A young man from Fayetteville, West Virginia, embarked on the path to be a veterinarian, but somewhere along the way he found an affinity for local and regional economic forecasting and policy analysis.
“I originally had my eye on becoming a veterinarian. My first degree was in animal and veterinary sciences from the ag school here. I got a little burned out on the hard sciences, so I did a little searching around. I enjoyed one of the courses I had in agricultural economics, so I added a second degree as an undergraduate in that. Going on in time, I did some assistantship work,” Lego said. “Finally, getting the job with Economy.com, their main task is forecasting analysis for small areas, for regions, for states and counties. Really, it built from there. I got assigned tasks to do regional forecasts. With more and more experience, more and more interest developed, and I got pretty good at it, I think.”
Lego joined the Bureau in 2012, but prior to that, he set the stage for his life as an economist working in Philadelphia and then Washington, D.C. for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). But after spending nearly a decade in D.C., he knew it was time to get back to his roots in West Virginia and venture back into academia.
“It was time for a transition. I grew a little tired of Washington. The commute was abysmal. I searched for jobs in Fairfax County, but nothing struck a nerve, so when I saw a position had opened up in the Bureau, I thought that could only be a good thing to make an attempt to get back to West Virginia, to get closer to home,” he said. “Both my wife and I are originally from the state, so it gave us both the chance to be closer to our respective families. That was a big selling point to get back.”
With the groundwork set, Lego has made strides ahead at the Bureau, offering the state, the legislature and the media a big picture analysis, as well as an in-depth look into the West Virginia economy. He plays large roles in both the monthly Mountain State Business Index (MSBI) and the annual Economic Outlook.
As West Virginia finds itself in a period of economic recovery, the MSBI garners a lot of attention, which discusses economic conditions of the state in the short term.
“I look at it as more of a synthesis of a lot of information. Often times you will look at news reports of a lot of economic data. When one thing comes out, it can conflict with another piece of information,” Lego said. “So, the whole idea for these types of indicators is to pull the relevant ones together that you can get on a frequent enough basis and try to combine into one number that really provides you a good test of where the state’s economy is over the very short term. That’s what we are really concerned about – the next couple quarters.”
“You want to know if the economy is going to maintain its course or if there are flashing signs of danger ahead for a recession or, in the case we’re in now, where we are transitioning off of a recession,” he said. “We have hit a turning point and things are appearing to stabilize and show broader improvements. We want to provide a more rigorous piece of information rather than just trying to look at one data point in isolation.”
The Economic Outlook is another piece of important work that captures a lot of Lego’s focus with many moving parts, including data management, providing economic models, regional economic conferences throughout the state and writing reports as an output.
But another large portion of his work is dedicated to impact and policy reports for the state legislature or government agencies. Currently, he is knee-deep in a grant for the Appalachia Regional Commission about the coal ecosystems in the Appalachian Region in collaboration with the WVU Regional Research Institute and researchers at the University of Tennessee.
“Essentially, we are at looking at the upstream and downstream impacts of the decline in the coal industry and how it’s affecting not just the towns where the mines are, but the changes in fuels that power plants are using – the transition to natural gas,” he said. “This is going to have impacts all the way up and down the supply chain, not just the power plant and the coal mine, but also the rails and the barges. It will affect a lot of different communities in a lot of different ways.”