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January 12, 2012

Bureau of Business Research Offers Unique Opportunities for Student Research

One of the best kept secrets at the UNL College of Business Administration is having more and more trouble keeping a low profile these days. Under the leadership of Dr. Eric Thompson, the Bureau of Business Research (BBR) continues to produce a broad range of economic research that has been recognized both professionally, and in local and national media. Thompson follows a formula for success that makes the BBR distinctively unique.  

“The BBR is staffed entirely with people you would have found at the University anyway,” Thompson said. “We have not taken the attitude of going out and hiring a lot of dedicated staff. Instead, we’ve worked with myself and other faculty members taking the lead on projects, and we typically employ anywhere between six and ten graduate students from CBA to work with us.”

The graduate students form the core component of the research teams at the BBR. The dynamic has a reciprocal nature that benefits the BBR, faculty, students and the state of Nebraska. Not only does the structure of the Bureau lead to an abundance of research being produced, it simultaneously puts students in key roles that help them learn the essentials of conducting research.

Hanna Hartman is one economics Ph.D. student, who has already benefited from extensive work with the BBR.

“It’s a really great research experience because you get guidance on how to complete a research project,” Hartman said. “You learn how to do a project from start to finish and have an idea of the various steps to take and who is knowledgeable in different areas if you have a question.”

Through her participation in the BBR, Hartman now has a portfolio of different articles on projects that she has been involved, as well as writing samples she can submit to potential employers.

“I’ve worked on research teams and I’ve had experience in writing reports for grants, and writing articles for the Business in Nebraska newsletter. It’s a really great experience in how to conduct professional research projects.”

Hartman, who grew up in Minnesota and graduated from high school in Belle Plaine, has been with the BBR for over two years. She has worked with the BBR both directly as part of the internship program, and indirectly while working for the Nebraska Department of Labor, who contracted with the BBR to perform an extensive study of employment trends in the green job sector of the economy. The Green Jobs report that came out of that study was a prominent research project that involved multiple states and demonstrated the overall impact that the BBR can make on the general public.

“Our work recently studying opportunities for Nebraskans in the green economy is a nice example of the value added we can offer,” Thompson explained, “because not only did we develop a well received project report, but we’re also developing several journal articles from that research. Our primary goals are to conduct economic research on the Nebraska, Midwest and national economies. Our secondary goal is to provide research and publication opportunities for UNL faculty, graduate students and even undergraduate students in some cases.”

Most of the BBR research projects are aimed specifically to examine Nebraska’s economy because of the strong connections in the state, but nevertheless, the studies often extend across state lines. They recently completed work on the contributions of forestry services to the state economies of Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Other examples of reports include examining the fiscal impact of Omaha’s Henry Doorly zoo, the potential economic consequences of proposed climate change regulations and a State Entrepreneurship index which ranks states using the number of businesses that open and close. The State Entrepreneurship index is one example of a national impact the BBR makes, as it was referenced in an article that appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Presenting research at national conferences is another resource that serves to both promote the BBR’s achievements and to give students the ability to network with their peers.

Jared McEntaffer is another Ph.D. student in economics that has benefited from presenting his BBR work on the national stage. He attended both the Mid-Continent Regional Science Association conference in Detroit and the Auber Business and Economic Research conference in Indianapolis in 2011. At both conferences, McEntaffer was able to present research that came out of the green jobs study.

 “One of the first and most difficult steps in the green jobs study was defining what is meant by a green job,” McEntaffer said. “It’s a notoriously vague term.”

After the definition of what constituted a green job was honed, the research team then began compiling data that looked at transitional employment opportunities for people who had lost their job in the recession.

 “We looked at what industries people were in who lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009, and whether or not green jobs would be likely places for them to transition. We estimated a transition model and presented our results. It was really good for me because I got to present with some other graduate students, so I got to see some of the work that other younger researchers are doing and get some feedback about our project. I also got feedback from more established researchers and saw what was going on in the other fields of economic research.”

McEntaffer, who is originally from Pierre, SD, thought it was particularly appropriate that he was able to present aspects of the green jobs study in Detroit, where unemployment has had a major impact because of difficulties transitioning people who have lost their jobs in the auto industry. It was yet another example of how research that comes out of the BBR has significance beyond Nebraska.

Dr. Scott Fuess, chair of the department of economics, has worked with students on BBR projects and recognizes the integral role the Bureau plays both on campus and in the community.

“The BBR raises the visibility of CBA while attracting substantial grant funding that supports the research of many professors at the college,” Fuess said. “It enables graduate students to develop skills for their professional development, and in short, plays a vital role is developing the next generation of business researchers.”