A forum to exchange knowledge and expertise between academia, business and government for 58 years and counting

The Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference is a non-profit organization established in 1966 to promote research and education on the economy of the Northwest states and western Canada.
Map of regions monitored for the Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference

Conference Objectives

Present a program of professional papers, panels and symposia that relate to regional economics.

Enable distinguished regional scientists and policy analysts from elsewhere to play a featured role at the conference.

Provide a forum for those from academia, business, and government to meet and interact professionally.

Introduce and share current regional economic research with students, business and community leaders.

History of PNREC

Readers of this history of PNREC will recognize that it shares many of the same issues and challenges as the National and Canadian Associations for Business Economics (NABE and CABE) and the regional/provincial associations across the country, and the economics profession itself.

The idea of a Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference came to Charles Tiebout, the noted and highly respected Professor of Urban and Regional Economics at the University of Washington, in 1966[1]. He had observed that economic organizations in other parts of the U.S. — the New England Council, for example, and the Southern Economic Association — were undertaking studies that turned the spotlight on their regional economies. These suggested additional reports, possible policy responses, and in any case governmental grants, both to research the problems further and to propose remedies. Professor Tiebout thought that the Pacific Northwest, which is (along with New England) one of the very few readily identifiable regions in the U.S., should also initiate an organization, forum, or publication that examined its economy, discovered problem areas, and suggested remedial action. He believed that, to start with, regional economists should meet informally, get to know each other, discuss each other’s research, and at the same time, welcome experts from outside of the region whom they would otherwise not get to see.

To this end, Tiebout asked business and government economists and academic colleagues concerned with the regional economy to organize a start-up conference at the University of Washington in early May of 1967. He then applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help underwrite the project. The grant was readily approved, but the Conference site had to be shifted. State regulations at the time required the University of Washington to contribute all of its income (e.g., from federal grants, registration fees, and incidental revenue) to the State’s General Fund, and to limit its expenditures to items specifically approved by the State Legislature in the regular biennial state budget. Lewis and Clark College, a private liberal arts college in Portland that was not bound by such rigidities, was willing to stage the conference. Because of the conference’s prospective size, it had to be relocated to the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland.

Thus, PNREC came into being. The inaugural Conference lasted two days; it was a great success. Supported by the generous federal grant, it invited economists from outside the region such as Dr. Charles Levin of Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Anthony Pascal of the RAND Corporation, and Dr. Benjamin Chinitz from Brandeis University. It was able to waive the registration fee for regional economists still in graduate school, and to offer travel grants to registrants from distant places in the Pacific Northwest. To Professor Tiebout’s special delight, it was even able to sponsor a lively cocktail party on Friday evening. The program covered many topics, though it concentrated on the theory and practice of building input-output models that were then under construction in most states of the region. At the end, everyone agreed that a second such conference should be convened a year later.

Conference II, held in Seattle in early May 1968, fared less well. The mushrooming war in Vietnam had caused severe inflationary pressures, and EDA came under strong political and budgetary pressure. Applying for another conference grant was out of the question; the Conference would have to finance itself largely from registration fees, although a number of business firms agreed to cover any deficit it might incur. In February 1968, Professor Tiebout suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack. The steering committee thus was robbed of its most prestigious, most imaginative, and most dynamic leader. But plans were so far advanced that the Conference, widely regarded as a final tribute to Professor Tiebout, did take place.

The history above was written by Gus Mattersdorff, Chris Lawless and Patrick Balducci. Gus Mattersdorff, who passed away in 2012, was a past-executive secretary and director of PNREC and professor emeritus of economics, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon. Chris Lawless is a current PNREC director and Vice President, CABE director and past-president and chief economist, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, Victoria, BC. Patrick Balducci is the current PNREC President and a Chief Economist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Current and Future Challenges

As PNREC looks to the future, it shares a number of challenges with CABE and its regional chapters. In no particular order of importance, these include:

The Volunteer Spirit

PNREC relies on a new group of volunteers to organize the annual conference in a different city each year. With about 10 preferred locations for the conference in the region, and the conference returning frequently every four or five years to major centres such as Seattle and Portland, fatigue can set in among local organizing committees. Of course, this sharply boost conference costs and fees.

Contact Us to Volunteer

Affordability and Fund Raising

PNREC has had a policy of keeping registration fees low, recently in the $375 U.S. range for the two-day conference. This adds fund-raising and seeking corporate sponsorships of speakers, meals and coffee breaks to the tasks of each local organizing committee. As a result, some board members have been concerned that this could compromise the conference’s integrity. To the credit of PNREC’s corporate sponsors, few have never demanded much, other than deserved recognition for their generosity. PNREC recognizes support through placement of corporate logos on the program and banners in the conference rooms and acknowledgements at plenary sessions.

View Our Sponsors

Keeping the Momentum Going Between Conferences

PNREC’s raison d'être is to put on an annual conference. Participants are widely scattered around the region, with few opportunities to network between conferences. This has led to debate on the next question...

Should PNREC be a Membership Organization?

The PNREC board debated this issue and decided against it in 2000. Most thought that it would add additional complexity and require additional volunteer efforts to organize and manage.

State/Provincial Budget Cycles Affect Attendance

Throughout its history, PNREC attendance from its key audience of academics and bureaucrats has ebbed when economies have turned down and budgets have been tightened.

Making PNREC Relevant

As in Canada, the economics department in private sector U.S. firms is fast disappearing. They were once key participants in the conference and their firms were often generous financial and in-kind supporters. PNREC faces the challenge of finding de facto economics practitioners in corporate finance, strategy, marketing and planning departments and convincing them it has something relevant to offer.

The Virtual World

The Internet's explosion in the mid-1990s has made huge amounts of information available at people’s fingertips. As a result, many question the value of conference’s when presentations and speeches can be downloaded to tiny, portable electronic devices and be browsed at one’s convenience. This has no doubt put downward pressure on conference attendance. The reason people still attend conferences is that there still no substitute for face-to-face interaction and discussion.

Canadian Participation

PNREC has made many efforts to attract Canadian delegates and speakers, with Gus Mattersdorff offering strong support over the years. Despite his and others’ efforts, this has had limited success other than when the conference has been held in Canada. Of course, as in the case of private sector economists, there is a chicken-and-egg element to this, as Canadians are only attracted when there is sufficient content to interest them.

Student Participation

PNREC has long sought to attract student delegates, offering low student registration fees and encouraging academics to publicize the conference to their students.