Dealergate: UNA Economics Students Present Research at National Conference #myUNA

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Dealergate: UNA Economics Students Present Research at National Conference

Feb. 26, 2010

FLORENCE, Ala. – After announcing their research on the economic vs. political motives behind last year’s 789 Chrysler dealership closings, a team of University of North Alabama economics students and faculty made headlines in a host of national media, including a live appearance on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends.” In the months since, the team has refined and further developed their original investigation, which has been submitted and accepted for presentation at April’s annual Society of Business, Industry and Economics conference in Destin, Fla.

The student team presenting the research includes seniors Alex Yugo Hirai, of Sao Paulo, Brazil; Lauren McCullough, of Tuscumbia; Dylan Michael, of Tuscumbia; and Kumar Ujjwal, of Florence. UNA economics professors Dr. Jim Couch and Dr. Keith Malone have assisted them in their research.

The research began last summer, in the wake of the controversial Chrysler dealership closings, when reports suggested that dealerships with political ties to the Democratic Party escaped closure. “For example,” Couch said, “McLarty-Landers dealerships survived. Mack McLarty, one of the owners, was an aide to former President Bill Clinton. Accusations spread that dealerships owned by individuals with ties to the Republican Party were being targeted for closure.”

In their research, the students found that, while dealers selling the full line of Chrysler products were more likely to remain open, the unemployment rates around the dealerships and the saturation of Chrysler dealerships in a particular location were not closely linked to the decision to close.

In addition, they found that, as the percentage of a county’s vote for Obama increased, the likelihood of a dealership’s closure decreased substantially. Likewise, states that supported Obama saw a smaller percentage of their dealerships terminated.

“While Obama vigorously denied the charges, the evidence suggests his hand was in the proverbial cookie jar,” Couch said.

The student research grew from Couch’s summer 2009 economics class, which was studying a statistical technique that allows economists to find relationships between variables and, ultimately, to forecast the future.

“Rather than use manufactured data from their textbooks,” Couch said, “the students wanted to investigate something from the real world, even if it meant more work.”

INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE: For interviews with Couch or other members of the research team, call 256-765-4412 or e-mail