When Vice President for Research
Peter Alfonso needed to find reliable data about the economic
impact of this institution’s research spending, he found
the necessary expertise close to home — in UND’s Bureau
of Business and Economic Research (see related
The Bureau was founded more than half a century ago to serve the
economic and business information needs of individuals, businesses,
government agencies, and other organizations throughout North
A unit of the College of Business and Public Administration, it
serves as a resource for data and analysis of economic, business,
and demographic trends in the state. The Bureau also conducts
applied research on topics affecting the regional economy and
participates in regional development activities.
Over the years UND economists such as David Ramsett, Scot Stradley,
and the late William Koenker became familiar names to decision
makers wrestling with such issues as tax policy, utilities regulation,
and economic development.
Since 2001, the Bureau has been headed by Sean Snaith, a 1996
Ph.D. in economics from Penn State whose career, besides college
teaching, includes most recently two years of consulting with
the International Planning and Research Corp. of Maynard, Mass.
Among his clients there were IBM, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, electric
utility companies, banks, and several government agencies located
in the United States, Middle East, and Caribbean.
President Charles Kupchella believes the Bureau and others like
it are entering a new era of significance to the state and region
as UND continues to transform itself strategically. The institution,
he said, has sharpened its research and public service missions,
committed itself to a larger role in helping the state deal with
its challenges, and, not unimportantly, expanded its search for
new sources of revenue.
Snaith, who also carries a teaching load and pursues his own personal
scholarship in his field, was recruited in part to revitalize
the Bureau, which must depend largely upon grants and contracts,
into an expanded operation.
But, he said, there seems to be a happy convergence of interests:
as the Bureau repositions itself, potential clients seeking economic
forecasting and analysis are coming forward. This kind of work
often provides real-life projects for the department’s graduate
and undergraduate students, consulting opportunities for faculty,
and eventually the creation of new part-time and full-time jobs
within the Bureau.
Since his arrival, the affable Snaith has become a sought-after
speaker on economic issues. He is frequently quoted in the mass
media, and spends much of his time on the road marketing the services
of the Bureau. Just recently, for example, he finalized contracts
with the North Dakota Departments of Transportation and Forestry.
He said North Dakota agencies and businesses that have contracted
with out-of-state vendors have sometimes been burned by exorbitant
fees and, occasionally, by ignorance of the state’s economic
nuances. Much of what needs to be done involves applied research,
he added, meaning that economists in North Dakota have access
to the same data as the distant consulting firms such as the one
he worked for in the Boston area.
What are the Bureau’s current capabilities? Snaith said
it covers a broad range of applied research, but listed three
that tie in nicely with the expertise of UND’s economics
faculty: economic and business forecasting, economic impact analysis,
and economic policy analysis.
Not everything the Bureau does comes with a price tag, Snaith
emphasizes. For example, the Bureau’s Web site (below) contains
a wealth of up-to-date business and economic data about North
Dakota. The site also contains an e-mail link to him [he can also
be reached by telephone at (701) 777-3351 and by mail at Box 8369,
UND, Grand Forks, ND 58202].