Geoffrey Hewings

geoffrey hewings“…I THINK YOU should you should try to acquire two books, Location and the Space Economy and Methods of Regional Analysis both by Walter Isard. I think you might find the new field of regional science of interest.” These remarks were made at the end of a warm letter from Professor Richard B. Andrews, the journal editor of Land Economics and a professor at the University of Wisconsin. At the time, I was an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham. The courses that I was taking were so boring that I ended up spending a great deal of time in the library where I came across a new addition to the economics’ journals collection– Land Economics. In the first issue they had obtained, there was the fifth in a series of articles on the economic base model by Andrews; I wrote to him about my interest in regional models and asked whether he could send me copies of the first four articles in the series which he did along with this wonderful letter. I bought the recommended books (well over $100 in today’s currency and a fortune in terms of my purchasing capacity in 1964). After some research, I decided to apply for a PhD at the University of Washington where Douglass North and Charlie Tiebout were in economics and several analytical folks in geography. During my first semester, Morgan Thomas (at one time editor of the Papers & Proceedings of RSA and a fellow Welshman) approached me “Geoffrey, I want you to give me $5 for membership in the Regional ScienceAssociation.” How was I to say no and so the first journal arrived in 1965.Tiebout ended up as one of my advisors but, sadly, died while I was starting my dissertation. If my classes had interested me at Birmingham and if Andrews had not responded, I may not have found regional science!

Tiebout’s class at the University of Washington was entitled Regional Income Analysis and it was here that I was introduced to the new field of regional economics and especially to input-output models. Tiebout’s charismatic approach to teaching, his wicked sense of humor and his demonstrable enthusiasm for his research quickly struck a resonant chord. During the class, he asked us to review drafts of chapters of Nourse’s (1968) book on Regional Economics, adopting an innovation of having students react to a proposed new textbook (Tiebout used the honorarium he received for reviewing the book to host a party at his house as a way of rewarding our efforts). From Seattle, I spent two years as a Post-Doc at the University of Kent at Canterbury before accepting a position at the University of Toronto. Thereafter, in 1974, I came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I expected to stay 3-5 years, but it has now been 46! H.F. (Bill) Williamson, Lewis Hopkins and Andrew Isserman provided the foundation for a community of scholars interested in regional science, joined later by Michael Romanos, T. John Kim, James Huff, Arthur Getis, David Boyce, Frank Southworth, Jan Brueckner, Kieran Donaghy, Bruce Newbold, Marilyn Brown and Luc Anselin among others.

In the full spirit of regional science, these scholars were spread across the departments of agricultural and consumer economics, economics, urban and regional planning, civil engineering and geography. The seminar series and the high frequency of international visitors made for a vibrant intellectual atmosphere; by this time, our sons had moved out of the community and my wife, Adrianna, with her newly acquired PhD had accepted a position with USDA in Washington, leaving me in a house with 4 bedrooms! To save money, visitors were housed there at such a high frequency that John Kim referred to it as the Regional Science Hotel!

In the mid 1980s, Philip Israilevich (PhD Regional Science, Pennsylvania) and I began a series of conversations at regional science meetings; he was in the process of moving from the Cleveland to the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank and given our shared interests in regional economic modeling, we thought it might be attractive to create a joint research center between the University of Illinois and the Chicago Fed. Much to our surprise, both institutions were supportive and in January 1989, the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory (REAL) was created. We started with one post-doc, Ramamohan Mahidhara, and two PhD students, Eduardo Martins and Ricardo Gazel with offices at the Chicago Fed and one on the Urbana campus. Eighteen months later, the Chicago Region Econometric Input-output Model (CREIM) was completed, with considerable assistance from Richard Conway, and we began to obtain grants and contracts to perform a variety of economic impact and forecasting analyses. CREIM provided the bases for a continuing series of research papers including the innovation of extracting endogenous time-series input-output coefficients, exploring alternative measures of structural change and developing the concept of field of influence with Michael Sonis. Sonis, based in Israel, was a frequent visitor to REAL and commented on more than one occasion that it was his intellectual home. The initial focus on regional input-output models quickly broadened to include spatial econometric work, explorations of business cycles, convergence, income distributions, housing and migration.

Within a few years, we had a suite of offices on the Urbana campus that were connected to form one large space. One of the innovations of REAL was that it was modeled on the environment which my wife had experienced – with students and professors sharing a lab space in which there was a great deal of interaction. Soon, we found that we were attracting international visitors and students in increasing numbers – but all were housed in this communal space. As a result, a great deal of collaborative work ensued often involving students and visiting professors from different countries and different disciplinary backgrounds – regional science in action! In the 30+ years of REAL’s existence, somewhere between 400-500 visitors have spent at least 3 months in REAL, many returning for second and third stays. Clones of REAL have been created in Chile, Brazil, Spain, UK, China and, hopefully, soon in Mexico; fostering an atmosphere in which personal and professional relationships can be mutually developed seems to have been an attractive and sustaining feature.

For me, these developments have been a source of great pleasure; my peripatetic nature (a genetic trait inherited from one of my grandparents who was an Irish traveller) has enabled me to stay in touch with so many of the participants over the years. Watching their careers evolve has been incredibly rewarding. Hence, I am indebted to Richard Andrews, Morgan Thomas, Charlie Tiebout, Philip Israilevich and, of course, Walter Isard who, at critical junctures provided a gentle push and amazing support. I have always tried to respond to inquiries or requests for papers in a timely way since I recognize how important the response from Andrews was to launching me on my career path.

Geoffrey J.D. Hewings, Emeritus Director, Regional Economics Applications Laboratory, University of Illinois (US)


(Published on RSAI Newsletter 2020 November)

Read 980 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2020 14:33

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