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New data center provides communities access to local data
MISSISSIPPI STATE – In many rural counties, gaining access to statistical data about local demographics, education and economics is difficult.
Communities need this data to make decisions, recruit employers, and prepare for the future, said Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University. In response to this need for centralized information, the center has updated its Community Data Center, a resource that collects, manages, and presents statistical data organized by county.
“Our data profiles are designed to reduce confusion by focusing in on a smaller set of variables, ones that community leaders and local organizations tend to view as important and relevant,” Beaulieu said. “The data are presented in a clear and understandable manner.”
Combining various sources of population and socioeconomic data, these profiles provide a snapshot of counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Beaulieu said the profiles are valuable because data are presented at different points in time, allowing users to monitor changes. All counties are classified by their metropolitan status, which allows them to be compared relative to other counties of similar size and resources. Data are constantly being updated, so users have access to the most current data available for all counties in the South.
Roberto Gallardo, a research associate at the SRDC, keeps the profiles updated.
“The most recent changes made were based on feedback from users. We dropped some variables and added new ones,” Gallardo said. “For example, an economic developer suggested we include the total of unemployed instead of the total number of employed to be more meaningful.”
These updated profiles feature data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each profile includes information on overall population size and other demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, such as ethnicity and age, education, housing, poverty and unemployment rates.
“One of the powerful aspects of the Community Data Center is that profiles are available on all states and more than 1,300 counties in the South,” Beaulieu said.
While aimed specifically at local leaders, policy makers, agencies and economic developers, these profiles provide interested citizens and organizations easy access to statistics, allowing them to monitor areas of strength and pinpoint areas that need the attention of local leaders and residents.
“The county profiles can help any individual get an idea of what is going on in each county,” Gallardo said. “They provide information that not all counties have the knowledge or manpower to obtain. Having these data ultimately provide information for better decision making because business prospects can access the data before even talking to a community.”
Giving a community a chance to understand its demographic and socioeconomic context better can have large impacts. The SRDC maintains this resource in hopes that it can give communities an edge in growth.
“We provide the data in a printer friendly format on our website, so communities can include profiles in packets for business prospects, or simply distribute them during a board meeting,” Gallardo said.
The Community Data Center is available at http://srdc.msstate.edu/data/center/.
Writer: Alicia Barnes