Chris Westley’s professional life has been a lot like the field he wound up in – full of unexpected twists and turns.
Having spent his teen years in Naples, he headed to the University of Florida to major in journalism.
“I always enjoyed writing,” he says. “Initially I wanted to be a business journalist. At Gainesville I found that I really liked the theory side of it. I didn’t enjoy writing about other people’s opinions so much.”
So he changed his major to public relations and then turned to economics, earning his master’s at St. Mary’s University and a doctorate at Auburn.
He liked Alabama enough to stay there and teach for 15 years at Jacksonville State University, but always wanted to return to Southwest Florida, his family and friends.
When Gary Jackson, director of Lutgert’s Regional Economic Research Institute announced plans to retire, Westley saw his opportunity to return to the Sunshine State. He began working at FGCU in January 2015, four months before Jackson left.
“It allowed me some time to shadow him and learn what he meant to the community,” Westley says.
He discovered just how big the shoes were that he was going to fill – handling numerous economic studies, teaching classes, appearing at speaking engagements and attending meetings.
Westley hired John Shannon to work as an economic analyst to help tackle the current workload and expand it.
“Our goal is to build upon the really solid foundation that Gary created and help regional business leaders access resources of the institute,” he says.
He’s launched the Economic Almanac of Southwest Florida, an annual publication meant to complement the monthly publication of regional economic data. Due to debut in early 2017, it will contain data on agriculture, school enrollment, charity and nonprofit activity, demographics, environment, health, income, poverty and other markers that measure the region’s economic well-being.
“It’s information that’s important but isn’t released regularly and we wanted to fill that void,” he says. He’s hoping it will help fund the institute’s operation as well through sponsorships he’s selling for each section.
When he isn’t immersed in regional economics, teaching the Principles of Microeconomics or the Moral Foundations of Capitalism, he homeschools his 16- year-old daughter – a job he shares with his wife, who also has a teaching background – enjoys playing Words with Friends on his mobile phone and runs 5ks, which he is trying to stretch into 10ks.
He’s happy to be back in Southwest Florida, although it’s a much larger and more diverse place than when he grew up here. The biggest difference he sees: FGCU.
“When I graduated from high school, you had to have a career somewhere else and then maybe move back if you wanted to. With FGCU here, it’s been a game changer. We are retaining people who traditionally would have left. I attribute that primarily to the influence FGCU has had on this region and that’s a great thing.”