After 50 years of analyzing South Dakota’s economy, Brown retires from state council

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capital Generic

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Ralph Brown gave one of his final forecasts Thursday to the South Dakota Council of Economic Advisors.

The governor proclaimed May 21 as Dr. Ralph Brown Day. State finance commissioner Liza Clark read the message to the professor emeritus of economics, who spent nearly all of his professional career as a faculty member at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

This marks 50 years he’s served in one role or another interacting with state government.

State Revenue Secretary Jim Terwilliger, a former student at USD, recalled Brown’s “huge part” in his career since Terwilliger began in state government in 2006.

“You helped us through the great recession and worked a lot with us on the (bond) rating agencies,” Terwilliger said.

Said Brown: “Sorry to be leaving in the midst of another crisis, but I’ll be watching from the sidelines.”

Brown has served during the administrations of eight different governors, starting with Democrat Dick Kneip in 1971 through Republican Kristi Noem now, and developed the first econometric model for South Dakota in 1976. He’s advised the economic council since its founding in 1991. He’s also been chairman of the South Dakota Investment Council.

State economist Mark Quasney said a challenge coin from Governor Noem would be mailed to him.

State investment officer Matt Clark recalled meeting Brown in 1982. A year later, Brown wrote a letter of recommendation that led to Clark’s hiring in the state investment office.

Council member Steve Zellmer, who once ran the state Bureau of Finance and Management, relayed a compliment that Dale Clement, a former dean at the USD business school, said about Brown. Clement said Brown was the best hire he ever made.

Thursday’s meeting was held by teleconference because of COVID-19. That didn’t bother Brown.

“I don’t care to get in a small airplane anymore and fly around like we used to,” Brown said.

State Representative Ray Ring, a Vermillion Democrat, offered these thoughts about his fellow faculty member when they both taught at USD.

“Ralph Brown was certainly one of the most productive — maybe the most productive — economists in South Dakota throughout his career,” Ring wrote in an email to KELOLAND News.

“In his early years at Northern State, he and some students constructed the first econometric model of South Dakota’s economy at a time when only a few states had an econometric model. He regularly consulted with various parts of state government, especially legislative and executive branches, including consulting with tax study commissions, helping prepare revenue estimates, regularly updating the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, and a term on the South Dakota Investment Council. An impressive command of national and state data and statistical analysis skills provided support and credibility to all his work. 

“Professor Brown was a well-respected, integral part of the University of South Dakota. A highly-respected teacher, he taught a regular load of economics courses. In addition he taught Honors Seminars and at least one course in the Law School. He also served frequently on committees, especially Honors Thesis committees and Masters Thesis committees, and consulted with university administrators. He wrote multiple articles for the South Dakota Business Review, before its demise, providing an in-depth understanding of governmental and business topics.

“Doctor Brown also provided high-level consulting to the private sector, especially as an expert witness. On a more personal level, Doctor Brown introduced me to USD’s computer system when I first came here, in the days of mainframes and punch cards. He was always ready and willing to help, give useful advice, or point at a data source I needed. We worked together on several projects for state government and he was always cooperative and well organized.

“I hope we can still call on his expertise as needed,” Ring concluded.

Earlier in the week, BFM’s Quasney explained in an email that Brown was stepping aside after a half-century of service. He said Brown notified the Noem administration after the council’s January meeting that he would be retiring at the end of this year.

“He has served as a trusted advisor to the Council of Economic Advisors for nearly 30 years, helped to build and maintain the econometric model used to forecast general fund revenues, supported our efforts to attain AAA credit rating and countless other efforts,” Quasney wrote. “We will miss his expertise and experience but  he has definitely earned this retirement. He leaves us with big shoes to fill and BFM is still working on how to best replace Doctor Brown.”


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