In Alabama, Deck misses bike trails and Crystal Bridges

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 1,092 views 

View of the University of Alabama campus.

Former University of Arkansas economist Kathy Deck has had a few months to settle into her new role as director of community and economic research partnerships at the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration.

Starting to get a feel for her new town of residence, Deck noted similarities and differences between Tuscaloosa and Northwest Arkansas in a recent interview with Talk Business & Politics-Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.

Deck served for 10 years as director of the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business in Fayetteville. Her job involved gathering data about the Arkansas economy and assembling it in a cohesive way for a broad audience.

At Alabama, Deck’s work is different. She is not involved with the school’s CBER. Her position is “much more student focused.” She serves the business school and the university, working “to bring the needs of the community in direct contact with the resources that the business school offers.” In turn, the school’s students are connected with research and experiential learning opportunities.

Tuscaloosa is different from Northwest Arkansas, Deck said. While a Mercedes-Benz plant located in nearby Vance, Ala., provides jobs, “it’s not a headquarters town.” Closely watching the economics of Northwest Arkansas for so long, Deck knows well the positive multiplier effect Fortune 500 company headquarters can have.

“Northwest Arkansas is a special place, and I think I always knew that,” she said. “It has a unique mix of assets that are setting it up for further success.”

Deck misses the type of biking experiences afforded by Northwest Arkansas’ Razorback Regional Greenway and other trails, and she misses Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Community leaders in Tuscaloosa are working to make the town more attractive to top talent and are taking trips to communities across the country to look at communities that they admire, Deck said. One key factor is cultural amenities, a realm in which Northwest Arkansas has grown in recent years.

Kathy Deck, former University of Arkansas economist and now the director of community and economic research partnerships at the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration

“When I was in Northwest Arkansas I talked constantly about the amenity mix how it got better each year,” she said.

The challenge for Tuscaloosa, however, is funding. Without entities like the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville, “you don’t have that obvious place to go to get some of this seed money.”

Deck and her husband, UA economics professor Cary Deck, decided to make the move to Alabama after he was offered an endowed chair, the Lee Bidgood Chair of Economics and Finance, at the university. The couple has a teenage son named Josh, who is already in step with the area theatre scene, starring in three community shows and recently competing in a state high school theatre competition.

Deck said it was a challenge to leave Northwest Arkansas because of how connected the family felt to the community.

“We’re doing that here. We get involved and do what we can,” she said.

In the past few months, Deck was taken on the role of president at the Association of University Business and Economic Researchers, an elected position that she said takes a lot of her time.

Deck, a Forty Under 40 honoree of the Business Journal in 2009, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1996 and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1998. She worked as an economist for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office just before joining CBER.

Mervin Jebaraj, former assistant director at CBER, was recently named as the center’s director, effective Jan. 1. He served as interim director since April.