March 18, 2021 by Drew Repp
Grapevine, Texas, is in a good spot. The city sits between Dallas on the east and Fort Worth on the west. Bob Farley, economic development director for the City of Grapevine, put it this way: “The best news about Grapevine is you can’t be more in the middle than in the middle. And that’s exactly where we are.”
Grapevine also happens to be located right by Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). In fact, part of the city is in the airport. Couple this with the fact that over a million people live within a 20-minute drive of Grapevine in what is already a business-friendly state, and in many ways Grapevine is an economic developer’s ideal scenario.
But COVID-19 ignored all that. Regardless of its beneficial geography for economic development, Grapevine, like many communities, was heavily impacted by the virus. Their unemployment rate jumped to 13.4% and City revenue forecasts dropped 11%. Community and business leaders needed to get their heads around the full economic impact to determine priorities and next steps.
To do this, they turned to customized economic dashboards with an array of easily digestible industry, occupation, and revenue information. “Data visualization activities really make it very easy for a wide gamut of people, including the business community and citizens at large, to understand what we’re living through and how the local economy is recovering,” Farley said.
Created by eIMPACT, the dashboards pull together industry and occupation indicators, as well as real-time data including Emsi job postings. As a result, viewers are provided a myriad of data, but in an understandable way that allows them to draw conclusions and make assessments. Grapevine’s COVID-19 Economic Impact Dashboard tracks the unemployment rate, estimates lost industry and tax revenue, and compares 2020 job postings to 2019.
The Economic Recovery Dashboard moves beyond the impacts of COVID-19 to illustrate Grapevine’s recovery. Details like county-level unemployment rate, postings vs. hires by occupation, residential real estate listing, and more, provide a full picture of the economy. “We wanted to be able to showcase where there was recovery and where there were still areas of softness in the market, for policy reasons, for people looking for jobs, for all kinds of reasons,” Farley said.
One of those reasons was decision-making. With the retail sector making up roughly 35% of Grapevine’s local sales tax revenue, it was important to keep an accurate pulse of the sector’s recovery. “If we can focus people’s attention on how retailers were doing both individually and in aggregate,” Farley noted, “then we could help guide people’s thought process about what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.”
It’s this guidance that makes data dashboards so powerful. Visualizations illustrate and emphasize the story the data tells, providing viewers tangible information for actionable insights. It’s not surprising that data visualization is seen as one of the most important aspects of data in the new decade.
“Data on its own doesn’t convey much meaning,” said Erik Larson, CEO of eIMPACT. “But put into a visual narrative, data can be one of the most powerful tools to inform and engage. Grapevine has been at the forefront of using data visualization as an economic development asset, and now we are seeing more widespread adoption among communities of all sizes.”
In times of both crisis and recovery, an accurate and timely understanding of the market is crucial. Deploying real-time data points allow Grapevine to monitor closely the ever-evolving crisis and recovery.
“If we fast forward another three to six months, it’s probably going to look not 100% normal, but a lot closer to normal,” Farley noted. “What the data dashboard does is sharpen the focus. Are we in a dip? Are we in a trough that we’re going to stay in for a while? That’s why the data visualization makes the whole policy debate a whole lot easier.”
Beyond the Job Postings Trend Dashboard, Grapevine also utilizes dashboards for various industries such as hospitality and retail. Hotel average daily rate and daily foot traffic by retail node tell the story of these sectors from a different perspective beyond jobs.
Farley got his start in economic development in the mid-80s when a combination of energy price collapse and real estate collapse thrust the state into economic development work. “So I was lucky enough, I suppose, to get in on the ground floor of all of that work for the state commerce department when it was brand new and the Governor’s office,” he said. Farley went on to work in corporate site selection and real estate development. He has spent the last six years with the City of Grapevine.
A career in economic development provides Farley a good vantage point for what’s on the horizon. And one pressing need he sees is visualizing the skills within a region. “There’s not a business in the world that doesn’t agonize over or assess the labor market viability of a particular location,” he said. “The deeper you can go into skill sets and where those people are and that sort of thing—that’s magic.”
Farley is taking his own advice. Grapevine is now including skills data in their Workforce Dashboard.
For their part, eIMPACT sees opportunities for improvement in data visualization and expansion. As Larson noted: “We keep pushing further and further into making data both simple and intuitive while extending the type of data available to clients. The broader the audience you can speak to, the better.”
Reaching a broader audience is necessary because the scope of economic development has expanded. Once solely focused on recruitment and job creation, economic development is now increasingly under the umbrella of community development—which means professionals need data and knowledge on everything from housing stock to childcare.
In addition to occupation, skill, and job posting data, Grapevine’s workforce dashboard includes benefits trends, housing affordability data, proximity of childcare facilities to light rail, and similar data about the community’s ability to sustain its workforce.
For communities exploring the use of data visualization, Farley has two pieces of advice. One, at a certain point you have to jump into the deep end. And two, partner with someone willing to work with you and customize the data visualization to your needs.
“There is a certain ‘go for it’ piece to this. You’ve got to let yourself go. There’s not a perfect answer to any of these things,” Farley said. “So let’s at least attempt to move the ball down the field a little bit. One of the reasons I’ve liked working with eIMPACT is that they work with you as you think through what some of those options might be. And whenever you work with a consultant, you always hope that people will give you their best thinking.”
Learn more about how communities and organizations are using data to solve their unique challenges on our case studies blog.