PLNU, Economist Look to Form Regional Economic Institute
By Rebecca Go The Daily Transcript
Thursday, August 27, 2009
A local university has tapped Bank of America’s former chief economist to lead efforts to create a regional economic institute designed to serve the San Diego community.
Lynn Reaser, who stepped into the role of Point Loma Nazarene University’s new chief economist earlier this month, envisions a “homegrown” organization based at PLNU that will analyze both macroeconomic and microeconomic issues with the intent of helping San Diego businesses and organizations navigate the economic environment.
“The institute is not a policy advocacy organization; it’s not an academic think tank where we focus on scholarly research for publication,” Reaser said. “It’s meant to be a very practical organization that looks at the data in an objective way, forecasts it (and) translates it into actionable implications.”
The institute could, for example, examine the value of the U.S. dollar and how that would affect San Diego importers and exporters. Or, on a more individual level, it could help a local nonprofit analyze how to best maximize the use of a grant or donation.
Local leaders agree the possibilities abound: studying the true value of military spending to the region, addressing the water shortage, exploring the possibility of expanding the convention center, or looking at the implications of a truly sustainable economy.
“It’s always good to have various points of view,” said Marney Cox, SANDAG’s chief economist. “There’s lots of issues that academia in general could assist in making those choices.”
Reaser and Randy Ataide, the director of PLNU’s Fermanian Business Center, agree that collaboration will be key, both within the San Diego community and across academic disciplines at PLNU.
“You have to have all these disciplines and these insights to really come up with a workable solution,” Reaser said.
The plans for the institute are still in the beginning stages, although organizers intend to move quickly in the next four months in order to address local needs as soon as possible.
Reaser and Ataide hope to officially launch the institute Jan. 1, 2010, pending the approval of PLNU administration. Currently, Reaser and Ataide are conducting a “feasibility study,” to determine the need for a regional economic institute and how such an organization could sustain itself.
“What we’re finding is in many cases, these organizations have a strategic vision, a strategic plan, but often they are missing the economic analysis piece, which they acknowledge is desperately needed,” Reaser said.
A decision is expected in November, along with a regional economic forecast. Reaser intends to incorporate insights from the community members and business leaders she interacts with into her forecast.
“You can look at the numbers and you can do the modeling, which economic forecasters do all over the country, but without that additional insight, it’s hard to come up with a forecast that’s realistic and correct,” she said.
The move to PLNU is a step in a slightly different direction for Reaser, whose résumé includes an impressive list of high-profile employers. Reaser originally hails from west Los Angeles and completed her undergraduate and postgraduate work at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Reaser worked as chief economist at Los Angeles’ First Interstate Bancorp before it was acquired by Wells Fargo, and served on the state Economic Strategy Panel and the governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.
After helping shape investment strategy at Bank of America for the last five years, Reaser decided it was time for a change of a career, wanting to delve into the practical applications of economic analysis.
The notion of an institute was already beginning to take shape at PLNU as the economic crisis continued to stoke dialogue among faculty, staff and students. Reaser, who had spoken at the university in the past, spoke again at a January event, which led to subsequent conversations with Ataide and eventually Reaser’s appointment.
“We find ourselves in a unique period of time where economics, good and bad, is of great importance, not only to the university and our students … but also to the local community,” Ataide said. “We want to move quickly and get to the bottom of what San Diego really needs.”