“What happens to an economy when its people retire and begin to consume less?” That’s the question that Neely Tamminga ’96 asks at the beginning of her TEDx Minneapolis talk.

More than two-thirds of the economy in the United States is tied to what people consume, and Tamminga has spent her career researching that consumption. She’s the CEO of a firm that advises CEOs and boards about consumer behavior, all through an economic lens. “If economic data were nutrition, I’d be a nutritionist,” she said.

She was hooked on economics after her first class at Calvin. “It was the class that made the most sense to me,” said Tamminga, who credits her advisor, Kurt Shaefer, with sparking her interest.

“Calvin was recommended by a family friend. I fell in love with the campus right away,” she said. She’s always loved the tulips on campus. “It tells you something about a place when they go through the process of planting tulips each year. Calvin is a place that cares about intention and beauty.”

After 20 years working on Wall Street covering the consumer sector, Tamminga and a business partner founded DISTILL in 2017.

“Our clients come to us for all different reasons. The common element is that they are curious about something in their consumer behavior and are looking for creative and well-researched insights,” Tamminga said. DISTILL has helped companies like Google, Duluth Trading Co., Maurices, and Blue Apron identify strategies for growth.

With her TEDx talk, she brings economic insight to everyday consumers. Her talk is less than 15 minutes, and it breaks down how consumer purchases begin with an economic priority and lifestyle stage and what it means that the baby boomers are retiring. She challenges her audience to shape an economy that values connection over consumption. “As individuals searching for our own identities think less about keeping up with the Joneses and more about connecting with the Joneses, caring for the Joneses, being kind to the Joneses,” she said.