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story.lead_photo.caption Mervin Jebaraj

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mervin Jebaraj has been named director of a business research center at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville at a time of relative economic growth for the state.

But Jebaraj, 32, said there are areas that still are hurting. A long-term goal for UA's Center for Business and Economic Research will be to provide analysis and reports tailored to the needs of those not experiencing growth like Northwest Arkansas, he said.

"We can more proactively work with communities across the state, especially in communities that haven't done as well economically," Jebaraj said.

He takes over Jan. 1 as director of the center after serving as interim leader since April.

Jebaraj, a citizen of India who grew up in Dubai, first arrived in Fayetteville on a student visa.

As an undergraduate, he arrived at UA focused on studying international relations. He said he took an economics course and "realized that I liked economics a whole lot, as much as I did international relations."

Jebaraj, now a U.S. citizen, said he views economics as a set of tools to help with development.

"I'm thinking broad-based economic development, that raises the standard of living for the majority of people in a region or an area," Jebaraj said. Results from such development include "higher incomes, better schooling, better health outcomes," he said.

Jebaraj earned a bachelor's degree in economics and international relations from UA in 2007, the same year he started working at the economics research center.

"This was exactly the kind of work that I was interested in doing," he said.

The center, a part of UA's Sam M. Walton College of Business, dates back to 1943, according to the university. It provides frequent reports on economic conditions in the region and state, working with clients that include the Northwest Arkansas Council, a nonprofit group that has worked to improve regional infrastructure and elevate workforce skills.

Jebaraj earned a master's of public administration degree from UA in 2011 and served as the center's assistant director before stepping in after the departure of Kathy Deck, the center's previous director. Deck and her husband, Cary, formerly a UA economics professor, accepted jobs with the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

Jebaraj was named director after a national search. He will earn a yearly salary of $85,000 in his new role; he earned $71,000 as interim director, according to UA. Deck earned $99,099 at the time she left the center.

Arkansas recently ranked 14th among all states when it comes to percentage increases in gross domestic product for the second quarter of this year, with GDP increasing by 3.5 percent, according to the data made available in November by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The state's GDP was $126.6 billion, about 0.7 percent of the nation's total GDP.

"Most of the state is doing a whole lot better, especially in the last few years, as the national economy continues to grow," Jebaraj said. For areas looking for help, Jebaraj said the center's work might involve studies on job training or "how to match the natural resources and skills of a certain region with economic opportunities."

He noted the potential for more tourism in a state with "pristine land and natural features."

"I think there's a lot more opportunity there if we are willing to invest a little more, especially in the more rural parts of the state," Jebaraj said.

Metro on 12/15/2017

Print Headline: UA picks fill-in for director's job at business hub

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