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The New Forecaster

Laura KalambokidisLaura T. Kalambokidis

Jobs: State Economist
         Professor, Department of Applied Economics
         Extension Economist

Home: Stillwater

Family: Husband, Nick; son, Teddy, a college student; and daughter, Maria, a high school student

Education: B.S. in Economics, University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in Economics, University of Michigan

Laura Kalambokidis became Minnesota’s new state economist July 1. She takes over for fellow applied economics professor Tom Stinson, who recently retired from the post after 26 years.

Q. What does the state economist do?
A. The state economist and the Economic Analysis Division at the Minnesota Management and Budget office develop the state's twice-yearly revenue forecasts in November and February. The forecasts form the beginning of the budget planning process for state government. We provide quarterly updates on what is going on in the economy. I serve as an advisor and give commentary about the state economy.

We also track revenue—we track receipts as they come in. There’s constant monitoring of how we are doing relative to the forecast so that policymakers have the information they need to adjust their decisions.

Q. When you were growing up did you ever think: “I want to be the state economist?”

A. I went to high school in south Minneapolis so I was in Minnesota as a youth, but I’ll admit that I did not know that there was a state economist or what that person would do or whether I wanted to be that person. Once I started studying economics at the University of Minnesota and in graduate school, I knew I wanted to study the economics of government, and I wanted to be a professor.

Q. Why did you want this position?
A. I’ve admired the impact Tom Stinson had in the position. He has had a reputation of providing sound data, sound analyses and sound guidance. That’s what I want to do. I’ve worked in and with government, and I’ve studied and taught public-sector economics, so I appreciate the opportunity to continue to be a professor while also working with government.

Q. Is being the first female state economist significant to you?
A. I think it’s worth noting because the economics profession is still male-dominated. I personally have worked with lots of really fabulous women economists, so it doesn’t feel like a male-dominated profession to me—I have wonderful male and female colleagues—but especially at the top ranks, women are under-represented.

Q. Did you work with Tom Stinson on previous forecasts?
A. I observed the process for the last two forecasts. That helps me feel confident that we are having a seamless transition. Observing helped me to have a better idea of what the job entailed and what I still need to learn.

Q. What is your biggest concern about the Minnesota economy?
A. I would cite two things. One is the uncertainties that arise from things happening outside the state. During the last couple of years, federal fiscal policy imposed a lot of uncertainty on our economy, our budget process and our revenue process. That uncertainty coming from Washington is something that makes decision-making at the state level difficult. It affects the choices individuals and businesses make in response to changes in federal fiscal policy. That affects economic performance but also affects revenue forecasting. That’s short term, or I hope it’s short term. We’ll see—maybe that is the new normal.

The other thing is longer term. I think there’s a challenge at many levels of government in looking long term, so we have to deal with what’s happening right now, but we also have to ask what can we do now that will help the Minnesota economy thrive in the future.

Q. What will help the Minnesota economy thrive in the future?

A. I’m going to sound like somebody who’s worked with Tom for a while. We need to look at the demographic changes we are experiencing now and that are going to continue. We need to ask ourselves what kinds of investments we need to make in human capital at various levels to make sure that we continue to have a workforce that makes Minnesota a place where people want to do business and hire people.

Q. Tom Stinson was known for his dry or deadpan style; what’s your style?
A. I don’t think anyone can match his poker face, so my style is naturally a little more animated. I don’t think that would offend him for me to say that. (She laughs.) I want to be as useful as possible. We are educators—we are teachers—so I want to make sure that people understand what I am saying. We will do our best to produce information that will be accurate and useful and helpful to policymakers, business people and families in the decisions they have to make.

Q. In addition to family and friends—who you’ve made clear rank most important in your life—what are three things you can’t live without?
A computer. Obviously, I use it for work but I’m on the computer all the time at home, too.

My dog. He’d be hard to live without. He’s a big part of our lives. His name is Zach. We think he’s probably a Shepherd Husky mix.

A good chef’s knife. It was a significant quality of life improvement when my mother gave me a gift certificate to buy a good knife. Wow, it does make cooking a lot more fun. I enjoy cooking.

Q. What’s your favorite dish to make?
A. Lately, bibimbop—a Korean dish—I just made that last weekend.

–Patty Mattern


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