Joaquin Valley, particularly in Merced County, are starting to see the results of the seeds planted when the newest University of California campus broke ground a decade ago.
Local officials and community members say UC Merced is living up to the promise of change many expected it to foster, but they acknowledge that there's much more to come.
Some say the expectations for UC Merced to transform the region might have been hampered by the recession and the economic woes that followed and that were strongly felt in the region.
Regardless, the institution reports that it has contributed more than $815 million to the Central Valley's economy since it began operations in 2000.
"Maybe things haven't changed as quickly as they could have because of the economic downturn, but I certainly feel that in the last 11 years, I've seen a lot of growth in housing, changes in the retail -- retail venues that are now available," said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for Student Affairs.
"As the campus grows, and as we have more students, faculty and staff, we will continue to see change, said Lawrence, who relocated to the area for her job in 2001.
The young campus will be celebrating Founders Day, the 10th university of its groundbreaking, on Thursday.
After 1995, when Merced was selected as the site for the new UC campus, and before the campus was physically in Merced, people were already talking about the transformation that the research university would bring to the city, county and region.
By having the institution here, the highly underserved area would be uplifted by change in its culture, business environment and academic climate. In addition, its population would grow and the area would strongly benefit from inventions coming out of the research incubator at the school.
That full transformation hasn't happened, but some of those changes have started to emerge, community members say.
"I think some of those (changes) have happened. But there may have been an unrealistic expectation in the beginning that it would happen a lot faster than it is," Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said. "But I think we all have to be patient while the campus grows and understand that they're still quite a new campus."
Lawrence said the campus has grown steadily over the past eight years, but said she can't predict how fast it will continue to grow because there are so many factors that officials "can't control."
"You don't grow a research university overnight," she said.
The university eventually plans to expand its enrollment to 25,000, but that's going to take years, Lawrence said. The focus now is getting the campus to 10,000 students in the next eight to 10 years, she added. Enrollment is at 5,760.
Businesses have come to the area to target those students, some say.
"We are going to have a hookah lounge opening up -- that's something that wouldn't happen without the students being here," Thurston said. "The same owners are (opening) a nightclub."
More cultural events, concerts and plays are taking place in the community, he said. The community's Art Hop, which takes place four times a year, is also well attended by the UC students.
"Without the campus being here, I don't know that would be as successful as it is," he said.
Frank Quintero, director of economic development for the city of Merced, said the campus has not changed the business environment, but has influenced it.
He said many businesses, especially those downtown, do target UC Merced students, but others are more focused on the entire community -- not one segment. But this is just the first phase, Quintero said.