Dr. Steve Hackett strives for neutrality. An odd goal? Not really, when you consider the nature of his work as an economics professor.
"I see it as my job to produce and explain unbiased information for policy makers," he says. "Good economists are less about opinion and more about economic realities."
Steve views himself as a scientist trying to "explain what is" and says he lets "policy makers and the public assign value" to the tradeoffs he uncovers in his research. He was named Humboldt State's Scholar of the Year 2005 for his research, including examining the economic impacts of a declining crab fishery in Northern California. "There's a pattern in my working and teaching. I tend to look at the relationship between economics and the environment or natural resources," Steve explains. "I've always had a tremendous interest in the natural world."
That attraction to the environment led him to Montana State University where he began studying natural resource management. But his interests in economics — piqued from economic discussions with his father during the oil crisis of the 1970s — eventually caused him to alter the course of his studies.
Steve currently serves as a consultant with Planwest Partners, a local community and environmental planning firm, and collaborates with Humboldt State's Schatz Energy Research Center examining the feasibility of renewable energy projects on Indian tribal lands. He also conducts research for various government agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Game, where he is researching the economic impact of the state's declining fisheries, and the United States Department of Agriculture, where he provides technical analysis concerning the deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa.
The North Coast's unique economy has provided Steve with plenty of research opportunities. He founded the Humboldt Economic Index, a barometer that tracks six sectors of the county's economy since January 1994. The index is compiled by professors and students, and published monthly. It's the county's only frequently updated source of broad-based economic indicators.
"Humboldt County is a regional economic center for a remote area," he says. "We have a more diversified economy than other rural areas that are heavily dependent upon agriculture or natural resources."
What does Steve do when he's not studying the county's fiscal matters or examining the potential economic impacts of a policy decision?
"I ride 4,000 to 5,000 miles a year on my bike. It's a major part of my life that I find deeply satisfying."