New faculty profile: Dustin Frye explores community development, including impact of federal policies on Native American reservations

Dustin Frye joined the UW–Madison faculty in July 2023 as an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

For more of an in-depth look at one of Frye’s research projects, view this recent AAE article about his work exploring property rights, land use and economic development.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
Miles City, Montana.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Montana, where I majored in mathematics and economics. I completed my PhD at the University of Colorado, Boulder, focusing on urban economics and economic history. My first faculty position was at Vassar College.

How did you get into your field of research?
I’ve always been interested in why some communities grow, while others decline. My coursework in graduate school helped focus my interests to try and understand how infrastructure and policy shape those trends over long time horizons. 

What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs?
My current work focuses on two separate areas related to community development over long time horizons. The first explores the ways that transportation networks reshape communities and promote growth. The second examines the legacy of federal policy on American Indian reservations and ways that historical policy decisions have inhibited development.

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first visit was over a beautiful week in October. Every day featured research conversations while walking along the lake.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I try to highlight the fact that economics is a very broad discipline and the analytical skills we focus on in my courses can be applied to answer a wide variety of questions.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Absolutely, the core of my work focuses on ways to improve local economic conditions. I study the past and present growth for communities across the US and many of the lessons from my work can be applied to communities and tribal nations within Wisconsin.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
We were incredibly fortunate during the pandemic. Our kids were very young at the onset and we made the most out of spending time with them. I feel like we’re much closer as a family than we would have been without that time together.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
On American Indian reservations, just because you’re the owner of a parcel of land doesn’t mean you can actually sell the land or use the land as collateral for a bank loan. This limitation on the transferability of property has large detrimental effects for development.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
 I grew up playing tennis and golf and still like to get out and play when I can.