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Learning from three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman

January 20, 2017

By: Natalie Gochnour

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman is a world class talent. It was our privilege to host him at the inaugural Kem C. Gardner Policy Symposium this month. I attended the event and enjoyed a dinner with him the night before. I’d like to share a few insights from the experience. Read More

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Crossroads of the West stands strong

April 15, 2016

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in the Deseret News

About 1,400 small-business owners, entrepreneurs, business executives and community leaders will gather at the Grand America Hotel on Friday for the 10th annual Governor’s Economic Summit. It will be a celebration of sorts, as the Utah economy continues to impress. The Beehive State created nearly 45,000 jobs over the past year and is in its sixth year of solid economic growth. The Crossroads of the West stands strong. Read More

5 things to watch for in 2016

Five Things to Watch for in 2016

February 4, 2016

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in Utah Business Magazine

I’m looking forward to the excitement of the coming year. From global happenings to local challenges—and a presidential election year—there’s a lot to keep an eye on in 2016. Read More

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9/30/15: When stars align

September 30, 2015

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in Utah Business

I’ve learned over the years to pay attention when stars align in a powerful way. It happened when my daughter, who was attending an out-of-state college, landed a job with the school paper, committed to a major and established great friendships. Suddenly, her college education and experience took off. It happened when Urban Meyer brought his coaching skills to build a team with a 22-2 record and reinvigorated the MUSS, or the Mighty Utah Student Section, at Rice Eccles Stadium. Stellar coaching and engaged students helped the Utes win and laid the foundation for a winning program. Read More

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9/30/15: A Tribute to Diane Gillam

September 30, 2015

By: James Wood

A few words are hardly enough to honor Diane Gillam’s forty-two year career at the David Eccles School of Business. Diane joined the staff as a student intern in October of 1973 during her freshman year at the University of Utah. Over the course of a long and distinguished career, her responsibilities advanced from clerical, to accounting, then to administrative. For the last thirty years, Diane has been the chief administrative and financial officer of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, now housed within the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Her mastery of University regulations and accounting procedures has been invaluable not only to the institute, but to the entire business school as well. Just as valuable has been her institutional knowledge, which has given context to so many administrative issues. Read More

9/2/14: Global Ambassadors

September 2, 2014

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in Utah Business

I apologize for being personal, but I experienced something recently that many Utahns have experienced either personally or as a parent: I dropped my son off at the Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC) to start his volunteer service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those who have done this know it is a riveting moment filled simultaneously with joy and sadness. It’s very hard to let go of the people and things you love. It’s also a sacrifice that contributes to Utah’s economic success. Faith preferences and traditions aside, the Mormon missionary program pays dividends to the Utah economy.

An Expanded Worldview

At any given time, the LDS Church has more than 83,000 missionaries serving in over 400 missions throughout the world. Many are Utah residents and return here to live after their service. Most are under the age of 25 when they leave.

Most missionaries return having learned extraordinary life skills: perseverance, discipline, an improved work ethic and improved cultural literacy, to name just a few. Often they learn a second language and develop a heartfelt awareness and love for the people and the places where they serve. To say it plainly, they become something bigger and better than they were before.

Excuse me for the “economics speak,” but missionary service, like education, is an investment in human capital. Done right it improves a person’s skills and makes them a better employee and a more productive member of society. In Utah, we have hundreds of thousands of returned missionaries—male and female—who have learned valuable life skills.

But it’s more than workforce readiness and life skills. LDS missionary service also means global engagement. Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, tells a moving story from the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The prime minister of Finland was in town supporting the Finnish women’s hockey team, which had made it to the bronze-medal round. At a pre-match rally at South Towne Exposition Center, a choir filled with former Finnish missionaries—young and old—sang the Finnish national anthem in Finnish. Edwards watched as the prime minister was struck with emotion as he heard this expression of love and patriotism in his native tongue.

This story is emblematic of other international characteristics about this state. An estimated 22 percent of Utah jobs are tied to exports. Merchandise exports in Utah currently tally $19.3 billion and have more than doubled in the last five years. It should not be surprising that we have more than 20,000 students enrolled in dual-language immersion programs. Utah is a globally-minded state.

Youthful Optimism

What does this have to do with the LDS missionary program? Plenty. As tight-knit and insular as Utah can be, we boast extraordinary international experience. Many former LDS missionaries use their out-of-state and international experience to grow thriving businesses.

A colleague of mine at the University of Utah calls missionaries the largest sales force in the world. Let’s be clear—the sales force is selling religion. But they are also creating a brand for this state. The missionary program is one of the LDS Church’s most recognized characteristics and Utah is its international headquarters. Mormon missionaries can be seen in hundreds of major cities and in thousands of towns and villages around the globe. In addition to faith they represent youthfulness, optimism and service.

When I dropped my son off, I gazed at the extensive Provo MTC campus. With missionaries in white shirts everywhere, there was a youthful optimism that you don’t see in many places. I looked at the MTC’s large mail and kitchen facilities. I then envisioned similar, though smaller, operations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, England, Ghana, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and Spain. The worldwide presence is of a scale that is difficult to adequately describe.

Missionary service is a distinctly faith-based proselyting activity. There’s no question about that. But it’s also an economic benefit to this state. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who serve.

Natalie Gochnour is the associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business and the director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

8/15/14: An Economist walks into a bar…learning from economic humor

August 15, 2014

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in Utah Business

Winston Churchill once said if you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of them is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three opinions. It’s a clever way of saying economics is an inexact science, and economists are known for equivocating. But do they also possess a sense of humor? Let’s consider both equivocation and humor and see if there are lessons to be learned.

Economic equivocation is standard fare in economics. It happens so much that decisions makers often don’t know whom to trust when making economic decisions. Should the Utah Legislature raise taxes to invest more in public education or will the tax increase stifle investment and hurt economic growth? Are low interest rates sustaining employment growth in this country or fueling the next housing bust? Is Utah’s 3.5 percent unemployment rate full employment? If not, what is?

These questions and hundreds more are difficult to answer because economics is complicated. The dismal science does not lend itself to lab research or precise formulaic assessment. Guesswork is part of the economist’s job.

Most economists agree on some things: tariffs are bad and free trade is good; centralized economies do not maximize economic potential; markets work, with some important exceptions. But on the whole, economics relies on millions and millions of independent decisions made by people who don’t always act consistently. It’s this lack of consistency that makes economics difficult. People do unpredictable things.

The complexity, uncertainty, equivocation, imprecision and inconsistency in economics has given birth to hundreds of jokes poking fun at the craft. Lawyer jokes still have the edge, but economics is catching up. Cloaked in the humor are instructive lessons about economics. Here listed under the heading of an important economic truism are a few of my favorite economist jokes:

Beware of economists who give you the answer you want to hear.

A mathematician, an accountant and an economist apply for the same job.

The interviewer calls in the mathematician and asks “What does two plus two equal?” The mathematician replies “Four.” The interviewer asks, “Four, exactly?” The mathematician looks at the interviewer incredulously and says, “Yes, four, exactly.”

Then the interviewer calls in the accountant and asks the same question: “What does two plus two equal?” The accountant says, “On average, four—give or take 10 percent, but on average, four.”

Then the interviewer calls in the economist and poses the same question: “What does two plus two equal?” The economist gets up, locks the door, closes the shades, sits down next to the interviewer and says, “What do you want it to equal?”

Economics is often imprecise. Get used to it.

Three econometricians went out hunting and came across a large deer. The first econometrician fired, but missed by a meter to the left. The second econometrician fired, but missed by a meter to the right. The third econometrician didn’t fire, but shouted in triumph, “We got it! We got it!”

Assumptions help us think through scenarios and provide structure to our thinking.

A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Let’s assume that we have a can-opener …”

Economists have a strange sense of time and typically insist on more data and more time.

Q:How has the French revolution
affected world economic growth?
A: Too early to say.

Economists tend to be negative. It’s not called the dismal science for nothing.

Economists have forecast nine out of the last five recessions.

Economists are often wrong, but still very useful.

An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today. (Laurence J. Peter)

If I’ve learned anything from studying economics, it’s the value of humility coupled with humor when studying complexity. There’s just so much we don’t know, and humor adds value and important perspective. I also know that nothing could be more important than seeking to understand what makes economies prosperous. We know that when economies prosper people live healthier and more fulfilling lives. And that’s no joke.

Natalie Gochnour is the associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business and the director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.