WWU’s business research center takes over economic forecaster

By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal

A prestigious Seattle economics publication now is produced in Bellingham.

Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research has taken over publication of The Puget Sound Economic Forecaster.

The quarterly newsletter features articles, as well as future forecasts for a number of economic factors, like unemployment, retail sales and income for Seattle and King County.

It has a track record of accurate predictions, and forecasts some economic factors as far as 10 years into the future.

Seattle-area governments, banks, construction firms and real estate brokers rely on the newsletter to make important business decisions. A year ago, the forecaster had around 500 subscribers.

Independent economic consultants Dick Conway and Doug Pedersen founded the newsletter. After 25 years of running it, they decided to retire. Their last full issue came out in the summer.

Hart Hodges and James McCafferty, directors of the business research center, decided they wanted to take it over.

The publication fit in with some of the work they were already doing.

“We do outlook talks, forecast talks; we had a similar model for Whatcom County,” Hodges said. The center is housed within the university’s College of Business and Economics. It employs staff and faculty, as well as students to help complete real-world data and analysis projects commissioned by local organizations.

The directors recognized the forecaster as another chance for some hands-on education for students.

“Our center, part of our mission is to create additional educational opportunities for students,” Hodges said.

Now that the center has these forecasting models, students can use them in their classes, and even help write more.

“It’s a great opportunity for students,” Hodges said.

Despite getting other offers, Conway and Pedersen agreed, and chose the center to take over the forecaster.

“The Center for Economic and Business Research has the demonstrated capability of maintaining — and even improving upon — the quality of the Puget Sound Economic Forecaster,” Conway said, in a press release. “We are also grateful to have the newsletter residing at a university, where it can be a tool of learning for students.”

Currently, about nine students work at the center. Hodges said the hope is that the forecaster will create opportunities to hire more students, and potentially more faculty will get involved as well.

The fall issue was a joint effort between the center and Conway and Pedersen. Conway and Pedersen ran the model and the center wrote the articles.

For the winter issue, the center is on its own.

They’re still working on getting all the old subscribers switched over, as well and switching the website over to one hosted at Western.

Hodges and McCafferty plan to expand the forecaster, and draw in new readers to the publication.

“Not a lot of people have heard about it up here because it has a Seattle focus,” he said

They plan to develop new models and include not just Seattle, but other counties, such as a Whatcom/Skagit workforce area.

“Hopefully more people will learn about it because there will be components that are relevant to their area,” Hodges said.

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