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The Laboratory began as the Regional Dynamics & Economic Modeling Laboratory at the Strom Thurmond Institute in 2007 under the direction of Dr. Tom Tanner. Dr. Tanner was creator of the Regional Dynamics (REDYN) economic modeling platform, which was the Laboratory’s primary tool for input-output and fiscal modeling. Dr. Rob Carey succeeded Dr. Tanner as director of the Laboratory in 2009, having worked under Dr. Tanner over the previous two years. During this time, the Laboratory added IMPLAN to its economic modeling toolkit.

In 2013, the Laboratory transitioned away from REDYN to the REMI platform as its primary modeling tool and developed the Fiscal Impact Analysis Tool, which utilizes outputs from the REMI model to generate its fiscal projections. This change led to the Laboratory changing its name to the Regional Economic Analysis Laboratory, or CU-REAL. In 2019, CU-REAL was moved under the Department of Political Science in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

CU-REAL reports have been used to inform state legislation and the distribution of local tax revenue, to support capital campaigns, and to gauge the impact of higher education, industry, tourism, and nonprofit organizations on the state and local communities.