Inside USD

USD’s Economic Index Marks 20th Anniversary

Monday, November 14, 2011

Through boom and bust, there’s at least one thing San Diegans have come to count on in the local economy — the University of San Diego Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators for San Diego County put together by economist Alan Gin.

This fall, the Index that is eagerly awaited each month by the media, business, government and consumers, marks its 20th anniversary.

The Index of residential building permits, help wanted advertising, stock prices and other factors that forecasts the local economy’s performance has made Gin a fixture on the local media and he’s often called upon to talk about the San Diego economy in the national media, too.

The San Diego City Council will honor Gin on Nov. 15, declaring it “Economic Indicators Day.” Last Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors commended Gin (pictured, right with Supervisor Ron Roberts) for “outstanding service, leadership and commitment to area residents” and declared Nov. 8 as “Alan Gin Economic Indicators Day” throughout the region.

“Professor Gin has become the go-to-guy for the economy in San Diego,” noted David Pyke, dean of USD’s School of Business Administration. “We’re very proud of his contributions to the region’s growth and development by increasing our understanding and knowledge of the local economy.”

Gin created the Index in the fall of 1991, after seeing a presentation on an index for Orange County and thinking it would be interesting to do something similar for San Diego County. Ironically, then, as now, the economy was in a downturn, which may have helped boost interest in the Index.

“I’m not sure people would have been as interested if the economy would have been booming,” he said.

Over the years, the Index has helped chronicle the changes that have taken place in San Diego’s economy. “Back in 1991, aerospace manufacturing had a huge role in San Diego’s economy, led by General Dynamics’ Convair division,” he said. “Today, aerospace jobs are only a quarter of what they were in 1991, and are outnumbered by jobs in shipbuilding and repair, now led by NASSCO. In 1991, there were three times as many aerospace jobs as shipping ones. The defense manufacturing jobs were replaced by jobs in new industries such as biotechnology and  telecommunications, with Qualcomm Inc. playing a big role in the latter.”

Gin, who holds a PhD in economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and joined USD’s faculty in 1988, has received numerous honors over the years. He received the 2007 Asian Business Association’s Business Leadership Award and in 2003 received the “Professor of the Year” award from USD graduate students. His own life has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Gin and his wife, Theresa, now have a daughter and son, Alesa, 13 and Mark, 9.

With his frequent media appearances, he’s become something of a local celebrity, something he realized a few years ago when he stepped off a tram at what is now Safari Park, only to have someone say, “Aren’t you Alan Gin?” even though he was hidden behind a hat and sunglasses.

“I’m happy that people keep telling me how useful the Index is to their work, although there is a lot of pressure when people say they use it to help make decisions,” he said.

At one point, a student was assisting him in compiling the Index while Gin was in Asia. The student was worried because the Index had gone down two months in a row and a third decline typically signals a serious downturn or recession. The student was very nervous about having to declare a recession but in the end the Index rose and a reporter called Gin in Hong Kong at 2 a.m.

So when will this economy really turn around?

Gin sees slower growth continuing through 2012 with stronger growth in the following year.

“I’m not sure there will be any signs that foreshadow it but the consequences will be a pickup in the rate of job growth. Maybe a rebound in consumer confidence will be the sign of better times.”

— Liz Harman

Photo courtesy of Brittan Trozzi

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