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Known primarily for his extension work, Walden (shown here at a radio broadcast) also teaches and does research. (Photo by Sheri D. Thomas)

















'College Profile': "You decide," says Mike Walden, as he challenges the public to think about economics issues. --- By Dave Caldwell
"I like...reaching a large number of people. That's probably the Extension person in me." (Photo of Mike Walden by Sheri D. Thomas)

ornate letter M ike Walden was impressed by the faculty in what was then the Department of Economics and Business when he interviewed for a job more than 25 years ago.

But other factors also played a role in persuading Walden, now a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, to join the North Carolina State University faculty.

There was, for example, the weather. Walden was about to earn a doctorate in consumer economics from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, when he interviewed in 1978.

“ I came down here in February,” Walden recalls. “It was about 70 degrees. I had left several inches of snow in Ithaca. I thought, this is different.”

And there was romance. It seems a young woman whose acquaintance Walden had made in New York had recently taken a job teaching in Virginia. The young economist quickly determined that North Carolina was considerably closer to Virginia and his future bride than New York.

From such stuff – weather and romance – are careers made.

Walden has focused on consumer economics throughout his career, and his knack for explaining economic issues in a way people without advanced degrees in the science can understand has made him perhaps the College’s best known faculty member.

For much of his career, Walden has been talking about economic issues on radio or television or writing about economics for newspapers, in addition to teaching and research. He has become known as an articulate spokesman and, as a result, is sought out by the press for comment on economic issues. He estimates he averages two to three requests a week for an interview or comment on some economic topic.

“ It’s something you get more comfortable with the more you do it,” he says. “I view it as a very efficient way of reaching a lot of people.”

Walden says his job has evolved, and he has broadened his focus to include what he calls public policy economics such as developing economic outlooks and calculating the size and value of the agricultural sector of North Carolina’s economy. But there are constants that have remained throughout his career.

Early on, for example, Walden began producing a weekly radio program on economic issues. He doesn’t remember exactly when he started producing Economic Perspective, although he thinks it was 1979 or 1980, nor is he sure whose idea it was originally. Reese Edwards, a radio editor who has since retired in what was then the Department of Agricultural Communications, would interview Walden and record the interview. The taped interviews were then sent to radio stations across the state.

Walden says a number of extension specialists produced similar radio shows on various topics at the time. A few years later, Edwards suggested a similar daily one-minute radio spot. It’s called Economic Focus.

Walden is still doing both Economic Focus and Economic Perspective. He doesn’t record every day. A number of Economic Focus spots are recorded at a single sitting, then supplied to radio stations over time. Walden’s not sure how many of the one-minute spots he’s done, but he’s kept track of Economic Perspective. He’s done 1,280.

In 1994, he started writing a column for newspapers on economic topics. Called “You Decide,” it’s sent to newspapers throughout the state every two weeks. He also appears on a call-in radio show on WPTF radio in Raleigh once a month.

Of the media work, he says, “It forces me to keep current. I try to listen to what people are concerned about and know what the economic issues are.” He keeps a list of topics to discuss or write about and says he never has trouble coming up with an idea.

“ The economy’s always there, and people are always interested in the economy,” he says.

He says consumer economics appeals to him because of its applied nature. “All consumer economics is, is taking economic principles and applying them to household decisions.”

He likes the extension aspect of his job because it exposes him to the issues that concern people in everyday life. “I’ve always been interested in human interaction,” he says.

But extension work is only part of Walden’s job. He has what at one time was a rare and is still an unusual three-way extension, teaching and research appointment. It’s been that way through most of his career, and while a number of faculty members have such appointments today, Walden says that in the early part of his career he was the only person in the College to have one.

Every semester he teaches ARE 201, Introduction to Agricultural and Resource Economics. The class typically numbers 90 to 100 students, a size he likes.

“ I like the big class; that’s probably the extension person in me,” he says. “You like reaching a large number of people.”

His research has focused on topics such as the housing market and the economics of home buying, regulatory issues in the housing market, insurance pricing and the investment market. He has also published three books, including a textbook titled “Economics and Consumer Decisions” and is working on a fourth.

Walden seems to have an unusually full plate, but he finds his many activities fulfilling.

“ I have to say,” he declares, looking back over a quarter century, “this job has turned out to be much better than I ever thought.”

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