Back in 2008, when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal featured Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business, as one of its Forty Under 40 honorees, she had just participated in her very first “Business Forecast” luncheon.
In essence, the event is a sort of “State of the Arkansas Economy” address. Deck had been at her position for less than a year when she found herself facing upward of a thousand people in the audience that day. Today, she readily admits to a case of nerves up there at the podium.
“My palms were sweating as I looked across that sea of people,” she said when the Business Journal caught up with her again shortly after the most recent forecast luncheon. “That day I was just the facts. A is A and B is B. Thank you very much for coming today.”
But that was then, and this is now. “Nine years into it, and I’m a lot more relaxed about it,” she said. “Now I know there’s a long-term relationship between the [CBER] and me and many of the people in that room. And we can talk about things in a very upfront way. I still stick with the facts, but I can be much more relaxed about it.”
And in fact, Deck has gotten to be such a pro at delivering her annual address and at spearheading the event in general, that many have taken to calling it the “Kathy Deck lunch.”
Not only that, but in the time she’s been at her post, a position that calls for her to gather data about the Arkansas economy and assemble it in a cohesive way, many an Arkansan has prefaced or qualified a statement about the state’s economy with the phrase: “Kathy Deck said,” a state of affairs that Deck said she is perfectly at ease with.
“People look to us as the unbiased provider of good information,” she said. “And in this world there is a lot of bad information out there, and one of the things that we strive to be is a place that you know you can turn to, to get the data. You may love it or you may hate it, but you know we’re going to give you the information that you need to make good decisions.”
When Deck and her husband, also an economist, moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2001 from Arizona, Deck said she believes they were making a good decision. Prior to moving east, she had worked in a position with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
“When I moved 15 years ago to Arkansas, I thought it was a great place,” she recalled. “I wouldn’t have moved to the state if I’d thought it wasn’t the kind of place that I could live, that I could raise a family and be happy and that had economic opportunities for us.”
Today, she counts Northwest Arkansas, and Fayetteville specifically, as home. “I’ve never lived anywhere longer than in Fayetteville,” she said. “Fayetteville is certainly home; it’s where my child was born.”
Today, her son is 12 years old, and just as Deck has marveled in watching him grow and change, so too has she marveled in watching Arkansas grow and change.
“I can truly say that the whole state, and in particular Northwest Arkansas, has gotten better and better every year. The level of amenities has just ratcheted up almost exponentially. And it was already a great place even 15 years ago.”
When Deck isn’t crunching the data at the CBER or taking advantage of some of the region’s new amenities — like the Razorback Regional Greenway trails, which she’s proud to have explored every section of — she’s busy parsing through the business of one of the many organizations to which she volunteers her time and knowledge.
For example, she was recently appointed to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board’s Real Estate Industry Council. In addition, she is on the executive board of the national organization, the Association for the University of Business and Economic Research. And she is on the executive board of the United Way of Northwest Arkansas.
“Its mission is to provide a pathway out of poverty for children,” she said. “So much of the time when I’m talking about the economy I’m talking about the prosperity of the area, but not everyone is thriving, so I really enjoy the chance to be part of that organization to promote prosperity among the folks who need it the most.”