Creating economic opportunities through research

Zack Oliver conducts research and develops tools to help bring jobs to North Carolina.

Zack Oliver ’12 works as an economist in the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.  His work involves the study of economic development in the state, industry-based research, analyzing economic impacts, and involvement with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Employment Dynamics (LED) program.

A native of Athens, Ga., Zack holds an undergraduate degree in business administration from Boston University.  After graduating, his desire to give back prompted him to join – Teach for America – an organization that seeks to close the “achievement gap” by placing teachers in in Title I schools.

Zack spent two years working as an educator, teaching algebra and geometry lessons to 9th grade students at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, Tenn., and preparing them for ACT tests, and tutoring after school.

TFA’s mission resonated with me. It was a great experience to work with kids from low-income families and opened up my eyes to some of our nation’s socio-economic issues.

Pursuing a master’s in applied economics was a part of his long-term plan. “UNCG seemed to be the best fit in terms of its excellent curriculum, the cost of education, and the proximity to my family.”

The cohort model of the economics department appealed to him because of the different perspectives that a diverse groups of peers brought to the class.

The program prepares you with job skills that you are going to use and that are valued in the job market.

The faculty is very involved. They are great practitioners in fields like labor economics, health economics, and innovation, he says. Zack admires Dr. Albert Link for his work in economics of innovation and technology with a focus on policy issues.

 UNCG’s program does an excellent job of teaching you about the research process and applying it to a wide range of topics. It has opened up a world of opportunities to me.

Zack conducts wide variety of research – ranging from impact of the military on North Carolina’s economy to developing a framework to identify and analyzing the concentration of industries in North Carolina. He uses SAS, a statistical analysis software, to manipulate and analyze large data sets.

SAS programming is a very useful skill that I was introduced to at UNCG in the Data Methods course.

He also co-authors an “Economic Index” report which is published biennially and covers a variety of economic indicators. This gives a perspective on where North Carolina’s economy is headed and provides comparisons with benchmark states.

I really enjoy economics because it involves modeling problems based on a set of assumptions to find a solution within a set of constraints. It’s basically taking a complex problem and breaking it down to its most important elements and then finding solutions.

Zack wants to continue to conduct meaningful research and specialize in the field.

What drew me to economics is that you can apply its framework to many different areas – economic development, labor issues such as unemployment – and figure out the real problems in the American economy.  I really like being a researcher and thinking about some of these issues. I want to be an expert in the field, and right now my focus is economic development.

By Aparna Das, Contributor
Photography by Bert VanderVeen