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Tracking economic indicators makes USD professor much sought-after resource

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Dr. Alan Gin's Index of Leading Economic Indicators, a monthly report on the local economy that has made Gin the most recognized economist in San Diego, is missing.

Alan Gin

It's been nine months since the index was last published. State budget cuts have prevented timely release of monthly claims for unemployment insurance, a leading indicator of hiring in San Diego. It is one of six indicators Gin tracks.

Rather than release a partial index, Gin has withheld it, preferring to issue a complete picture of San Diego's economy.

That decision speaks to Gin's personality; although the index has defined his role in the community, it does not define him.

Gin, 47, is a tenured economics professor at the University of San Diego and oldest of five children to Chinese immigrants who did not finish high school. He has dedicated his professional life to his students, the shaping of university curriculum, and applied research on the local economy. The latter component -- while it has made him a respected commentator on San Diego's economy -- is unlikely to earn him scholarly recognition.

"I thought (the index) would be something we would release monthly and maybe we would have an annual forecasting type of event and maybe that would bring the attention," Gin said. "I didn't know then that people from the media would contact me about other issues like gas prices."

Gin is the de facto authority on the San Diego economy. He's been quoted in every major U.S. newspaper and interviewed on every local network television station.

He's become a prominent public speaker invited to participate at economic symposiums and on real estate panels. Gin's done so much speaking that a stuttering problem he developed as a child has noticeably lessoned in recent years.

Gin's popularity stems from his specialty: urban economics or the effects of government planning and community development on local economies. His entire professional career has been spent in either academia or government. Prior to joining USD in 1988, Gin taught at Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Santa Barbara. Before that he worked in community development for the county of Fresno and public works for the city of Oxnard.

Gin didn't adopt economics as his college major until his sophomore year at California Poly Technical State University, San Luis Opisbo. He found he didn't like his first major, computer science, and a close friend's father was an economist. Gin earned a master's and doctorate in economics from UCSB.

Gin was born in San Luis Obispo to immigrants from South China. He learned English from his cousins in a family that relied on extended relatives to adapt the children to a new country. Gin's parents worked in a restaurant their entire lives, he said.

Gin earned tenure at USD in 1995. He has served on the curriculum committee for the college of business intermittently for 13 years. Last year, the graduate students named him the college's top professor.

In recent years, Gin has led a three-week university summer study course in China. Gin takes USD business students through parts of China and invites prominent businessmen to speak to them.

"I did a lot of traveling through places like Hong Kong and I developed an interest in the area," Gin said. "It's important economically in terms of international business. Global business has become a lot more important than ever before."

Gin's wife was formerly of Hong Kong and the two flew back and forth several times a year early in the marriage. She moved to San Diego two years ago. They married in 1997 and have two children.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators is an important snapshot of San Diego's economic picture because the region does not have a more relevant source of information. The nearest Federal Reserve Bank is in San Francisco and the Department of Commerce computes regional data such as the consumer price index and monthly retail sales for San Diego only twice a year.

Moreover, Gin's index tracks the most relevant of economics indicators. So-called leading indicators are economic factors that change before the economy shows a trend. The other indicators are lagging, which change after the economy has developed a trend, and coincident, which indicates the current state of the economy.

"We keep track of (Gin's index) every month," said Kelly Cunningham, economic adviser to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. "It's not all encompassing, but it's one measure of the economy that indicates what's happening and you have to pay attention to it."

Gin created the index in 1991 after attending a conference featuring forecasters from Chapman University. The Orange County-based school developed a regional index a decade earlier.

He thought the index would create some recognition for USD. He never expected to become so popular.

"I didn't set out to become an expert that people come to," Gin said. "But, I'm happy with it."

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