Crunching the numbers: Emily Alps ‘24 gains real-world economic consulting experience

Working closely with her mentor, Assistant Professor of Economics Brooks Depro, Alps took a deep dive into what the recent expansion of local business facility meant to Alamance County.

In June 2021 Lotus Bakeries announced it would expand its operations in the Alamance County community of Mebane with an investment of at least $62 million and the addition of up to 90 new jobs. It was a substantial commitment by the global snack product producer to the county, where Lotus already had a facility, and an expansion that would create a ripple of economic impacts.

Emily Alps ’24 at the Alamance Chamber

But just how big would those ripples be, and where would they reach? Thanks to an immersive research course at Elon, economic consulting major Emily Alps ‘24 helped make that clear to county officials.

Alps worked closely this spring with her mentor, Assistant Professor of Economics Brooks Depro, to tap into a powerful economic modeling tool to produce an overview of the impact for the Alamance Chamber, which wanted greater insight into how the move would impact the local economy. The extensive research experience helped Alps, who is also a member of the Elon cross-country team, leverage Depro’s knowledge as an economic development consultant to help equip her with skills that she can use professionally in the field.

The mentored research experience has increased Alps’ desire to go into economic consulting following graduation and has made her prepared to make an immediate impact.

“So many companies around the world are collecting and tracking data and don’t know what to do with it,” Alps said. “Analyzing the impact of the decisions companies are making is something I find amazing. You are applying these economic principles and the power of analytical programs to help companies make informed decisions that impact their business and the economy.”

The success of this project has Depro and the Department of Economics at Elon looking to expand the ability for students to gain real-world experience using powerful local economic impact analysis tools like IMPLAN Cloud, which Alps used while providing a service for local businesses and leaders.

Depro said there is an intentional focus on developing more opportunities for this type of engaged and experiential learning that will benefit students once they enter the professional realm. “We want to give them the experience, but we also want to give them flexibility,” Depro said.

The idea for this year’s project followed the addition of Depro earlier this year to the Alamance Chamber’s economic development committee. During a brainstorming session with Chamber leadership, the idea arose of using an undergraduate research project to more fully evaluate the impact of local economic development projects.

Alps has known Depro since her first year at Elon when she took an introductory economics class, and he’s served as an advisor and mentor to her since. He approached her about conducting a one-on-one research project exploring economic impact in Alamance County. “I viewed this as an opportunity to gain experience in what a career in economic consulting would be like on a day-to-day basis and to develop the skills I would use as a professional,” she said.

The chamber identified the business, and Depro moved forward with obtaining the licensing to for Alamance County data within IMPLAN. The pair met regularly as Alps developed the knowledge of how to use IMPLAN, and Depro provided extensive input and feedback on the simulations they began running. Alps learned how to adjust the model to adapt to the complexities of the local economy.

“It was extremely rewarding to have the timely and individualized feedback,” Alps said. “He took such an interest in the project. It wasn’t like he was just handing it off to me. He wanted to play an active role in helping me develop and to ensure we were producing valuable insights for the chamber.”

Her work with IMPLAN and the Alamance County data offered a much more developed view of the impact of the Lotus Bakeries expansion was making in the local economy. The model helped estimate the broader impact, including direct, indirect, and induced jobs, and the associated payroll with those new positions as well as increased business-to-business spending.

“I was so surprised at how much information there was and what you could do with that information,” Alps said.

Depro also worked with Alps on her presentation to the Alamance Chamber, which helped her acquire an additional skill set around public speaking and the ability to convey complex information in a meaningful way. “I don’t think I would have had those skill sets without this research project,” she said. “I am much more confident now that I have to make these types of presentations in my career.”

Depro said the success of the project in the spring has opened the possibility of exposing more students to this type of work and providing this economic consulting resources to more businesses and entities in the surrounding community. “It’s a model we’re going to want to use going forward,” Depro said.