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Economic Developers: Use These Five Data Points to Promote Your Communities

January 25, 2018 by Joshua Wright

It doesn’t matter if your economic development focus is to retain and expand existing businesses or recruit Amazon HQ2. Your community’s pitch matters.

Labor market data contextualized and packaged well can help you better tell your story to businesses and site selectors. But which data points should you focus on? What are the best ways to visualize them?

Vince Giovannini, a data scientist at CBRE Labor Analytics and former analyst at the Gilbert (AZ) Office of Economic Development, answered these questions in a recent IEDC webinar with Emsi. You can watch the full webinar below or read on for a summary of the five data points Giovannini walked through.

No. 1: Occupation Data by Where Workers Live

Vince Giovannini

Is your community a net importer or exporter of talent? The only way to find out is to compare your total number of traditional jobs (measured by where people work) to your number of resident workers (measured by where people live).

This place-of-residence data, which Emsi models to the ZIP code level for detailed occupations, is valuable for suburban towns like Gilbert. (LEHD’s OnTheMap is also a great free resource.)

Giovannini said companies are growing more interested in bedroom communities like Gilbert where people commute out of town for work.

“That’s a labor pool companies can tap into that you wouldn’t normally see if you only looked at where people are working,” he said.

While working in Gilbert, which is part of the Phoenix metro, Giovannini quantified with Emsi that the town was a large exporter of white-collar talent like office and administrative, financial, and tech workers. He built a 30-minute commute shed around Gilbert to get a granular picture of place-of-residence occupation data.

“The quest to gain talent for companies is more cutthroat than ever before,” he said. “A lot of our clients [at CBRE] are wanting a unique value proposition they can use to tap into that labor. If that means going into a city where a lot of people normally leave every day, and they no longer have to, that’s compelling. The company may be able to offer lower wages because it will be a shorter commute for employees.”

No. 2: Educational Pipeline

It’s simple. Businesses are more likely to be attracted to (and stay in) communities with strong education. This means having robust K-12 school systems and colleges and universities aligned to the local labor market.

For this reason, Giovannini recommends economic developers establish strong relationships with local education providers and annually track educational completions in their region by program and award level.

“Looking at the trends in [IPEDS] data is really important,” said Giovannini, who uses Emsi’s educational pipeline data to go back five years or more to track what can be a volatile dataset.

Bonus: Another key step is to measure how many of those graduates stay in your region. Emsi helps economic development organizations look at graduate retention through our social profile analytics. This data includes 110 million profiles of U.S. workers categorized by their alma mater, program of study, company, and most recent location. (See Emsi’s Talent Attraction Scorecard and Amazon HQ2 analysis to see how this data can be applied.)

No. 3: Skills Transferability

“This is probably my favorite data point to discuss, and probably the most compelling for a company in today’s economy,” Giovannini said.

For example, when companies and site selection consultants would request labor availability reports for certain positions in Gilbert, Giovannini used Emsi’s skills transferability report to approximate the full labor pool available.

He looked at compatible workers by SOC or O*NET code, and examined the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for one set of workers to slide into another role. This can often go across industries (e.g., a call center employee is likely to have a similar skillset as a waiter).

“We can’t put people in boxes based on their SOC codes anymore,” Giovannini said. “There just aren’t enough categories to keep track of all the skills people possess.”

Bonus: You can use Emsi’s talent availability by compensation report to look at workers in the same or related occupations/job titles at each point along the wage curve.

No. 4: Unemployment by Occupation

Another way to demonstrate workforce availability is showing a larger-than-average pool of unemployed workers with certain skillsets.

Giovannini did this by using Emsi’s unemployment by occupation data, which traditionally “has been a hard data point to acquire, specifically for smaller geographies.”

This data helps EDOs respond to site selectors and companies. It’s also useful when communicating funding needs to elected officials.

No. 5: Regional Comparison

Regional comparison, or benchmarking, helps you understand your community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats compared to your peer regions. This type of SWOT analysis is ideal when building a strategic plan.

At Gilbert, Giovannini utilized the regional comparison report in Emsi Developer. It allowed him to compare Gilbert or the Phoenix metro to other areas by dozens of key variables.

“Emsi really gives us the visualization platform to make that comparison really easily,” he said.

He encourages EDOs to customize their regional comparisons based on the pitch they’re making to a company or the marketing piece they’re generating for a trade show.

“It’s way better to create a marketing piece that tells the story of why your community is suited for that specific project, and what strengths you have that set you apart from your competitors,” Giovannini said.

Marketing Your Region

Once you’ve compiled the data you need, the next step is visualizing it tell your community’s story.

Giovannini and his colleagues built interactive dashboards and landing pages on Gilbert’s website to package the data that would catch a company or site selection consultant’s eye. (Read our case study on Gilbert to see examples of these dashboards.)

“Speaking from CBRE’s perspective, we want to see local data that’s easy to access,” he said. “It’s much better to go through the counties and the local EDOs to get data than the BLS.

“And putting my city hat on, we wanted to have consultants coming to us to know which opportunities are in the area. And if they’re asking about our data, that’s a good thing for us.”

For more on Emsi’s tools and resources for economic developers, visit our website or contact Josh Wright.

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