Zack Baker’s early interest in economics as a first-year student coupled with his experience growing up in an economically disadvantaged region of Upstate New York led him to his first job last summer. Having already witnessed the lack of high-paying jobs and high unemployment in his area of the state, he accepted an internship with the Tioga County Industrial Development Agency, a small economic development agency in nearby Owego, N.Y.
Because both the agency and the town are so small, Baker had the opportunity to work on many agency-funded projects, an experience that allowed him to see how economic development programs could benefit a community.
“It was great to see new businesses popping up around town and jobs being created because of the work this tiny agency was doing,” said Baker.
Hometown: Owego, N.Y.
High School: Tioga Central High School
"This internship has allowed me to be a part of an organization that is working to make a difference in communities like my own,” he added.
Through his work in Owego, Baker knew he wanted to explore the business of development further this summer, but on a larger scale than he had previously.
This led him to an internship with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), an organization that uses various grant and loan programs to create jobs, build stronger economies and foster growth in economically disadvantaged communities around the U.S.
At the EDA, Baker, who is interested specifically in data analytics, has been tasked with helping to oversee and analyze data relating to the EDA’s $1 billion revolving loan fund (RLF). Through the RLF, the EDA distributes grants to approximately 500 economic development organizations across the country, which loan the money to local businesses and start-ups.
“We are now living in an age where vast quantities of data are widely available. In order to remain organized and efficient, firms need to use this endless stream of data to their greatest advantage, something they are just now learning to do,” Baker said.
For Baker, a typical day begins by replying to emails from the EDA regional office managers, who often send missing data which he uses to update his spreadsheets. In the following weeks, he hopes to have compiled a full dataset containing financial information on all ~500 RLF grantees.
From this information, Baker, utilizing ArcGIS software, will create an interactive map of all the grantees, data on their financial health, and the lending areas for each. This map will likely be used internally by EDA staff to make later funding decisions, decisions that will, eventually, have a direct impact on the lives and livelihood of thousands of U.S. residents.