By providing objective answers on a variety of economic questions, the Bureau of Business Research, based in the College of Business Administration at UNL, provides critical support to Nebraska’s economic development efforts.
It projects economic conditions for businesses, studies the economic impact of industries and institutions across the state and makes key forecasts to guide others in what to expect from state and national economies.
The bureau is in the midst of adding more services to its repertoire. It recently moved into a new suite of offices in the CBA building and soon will hire a post-doctoral researcher, said bureau director Eric Thompson, an associate professor of economics.
With housing a critical part of a community’s ability to grow, the bureau last month launched a housing affordability index for the Nebraska Realtors Association. Published in the Realtors’ newsletter, the index covers 10 Nebraska communities and could be expanded to include more.
In the works is a labor skills gap analysis for the Lincoln area. Working with the state departments of Labor and Economic Development, along with a human resources professional organization, the bureau will compare worker training with the skills now in demand by employers.
Another initiative will provide population forecasts to aid decision makers as they formulate economic development strategies.
Thompson said new financial resources for the bureau come primarily from its increased grant activity.
He stresses the bureau’s academic foundations.
“We provide this information on economic development in a manner that’s consistent with the academic mission of the university,” he said. “I think that’s what make our bureau one of the best in the country.”
While similar entities in other states have professional staff, Nebraska’s bureau employs four undergraduate students and six graduate students as researchers. They work with Thompson and four faculty research associates.
The bureau takes the pulse of Nebraska business with a monthly survey. It releases a monthly leading economic indicators report and a twice-a-year long-term forecast. It provides quarterly economic reports to the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development.
Thompson and faculty research associate William Walstad, an economics professor, produce the State Entrepreneurship Index, an annual state-by-state ranking of business startup activity.
Thompson is part of a UNL team studying climate change’s effect on land use and groundwater. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture fund that project.
Thompson and John Anderson, an economics professor and bureau faculty research associate, also are studying how to finance roads in rural areas, part of a study for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Recent reports have looked at broadband access, the coal industry, property taxes and agriculture. The bureau has even studied Husker Harvest Days.
Thompson, who has directed the bureau for the past decade, says his job is to deliver bad news as well as the good.
“People in economic development need objective information about our actual local economy,” he said. “It’s an important role that we can play.”