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‘Dashboard’ will gauge speed of region’s progress

June 22nd, 2012

News Coverage:

‘Dashboard’ will gauge speed of region’s progress

RICK FARRANT - rfarrant@fwbusiness.com

Friday, Jun. 22, 2012 at 5:50am

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne have developed a data system that will allow the partnership to measure over time the region’s economic progress against 14 similar Midwestern regions.

The system, described as a “dashboard,” is aligned with the partnership’s five Vision 2020 pillars: developing 21st-century talent; creating a competitive business climate; promoting entrepreneurship; ensuring adequate infrastructure; and heightening quality of life.

Among the metropolitan areas chosen for comparison: Des Moines, Iowa; Peoria, Ill.; Wichita, Kan.; Dayton, Ohio; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and South Bend.

“This is the tough love of trying to know where we stand with other communities,” John Sampson, president and CEO of the partnership, said. “We are doing our very best to see ourselves with respect to the truthful information about who we are and how we’re doing and how others are doing relative to some really important indicators.”

John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute, said comparing northeast Indiana to other regions is critical to measuring economic performance locally.

“We could be improving in a particular category over time,” he said, “but if everybody is improving at the same rate or even better, then we really haven’t made up ground and we’re less competitive.”

Five of the comparison regions are considered “star communities,” meaning they generally are performing better than the 10 northeast Indiana counties that make up the partnership. The remainder of the regions are considered “peer communities,” meaning they are performing as well, better or worse than northeast Indiana.

Within each of the five pillars used for comparison are a number of variables. For instance, in the talent pillar, the partnership will analyze data concerning knowledge jobs, creative jobs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, professional/graduate degrees and certifications.

The partnership and the research institute plan to update the data dashboard annually and have already tabulated 2012 comparisons, which can be viewed at www.neindiana.com/vision. Northeast Indiana tops the comparison communities in business climate. It trails the other communities in developing 21st-century talent.

In addition to measuring progress related to the five pillars, the partnership and research institute will monitor a number of overarching economic indicators, such as employment, per-capita personal income and gross domestic product. Per-capita income has been a strong focus of the partnership; northeast Indiana’s average per-capita income is 78.9 percent of the nation’s average per-capita income.

Stafford and Katy Silliman, director of Vision 2020, said there are no guarantees that if the region works toward improvement in all the areas highlighted by the dashboard that economic vitality will result.

“There is no cookbook that says if you do these things, it’s all going to work,” Stafford said. “On the other hand, it works in reverse. If we slide on these things, then why should we expect improvement on the outcome issues?”

Silliman said the important next step is to encourage regional leaders in the private and public sectors to use the data to help shape business policies and strategies.

“If it just gets dusty on the shelf,” she said, “it’s not helping us to transform our economy or change our story.”