Gregg Davis isn’t new to Kalispell. He’s just been honing his skills down in Missoula for four years.
Davis, returning to Flathead Valley Community College from his time as a research economist at the University of Montana, has become an authority on the impact of health care in local economies.
But Davis wasn’t made for think tanks.
“It was fun, there were interesting projects,” he said. “But I missed the spontaneity of the classroom. It was too regimented for me.”
Davis comes back to Kalispell not only as an economics professor, but as the head of the new Center for Business and Economic Research. Much like his professorships at Marshall University and University of Louisiana-Monroe, he will use the center to study local business and economic issues.
When not proposing solutions to fix the world of business, he will teach basic economic classes to FVCC students, an opportunity that he relishes.
“I’m a one-man show in the classroom,” he said. “The good students here can compete with good students anywhere.”
A towering man, Davis is aware his influence could sway how students look at economics. He had professors who imposed economic viewpoints and knows most college students have as well.
“I have my own bias, yes, but I let students make up their own minds about things,” he said. “Our role is to teach students the different doctrines of economics. Can the free market solve these problems? The reality is you can’t be completely right or left, so I teach it as a kind of polarization.”
One of Davis’ crowning achievements was the study he did on Medicare and uncompensated health care while in Missoula. His findings dealt with the massive costs of prison populations and other uncompensated health care. Montana’s health-care industry gives away $400 million in uncompensated care each year.
“Health care is always going to be a big issue,” he said. “Economics reveals that nothing is hidden. Everything has a cost. The hospital has to recover those costs somehow. It is shifted to the taxpayer.”
Davis wouldn’t say one way or another what he thought of the federal Affordable Care Act , but did say it was interesting.
Even more interesting to him was the state of the economy in the Flathead.
“We are maintaining the path to recovery,” Davis said. “The Flathead Valley was the epicenter of the recession. Other economies were barely touched.”
His excitement for economics wasn’t always so fervent.
As a young man in his first professional job, things were bumpy at first.
“When I was first hired as an economist I was so lost,” he said. “I almost went home that first day in tears. I just thought to myself, ‘Where do I begin?””
As an undergraduate, he “went through the alphabet” of majors before landing in economics. Forestry, sociology, psychology, anthropology and geology were all sciences at which he tried his hand.
He’s a little more confident now, although he understands for some students economics is not high on their favorite general education course list.
“I’ve always compared myself to a dentist,” Davis said. “You need to go, but nobody wants to. It’s tough to teach that way. My goal is to make it interesting enough that people want to come.”
A down-to-earth professor, Davis lacks some of the snobbishness that can afflict professionals in his field. He believes pop-culture economic books such as “Freakonomics” and Malcolm Gladwell’s work make his science more accessible to the masses.
“I think they’ve done wonders for the field,” he said. “If you can make it relevant, you have succeeded. When I first read [“Freakonomics”] I wished I had written it. People read that book that don’t know how to spell economics. That’s mass appeal.”
Davis, an avid hiker, cross-country skier and flatwater kayaker, is excited to be back in this outdoors wonderland, but what he really looks forward to is being back in the classroom.
“The collegiality at FVCC is wonderful,” he said, as his interview was interrupted several times by colleagues who remembered him from his first stint. “It’s going to be fun to be back in the Flathead.”
Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.