Alejandro Gutierrez-Li, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, was recently selected as a member of the second cohort of NC State Impact Scholars. He was competitively chosen as one of 15 participants (out of nearly eighty faculty applicants) from all the colleges at NC State that demonstrated exemplary qualifications. The Impact Scholars form an interdisciplinary group called STIR, which stands for Strengthening the Impact of Research. The STIR program supports faculty research used to understand and affect society.
My work at NC State has focused on developing a new and very much needed research and extension program related to agricultural labor. I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to work on topics that I feel passionate about, and that are also of great interest and importance for the nation. I study questions related to hiring, training, managing, and retaining agricultural workers, the role of immigration policies in the availability of foreign workers, the costs and benefits of adopting labor-saving technologies, the impact of extreme weather conditions like droughts and heat waves on labor costs, reasons behind the decline in the number of farmworkers over time, elements affecting migration from Mexico to the U.S., and factors influencing farmworkers’ willingness to stay in agriculture, to name a few. -Gutierrez-Li
Gutierrez-Li is an agricultural labor expert and as an Impact Scholar he will have more opportunities to conduct relevant and timely research. North Carolina has a diverse agricultural and agribusiness industry that is highly dependent on labor, accounting for around a fifth of the state’s employees. Agriculture and agribusinesses combined are the leading economic sectors in the state, where more than 150 different commodities are produced.
In North Carolina, the production of several labor-intensive crops and meat processing operations demand high amounts of agricultural workers with different skills. The state’s main agricultural industries (sweetpotatoes, Christmas trees, tobacco, poultry and fruit) are very labor-intensive and are facing labor shortages and other challenges that put growers’ livelihoods, the economies of rural communities and the food security of the country at risk. Likewise, most farmworkers in the United States are Hispanics, the fastest-growing population in North Carolina. Changes to the labor market opportunities of an underserved group like Hispanics and Latinos also affect the demographics of the state and the strength of its economy.
Gutierrez-Li joined NC State in the Fall of 2020 after completing his Ph.D. in Economics at Washington University in St. Louis. Alejandro has a unique ability to talk with farmers and farmworkers alike. His academic training and research as a labor economist allow him to understand the challenges that farmers face to get labor. At the same time, he can communicate with farmworkers, to get a complete picture of the needs of the sector. Alejandro has a first-hand understanding of the phenomenon of migration and agricultural labor by virtue of having lived in both Central America and Mexico (the primary regions of origin of most farmworkers), as well as for being fluent in both English and Spanish.