Marketing research is rarely considered as a source of solutions to municipal problems. But the City of Lansing turned to master’s students in Michigan State University’s business analytics program studying just that for data-driven advice on how to approach the challenges of ticketed and tagged properties.

A visit to New York City to investigate its data analytics capabilities spurred an idea for Randy Hannan, chief of staff to Lansing’s Mayor Virg Bernero. The city couldn’t match NYC’s municipal analysis resources, but it did have a local resource in MSU, where the Broad College of Business hosts a graduate program in data analysis.

Hannan connected with Roger Calantone, the Eli Broad Chaired University Professor of Business and professor of marketing, and the two quickly devised a project for Calantone’s students.

Calantone scrapped his beginning-of-semester plans and set his MKT 865 Emerging Topics in Business students to work analyzing the city’s real estate situation as their capstone project. All the heads of city departments came to his class to brief the students on the situation, and Hannan speedily mobilized the departments to provide information students requested as they examined the situation. Students worked through the Thanksgiving holiday to complete their tasks in time, creating a holistic analysis of the city’s 43,000 property parcels (of which ticketed and tagged properties make up a fraction) by utilizing multiple technologies, including database, statistical, geo-informatics and computer science approaches.

The graduate students found that homes in neighborhoods near city facilities were a little more likely to get a ticket for a small code violation, but less likely to be red-tagged for a serious safety violation that makes them unfit for habitation. The proximity led to mild enforcement, which led to fixes. On the other hand, houses in neighborhoods more distant from city facilities were ticketed less and tagged more; problems weren’t confronted until they were more severe.

“The class project was a successful experience for all as it enabled the students to apply their academic experiences to a real-world issue while also providing a value-added community service to the City of Lansing,” said Calantone. “They found insights in the data that others hadn’t seen before.”

These insights were presented to City of Lansing policy makers and code enforcement officials.