2007/11/01

New North Regional Economy Information System

A useful tool for improving and evaluating the regional economy of the New North (18 counties of northeast Wisconsin) would be an Economy Information System.

There's an adage that if you can't measure something, you can't control it. In the case of the New North, it would be helpful to know whether the region's economy is improving, stagnant or declining. The last comprehensive measurement and analysis of the region's economy was done for the October 2004 Northeast Wisconsin Economic Opportunity Study (NEW EOS). Much of the data in the report was from 2003 or earlier.

It would be helpful to know how things stand in the New North compared to the picture painted by the 2004 NEW EOS. If money and/or time is invested to update the information presented by the October 2004 EOS, it will be a good idea to make that information transparent by documenting all the sources online, with links to source websites or databases where possible. If this is done, anyone who has an interest in a particular statistic or bit of information can follow-up on their own in the future to determine the status of that particular statistic.

For example, one of the NEW EOS statistics of particular interest to me was that the New North per capita income is at 82% of the US per capita income. Thirty years ago it was at 100% of the US per capita income. I'd like to know if we're continuing to lose ground in that category.

Another measure of the region's economic health is research and development in the area. The NEW EOS said three steps should be taken to improve R&D:
  1. Tap into the research centers in the state and the Midwest
  2. Promote research at colleges and universities in the region
  3. Develop research centers of excellence in the region
It would be good to know what progress has been made for each of the three steps listed above. What specific research assistance has been brought to the New North from nearby research centers over the past three years, and what college and university research has been promoted in the region as a result of the NEW EOS? What research centers of excellence have been developed or even proposed?

The New North organization doesn't have the funding to accomplish all the tasks it wants to or all the tasks others would like it to do. Fortunately, today's technology makes it possible for much of the statistics and other NEW EOS information to be generated by the data sources (such as the area workforce development boards, colleges, universities, and government groups) and either automatically transferred to a central website/database in the required format, or at the very least, be available to people who are interested in figuring out the current status for the issues of interest to them.

The only reason to not make this information publicly available is lack of money to set up the websites and information collecting systems. However, this information is crucial for setting priorities for steps to improve the region's economy and for evaluating the impact of those actions.

The data gathering and reporting system doesn't need to be set up all at once. A good way to start this project is to clearly define the objectives and develop a plan for how the system will work. When any work is done relevant to the statistics, information or action steps recommended in the NEW EOS, the original background data or information can be put into the website database and the updated information can be added, along with links to the sources of that information. Systems can also be put in place for future updates on websites of the source information. Data push or scraping tools can be put in place to automatically gather information from all the sources and present it in the desired format on the NEW EOS current status website.

The system proposed above will make it much easier to have accurate up-to-date information about the New North's economy. This will allow quicker, better decisions and will inform all residents of the New North how we're doing and where we need to do better.

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