Center for Business and Economic Research team

Center for Business and Economic Research team: (left to right) Emily Wornell Seregow, research assistant professor; Michael Hicks, director and the George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Economics; Srikant Devaraj, research economist and research assistant professor; and Dagney Faulk, director of research

By Marc Ransford

In college athletics, schools cite the Flutie Effect—the phenomenon of having a winning sports team that leads to increased exposure—for boosting their prominence. The Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), housed in Miller College, has played a big role in enhancing Ball State’s reputation.

The Flutie Effect is named after Doug Flutie, whose Hail Mary football pass let Boston College beat the University of Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl—and caused a major jump in applications to the college the next three years. In CBER’s case, it has been a steady stream of impactful research that has led to increased recognition for Ball State.

"The past decade has seen an especially fruitful period of public recognition of work conducted by CBER researchers,” said director Michael Hicks, now in this 12th year of leading the center. “Over the past couple years, three of our studies on automation and job losses have likely been the most heavily cited research studies by Ball State over its first century.”

Much of the success in garnering media attention is the direct result of a 2007 change in mission. Then-Ball State President Jo Ann M. Gora asked the center to focus on conducting influential policy research to support the University’s outreach and bring state, regional, and national attention to CBER.

Halo Effect

Locations of CBER sourced stories
Locations of CBER-sourced stories published in 2018; stories also published in Canada and England

Hicks and his team have conducted dozens of studies in the last 11 years. Recent research has focused on the loss of productivity and the health effects of automating jobs. These studies have resulted in 3,828 stories from 2015–2018 in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio and a myriad of other influential media outlets. The total audience is about 27 million and has a publicity value of $6.55 million.

In cases like this, there can often be a halo effect where the widespread coverage of Hicks’ and CBER’s work can increase positive perceptions about the Miller College of Business and Ball State, too,” said Deborah Davis, a former assistant professor who taught public relations at Ball State.

“Research shows that global executives and investors both rely on and share credible media coverage. By reading their research and perspectives in business, statewide, and national publications, business professionals see Ball State as a forward-thinking institution.”

CBER Top Media Hits
  • Bloomberg
  • National Public Radio (NPR)
  • British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
  • Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
  • Chicago Tribune
  • The New York Times
  • News Day
  • Press-Enterprise
  • Wall Street Journal
  • The Washington Post

In fact, when Hicks and his team issue a new study or a policy statement, the media immediately pay attention, said Dan McGowan, ’05, senior writer/reporter for Inside INdiana Business.

“Michael Hicks and the Ball State Center for Business and Economic Research are both go-to resources for Inside INdiana Business on a number of fronts,” said McGowan. “Dr. Hicks is accessible and finds ways to discuss complex issues so they are easy to grasp and easy to convey to a statewide audience.

“Both Dr. Hicks and CBER continue to churn out timely, topical, and relevant research, commentaries, and stories that provide color to national, state, and economic issues important to the lives of Hoosiers. Inside INdiana Business has trusted Dr. Hicks and CBER for years for accurate, unbiased information and to add insight to stories ranging from unemployment numbers to long-term economic trends to economic development studies that inform citizens, policymakers, and elected officials.”

Robust Policy Environment

Hicks noted that it’s important to credit a very robust policy environment for much of this attention. He pointed out that Indiana has been a crucible of broad public policy debates, and CBER’s work has been front and center on issues including fundamental tax reform, government consolidation, public school choice, right to work, and myriad other topics.

From the beginning of the Great Recession through the lengthy recovery, economic issues ranging from manufacturing and logistics to the effectiveness of tax incentives have weighed heavily on the minds of policymakers, Hicks said.

“The foundation for this recognition has always been uncompromisingly bold, honest, fundamental scientific analysis,” he said. “Every contentious policy issue has winners and losers. In this environment, we focus on candidly delivering data and data analysis to questions of importance.”

Beyond Indiana to the White House

CBER’s research is heavily focused on the state of Indiana, but in the past few years, the organization has contributed to the national debate with studies focusing on automation and trade and the disruption those forces may play on communities. That work has been reported by nearly every major U.S. publication, from The New York Times to Rolling Stone magazine.

CBER’s data even reached the White House. In 2017, President Barrack Obama noted the automation study in his farewell speech: “the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

At the same time, nationally syndicated columnists, including George Will, cited this work, and these studies were heralded by writers at the American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker.

And, CBER isn’t resting. Hicks and his research team—Srikant Devaraj, ’08 MBA ’09, Dagney Faulk, and Emily Wornell Seregow—are building a body of research to help frame the national debate about automation, trade, and their roles in vulnerable U.S. communities.

“But, as always, this is a team effort,” Hicks points out. “Much of our research inspiration comes directly from our colleagues at the Indiana Communities Institute, who provide us with a nearly real-time understanding of issues affecting communities across the Midwest. Our large student staff aids in the data management and analysis, and our publications team, led by Victoria Meldrum, provides us a platform to disseminate our research from.

“Our partnership with the University’s Marketing and Communications division helps us link our work to interested reporters and frame our technical and complex findings in ways that are more easily digested by intelligent and educated readers.”