13 May 2014

Why EDOs Need Big, Thick, and Fast Economic Development Data

Anatalio Ubalde is an economic developer, entrepreneur, and inventor. He works with organizations throughout the nation to foster enhanced economic development strategies using Internet technology. His work in geographic information systems, economic development and the Internet has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, TechCrunch, and Inc. In 2009 he was named a Fellow Member of the International Economic Development Council for achieving exceptional stature in the field of economic development.

Bloomberg ConferenceThe businesses media has been actively reporting on the value of leveraging Big Data over the past few years. Recently, experts have brought up the value of Thick Data. I recently participated in the 2014 Bloomberg Enterprise Tech Summit in New York, which is attended by CEOs and CIOs of some of the largest US companies. At the event Mark Palmer, CEO of StreamData discussed the value of Fast Data, which includes accessing and processing Big Data in real time to get actionable insights and the most immediate information possible to make better decisions. 

Because Fast Data is important to the customers of economic development organizations (EDOs) it has become necessary for EDOs to provide the most current data so they can successfully serve their customers.

Current data is significantly more valuable than recent or old data.  So the EDOs with the most current, biggest, and most understandable economic development data are going to out-service their EDO competitors that still use outdated, limited, and confusing data.

Why is Fast Data so important? Because old data isn’t very valuable to businesses trying to make decisions about where they invest and locate today. Old, or even somewhat old, data is mostly valuable as time series data to show the change between the past and the present. But to show time series data you still need to have current data.

To understand just how important the most current data is to companies that are considering making an investment in your community by opening, expanding or relocating, put yourself in your customers shoes: Would you make an important decision about where to put your company based on old data or the data that is on your website? If your answer was “no” then you recognize that you need the newest data and it must be on your website. (Don’t forget: a majority of the business’s decision process is completed before they personally contact an economic developer and much of their research is completed online). 

As an example of the negative impact of old data in economic development, I was recently on a state economic development website (which is not a GIS Planning customer) that showed 10-year old data for their online site selection service, and that was the most current data they had available about that information. The reason I know it was 10 years old is because they sourced the year of the data.

Again, put yourselves in the position of your customer: Would you feel comfortable making an expensive decision like locating your business in this state based on 10-year old data? What would you even think of an EDO that showed 10-year old data?

Before and After SchwarzeneggerLet’s put it a different way: if you were a member of a dating website and someone used a photo of how they looked in 2004, do you think that person is being honest and giving you relevant information about who they are now? Of course not. And your bad experience will destroy trust and likely lead to an end to that consideration. The same thing happens on your website when a business is considering if they want to “date and marry” you by putting their company in your community.

How fast must your data be to be relevant? In general, all EDOs should have data that is no more than 12 months old. A best practice is the data should not be more than 6 months to one financial quarter old. And whenever possible data should be in near real time. These are high standards that can actually be met with relatively little staff time if systems are put in place to update data automatically.

For example, places like Miami Dade County (FL)Gateway Cities COG (CA) and the State of Indiana have websites that include robust amounts of economic development and site selection data that are all current. Demographic data is updated with current-year data twice a year. Business and industry data is updated four times a year to make sure that even the newest companies in the community are listed. Available property data is updated in real time. Local GIS layers are renewed as frequently as the community updates and uploads them. Because all of these EDOs use ZoomProspector Enterprise software to power their online GIS site selection service, their demographic and business data is automatically updated multiple times each year with the most current data and economic development staff don’t have to take any time to research or update the data. It just happens, saving their staff time and providing their customers the best data available in the economic development profession.

You can easily evaluate your EDO’s effectiveness by comparing the quantity, quality, and newness of the data on these websites to the data you have on your website. If your data measures up short of this standard, it puts you at a competitive disadvantage when servicing customers that will lead to stunted economic growth, which is something you obviously do not want.

If you need assistance evaluating the quality of your current data or would like free advice about how you can be more effective in delivering the right data to your customers so they can make a decision to locate their business in your community, contact Russell Riblett, at 415-294-4774, for more information.  


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