The Interview: Dr. Semoon Chang

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Officials say Mobile has become a recognizable point on international maps with the arrival of companies like Airbus and Austal. Economic data and information to help sell the Port City to major companies has been prepared over the years by Dr. Semoon Chang. The career economist recently shared about industrial recruiting, his journey from war torn Korea and “helping” businesses.

“I prepared my dissertation at Florida State University; that was about economic development of undeveloped countries. When I came to the University of South Alabama, I threw away everything, I started tackling and studying practical problems and worked with businesses,” Dr. Chang shared.

Dr. Chang’s career as an economics professor started more than 40-years ago at USA. Since 1971, Dr. Chang has worked with businesses here on the Gulf Coast and statewide. He decided to become an economist while a student in Korea.

“In Korea, you had to declare your major at the time you are admitted. There are two good social science fields that are very popular, I selected economics without even knowing what economics is all about,” remembered Dr. Chang.

He did, however, know the importance of a college education.

“All my brothers and sisters, we were really stressed education, that’s the number one thing. My parents, the number one thing in the mind of my parents was educating their children. We did our best, to get the best education,” reflected Dr. Chang.

Times were tough in post-war Korea. Chang became a student soldier. He volunteered for mandatory army service before being drafted.

“I served as a student soldier for one and half years, I served in the demilitarized zone (dmz) in the reconnaissance company, real tough.  And,

I tried to be independent, tried to be tough, and I learned from that,” said Dr. Chang.

Chang graduated from what he calls top notch schools like Seoul National University in Korea. However, many of his friends encouraged him to go to the USA.

“A lot of my friends came here at the time and many of them are doctors; many of them are professors.   Southern Illinois University, I selected that school because they had the lowest attrition. I didn’t have a scholarship; it was really tough. The total amount of money I had was $300. That paid for tuition.  Then I made all A’s and one B, and after the summer, they gave me a scholarship. So, from then on I studied on scholarships,” remembered Chang.

He also attended Washington University in St. Louis and completed his doctorate at Florida State.    Another friend told the “now” Dr. Chang about a “young” South Alabama.

“I had a friend there teaching at South and he called me, he said, ‘Semoon. why don’t you come over?  I liked it; and the longer I stayed, the more I liked it. I really liked it, and I became part of the community here in Mobile,” shared Dr. Chang.

USA celebrated 50-years in 2013. Dr. Chang’s career has spanned more than 40-years at the University.

“I grew with the university. I was part of the growth and I published articles in national journals, and I taught students, and I helped businesses. I was growing together with the university. The Center for Business and Economic Research, that really opened the door completely for me to help local businesses. I worked with the local chamber of commerce people for many years. I helped some attorneys, big businesses and small businesses. I helped Thyssenkrupp, Austal, Hargrove Engineering and Volkert Associates,” stated Dr. Chang.

Dr. Chang helps businesses through economic impact and  market feasibility studies.   And, economic forecasts, information that helps attract international interest.

“Something we are doing real well in Alabama that’s industrial recruiting.  We’re as competitive as anybody in the country that’s how we attracted a Thyssenkrupp, Austal, Airbus and Mitsubishi and all those foreign companies. The greatest contribution they are making is a perception of Mobile to outsiders.  I’ve heard many Koreans say that, hey I want to go to Alabama and how can I go.  Now we have a Hyundai and Kia,” said Dr. Chang.

Although retired from U-S-A since 2012, Dr. Chang is still a business resource.

“I see a good future for Mobile, but there’s a lot of work to do. There are a lot of small things and bigger things we have to do. The quality of life of average people it’s not really matching that recruitment of top level industries, I think we really have to improve that one. Life can be better without spending money.   Rather than retired I say, I’ve changed my job to the Gulf Coast Center for Impact Studies. I really enjoy helping businesses and I continue to enjoy that, because it’s not just a classroom teaching. When you help businesses you see some tangible outcome there. I always look forward, I never look backward,” stated Dr. Chang.

Dr. Chang who has published 6-books and numerous articles, also spends his time as a columnist for the daily Korea Times newspaper. He’s a select panelist for a worldwide economic survey, and he still lectures at universities. Another change that he believes would improve our quality of life is a metro government. Dr. Chang said the merger of Mobile and Mobile County into one municipal entity like Jacksonville, Florida, would allow development and progress to happen faster, and waste less money.

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