Ph.D., is increasingly finding that his words and work as director of
the University Center for Economic Development and Research at the University
of North Texas can help evaluate and even guide changes in the Texas economy.
The UNT professor of applied economics provides information
through CEDR that influences state and
local public policies and industries by mapping out economic possibilities
for clients like nonprofit organizations, businesses and Texas communities.
Weinstein uses the center's studies to determine the
likely results of a client's steps toward economic diversification. He
might examine how a town once dependent on oil money can make a transition
to an economy supported by tourism. Or he might help determine the impact
of a new form of public transportation on a city's economy. The studies
indicate how certain moves can either hinder or help the general public.
For example, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail
system became a reality in 1996. Every day it glides into the lives of
thousands of Texans from North Dallas to Southern Dallas, carrying them
to work, recreation and back home. But the city did not know how the rail
would affect its communities and workers. Researchers at CEDR looked at
county property tax rolls and interviewed local businesses, property owners
and real estate agents. They determined that the rail system increased
Consequently, the DART study has become a means to promote
the light rail system and its growth. Cities outside the state, such as
Denver, are using the center's Dallas study as a tool to forecast the
outcomes of instituting their own light rail systems.
CEDR study answers specific questions posed by a municipality, political
group or organization that may affect community members or the economies
upon which they rely.
Depending on the issue, Weinstein and CEDR associate
director Terry Clower, Ph.D.,
interview key figures — residents, politicians,
community leaders — and examine financial
data, demographics, business information, natural resources and other
areas to determine the client's assets and challenges.
Dan S. Petty is president of the North Texas Commission,
a 400-member organization that promotes economic growth in the Metroplex
and studies issues affecting education, air quality, work force development
and population change in the region. Petty says CEDR is often called upon
to study the quality of life in North Texas and increase the area's visibility
both nationally and internationally.
"We correspond with the center's researchers on a regular
basis to get their opinions on each of our projects to promote the area,"
says Petty, whose organization is made up of hundreds of businesses, cities,
counties and public institutions. "They provide us with an accurate picture
of what this region has to offer and the areas we must improve to draw
Weinstein calls CEDR a natural extension of UNT's role
as a public institution. He says it provides a public service by spurring
economic growth and applying academic knowledge to public policy.
"We try to bring light to community issues," Weinstein
says. "This is not your typical academic research because we deal with
real-world problems — it's the commitment
we make as an urban, civic-oriented institution."
Along with its immediate resources, the center brings
together experts from the various disciplines of the university, from
the Survey Research Center to the Department of Sociology, to determine
outcomes for each problem.
"We're putting UNT out there and creating an awareness
of the breadth of resources we can offer to communities," Clower says.
Since CEDR's creation
in 1989 to conduct economic analysis and public policy research, its researchers
have prepared more than 60 reports covering a broad range of issues affecting
the Metroplex and other Texas communities. Topics include building new
airports and health care facilities and combating homelessness. Each report
takes from three months to as much as a year to complete.
helped a coalition of utilities make the case to the Texas Legislature."
A prime example of CEDR's role in shaping
public policy can be found in its contribution to the debate over electric
power deregulation and the transition to a competitive marketplace in
Texas. In 1997, the center was retained by a coalition of investor-owned
utilities, including TXU and Reliant, to help make the case that the historically
regulated companies should not be left with "stranded" costs in the aftermath
For decades, the utilities had invested billions of
dollars in coal, gas and nuclear generating plants, recovering these costs
through a guaranteed rate of return. With deregulation, it was feared
that revenues might not be adequate to recover investments in some of
these plants, resulting in stranded costs. The worst outcome could be
bankruptcy for the utility companies and disruption of service for consumers.
The center recommended that the deregulation bill drafted
by the Texas Legislature include a provision assuring that investor-owned
utilities be able to recover any stranded costs. The center also advised
that the transition to a competitive retail marketplace for electric power
be both gradual and cautious, to avoid problems such as the rolling blackouts
that have occurred in California.
"Our study was distributed to every member of the Texas
Legislature, and I testified before several committees about our findings
and recommendations," says Weinstein.
Deregulation becomes a reality in Texas in 2002, and
the bill passed in 1997 guarantees that investor-owned utilities will
be able to recover any stranded costs.
Other center studies have been used to draw in new industry
from outside the state.
A CEDR study conducted for the city of Dallas on the
technology industry and technology workers is being used as a marketing
tool to draw major companies to Texas.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the center performed
a survey establishing the needs of the technology industry and determining
the resources the area has to offer — more
than 230,000 trained workers. North Texas communities used the survey
to attract high-tech companies to the Alliance Airport area.
The center has conducted multiple economic studies for
other regions of the state, including the Permian Basin. These studies
are used to determine what industries the area is best able to accommodate
and then to draw in those new industries.
In addition to determining ways regions can attract
industry, the center helps developers show communities the potential positive
effects they can bring to the area, Clower says.
For example, developers asked CEDR to do an economic
study on creating a new retirement community, Robson Ranch, now open near
Denton. The study found that the retirement community would bring in new
income from retired seniors with more leisure time to shop, volunteer
and potentially return to school to further their educations. Construction
alone was estimated to bring $1.8 billion to Denton County.
While the center's projects vary to accommodate the
needs of each client, its theme remains constant. Weinstein and Clower
say the goal is to bring clarity to the issues faced by local communities
by offering real-world research that answers real problems.
"It's our obligation as a state-supported institution
to use our intellectual resources to meet public needs," Weinstein says.