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Economic Development Research Analyst, RTI International
Year graduated from Carolina Planning: 2016
Specialization at Carolina Planning: Economic Development

Michael is an economic development research analyst at RTI International, specializing in urban and regional economics. His professional interests include industry transformation, industry clustering, economic geography, economic resiliency, infrastructure investment, cost-benefit analysis, transit-oriented-development, and place-based innovation and economic growth.

Why did I pursue a career in city planning?
For me, city planning was a career change: When I applied to UNC, I was working in the corporate world in Chile and was beginning to become more curious about the issues that drove and impacted urban economies and regional development. Using the lens of city planning and the academic coursework at UNC, I was able to start to ask some of the bigger questions about why certain places were thriving and others were not, or understand the often unintended consequences of policy decisions at a local or regional level. It offered an opportunity to approach big questions about cities and start to tackle some of the challenges that are arising today.

Where am I now?
Today I am a researcher at RTI International, a non-profit independent research institute in North Carolina. My work focuses on helping decision makers strengthen local and regional economic competitiveness and opportunity. I work with a diverse team of economists and public policy experts who help address clients’ issues by applying academic research expertise to real world challenges. My work today has taken me all over North Carolina, different parts of the US, and Central America.

What does the future hold?
While RTI has traditionally done large federal government contracts for organizations like USAID and EPA, our group is growing quickly in new areas, working for state and local governments, industry associations, chambers of commerce, economic development partnerships, foundations, private businesses, international development organizations, and international governments. We are working to expand our work in Central America and Southeast Asia.
Economic development practice is changing quickly, and gaining national attention due to large announcements like the Amazon HQ2 project. It has not all been positive, and there is growing criticism from the media and the public about how economic development work is done. At the same time, the field is at a critical point because the changing nature of work and automation are having profound impacts on economic opportunity and the places people choose to live. As the pace of technology change continues to accelerate, it will be up to economic development leaders in cities to help make informed decisions to invest for the future.