SoBA Students Use Big Data and Business Skills to Aid Libby Rebranding

Libby, Montana

James Fay and David Brewer are both graduating seniors in MIS.  When it came time to select a project for the capstone course Strategic Venture Management, taught by Prof. Bambi Douma, they both chose the data analytics team as part of the Libby Branding Project.

Fay, Brewer and other SoBA business students worked with Partners Creative, a local marketing and public relations firm, on a project to help the town of Libby rebrand itself as a desirable place to live.

After decades of prosperous mining, toxic asbestos was finally uncovered in Libby’s vermiculite mines in the early 2000s. The town was subsequently listed as a Superfund site.  Hundreds of people in the community lost their jobs, and since then Libby has lacked a clear economic identity.

The data analytics team gathered large amounts of data about Libby and brainstormed the best ways to analyze it and present results. Mentored by John Chandler, who teaches courses in big data and marketing analytics for SoBA, they conducted a similarity analysis of Libby using a data set that included over every zip code in the U.S. 

“So, picture a spreadsheet with 38,000 rows and 398 columns. The total is over 15 million cells and is much too large for analysis in Excel,” Fay and Brewer explained.  For this the data analytics team used R, a powerful statistical analysis tool for big data.

The data analytics team determined which communities in the U.S. were similar to Libby based on an important combination of variables.  EPA data was also used to determine if any similar communities had faced problems with toxic waste cleanup and if their strategies that could be applied to Libby.

Fay and Brewer’s team also participated in the brand experience audit by contacting local real estate companies and interviewing Realtors.  

By the end of their role in the project, Brewer and Fay had participated in brainstorming sessions, complex data analysis, professional presentations, market research in the field, radio and newspaper interviews and project management.  

“This was the most difficult and most interesting project in all my undergraduate work at the UM,” said Brewer.  “This pulled from my background in marketing while leveraging the education I received in MIS with the Big Data Certificate.”  

“Business classes at SoBA prepared us well for most aspects of the project, such as doing professional presentations and writing powerful documents,” Fay affirmed.  “Working as a representative of a public institution in partnership with a public relations firm as a professional data analytics consulting team was a highlight of my education.”