By Denny Fleenor
Smith provides a face for WSU on the West side
When Robin Klemm arrived in Seattle from Philadelphia two years ago her expectations for being able to connect with fellow economists were pretty low.
“Philadelphia has an active community of economists,” said the former professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business and former president of the Philadelphia Council of Economists. “I contacted the Seattle Economists Club when I arrived, expecting to find an insignificant group. That’s not what I found.”
What she found was an active and robust organization under the leadership of Washington State University Extension economist Gary Smith from the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center.
Smith recently completed his term as president of the organization, having served in various offices in the 300-member club for the past four years.
His successor, Alexander Rist, a King County program analyst, says Smith can be credited with revitalizing the organization.
“He definitely put his personal trademark on the organization,” Rist said. “Gary brought lots of added activities to the club. He broadened our horizons bringing in a new dimension, getting beyond the regular lunch meetings and into new programs and networking opportunities.”
Among the tools Smith employed were Cougar Gold cheeses and Washington wines.
“Gary implemented occasional wine and cheese receptions which pulled in club members who couldn’t make luncheon meetings,” said Rist. “It got more people involved and active in the club. Now we have to see if we can keep it going.”
Two innovative programs put together by Smith also are credited with reactivating the club’s membership.
Smith brought officials from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to address the club in the rarely seen conference room of the Federal Reserve Seattle branch, packing the house.
It was also standing room only when Smith brought leaders of the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis from Washington DC to address the club, kicking off the BEA’s national outreach program.
“The BEA event was incredible,” according to Klemm. “I’m pretty well connected nationally, and when I saw who he brought in I wondered how many chits he had to call in.”
To Smith, this kind of networking and outreach is part and parcel of fulfilling the outreach mission of Extension.
“My goal has always been to help WSU make connections on the west side,” Smith said.
According to fellow WSU economist Ray Huffaker in Pullman, Smith’s efforts are paying off for WSU and for the School of Economic Sciences.
“Gary has imbedded himself in the west side economics community,” Huffaker said. “He has established the west side connections to get our department plugged in.”
According to Huffaker, Smith set up several different speaking opportunities for him in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia to discuss his research on agricultural irrigation water policy.
“I was able to get before high profile groups to talk about my research including state government policymakers and staff in Olympia as well as fellow economists, and faculty and students at other universities,” Huffaker said. “Gary has gotten other Pullman researchers out that otherwise would not have had their work exposed. He provides the interface to the west side for our work.”
Klemm said that Smith’s ability to connect practicing economists with members of the business sector, researchers, and community and political leaders benefits the entire community.
“The value is where the rubber hits the road in the real world, not just on the academic side,” Klemm said. “The bottom line is what his efforts do for the community as a whole.”
Smith’s efforts have definitely connected WSU and the broader community, Huffaker said.
“Gary gives WSU a face on the west side.”