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University drives creation of new research data center in Kansas City

Wed, 10/15/2014

LAWRENCE — A National Science Foundation proposal driven by the University of Kansas has resulted in the creation of a new Kansas City-based Census research data center that will provide researchers access to the nation’s highest-quality data for analysis of the U.S. economy and policy issues.

The Kansas City Research Data Center (RDC) will be located at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City headquarters and provide approved area researchers with secure access to restricted microlevel U.S. Census and health statistics data — the type of data researchers use to examine the economic activity, demographic makeup and health status of individuals in the U.S. economy. Research based on these data can provide a better understanding of the regional and national economy, including analysis of changes that are affecting businesses and households.

Once complete, the new RDC will be one of just 24 centers nationally in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies research data center program. The center is expected to open in fall 2015.

The NSF proposal was headed by Donna Ginther, professor of economics and director of the Center for Science Technology & Economic Policy at the Institute for Policy & Social Research at KU, on behalf of a consortium that includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“The new Kansas City RDC will be a tremendous resource for researchers in Kansas and Missouri who are investigating economic and policy issues,” Ginther said. “Access to Census data will allow researchers to answer macro- and micro-economic questions with the highest-quality data collected by the federal government.”

Because of the data’s confidential nature, the Census Bureau will review and approve requests for access to the RDC. Approved projects must demonstrate scientific merit, pose no risk of disclosure, and researchers are required to protect the confidentiality of the data they access. The RDC will be staffed by a U.S. Census Bureau employee who will be responsible for assisting researchers to gain access to the data.

“Right now, the closest Census RDCs are in Chicago and Minneapolis,” Ginther said. “So having this kind of data right in our own backyard will be a real game-changer for Kansas City-area researchers, who can now get secure access to the highest-quality data without having to travel long distances. A research data center like this opens a lot of doors and makes Kansas City an even better region for researchers and policymakers.”

The new research data center will benefit researchers in various fields, including economics, entrepreneurship, demography, urban and regional development, statistics, health care and public policy. For example, KU researchers are in the process of gaining access to the new center for proposed projects with titles such as “Understanding Health and Employment of Working-Age Adults with Disabilities,” “Demographic and Educational Effects on Lifetime Earnings,” and “The Consequences of State Decision-Making for Health Insurance, Health Outcomes, and Migration.”

“There are a lot of KU researchers at the Lawrence campus and the KU Medical Center who are really excited about having access to this kind of data,” Ginther said. “To be this close to a Census RDC will better enable KU to fulfill its mission of educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world.”

Kansas City Fed vice president and economist Jonathan Willis will serve as co-executive director of the research data center, along with Robert Strom, director of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation.

The decision to locate the center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was based largely on the facility’s security measures and central location. A branch location will also be established at University of Missouri-Columbia in 2015, and another branch could be established at KU in the future.

Ginther will discuss the new RDC and describe research opportunities to KU faculty during her Oct. 17 presentation, “The Kansas City Research Data Center: A Resource for KU Researchers,” which will be at 11:45 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17, at the Adams Alumni Center. Those interested in attending should contact Jena Gunter at the Institute for Policy & Social Research.



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