Economic Development, Technology, and Travel & Tourism

New tool provides synopsis of region

West Michigan Regional Dashboard highlights 34 metrics in social, economic and environmental categories.

February 24, 2017
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Collaboration between the West Michigan Regional Prosperity Alliance and The Right Place Inc. yielded a new tool that aggregates data to create a snapshot of the region.

The organizations unveiled the West Michigan Regional Dashboard on Feb. 17, providing the general public with access to a one-stop shop for a variety of statistics on 34 metrics deemed important by the project’s advisory committee. Those indicators are separated into three categories — social, economic and environmental — and contain data from average annual wage and high school graduation rates to amount of annual venture capital and number of closed beach days.

“We didn’t just look for indicators that The Right Place or chambers of commerce can use to promote,” WMRPA chair John Weiss said. “Because there’s data here that isn’t always necessarily positive, but it’s data we need to get as a region to track and understand.

“You can show Michigan as the comeback state and show what West Michigan has done to help us become the comeback state, but that’s not going to lead you to sanitary sewer issues or how many beach closing days you have.”

The information included in the dashboard is contained to the borders of the West Michigan Prosperity Region, which comprises 13 counties and 432 government units, the second-largest prosperity region in the state by size (the Upper Peninsula) and population (Detroit Metro). The dashboard is the first of its kind among the state’s 10 prosperity regions.

Users can click on any of the data points listed on the dashboard and drill down even further, sorting numbers by county and tracking trends up to five years. The dashboard also lists the source for the information — all of which are publically available — should the user want to go even further.

Each metric will be regularly updated as new numbers become available, most of which occur on an annual basis, and The Right Place has committed to maintaining the dashboard for at least five years.

The dashboard, accessible at wmdashboard.org and available to embed on websites, primarily was created as a tool for decision-making organizations based in the West Michigan Prosperity Region. However, it also will be useful to anyone who wants to put the region in perspective, including potential future residents of West Michigan, and the organizations will not be limiting its use to anyone.

“It is, to some degree, a laissez-faire approach to the marketplace,” said Rick Chapla, Right Place vice president of strategic initiatives. “We’re providing the information, and we’ll see where it goes.”

The dashboard was first conceived about a year-and-a-half ago, with The Right Place’s business intelligence and research manager, David Riley, taking the lead on building the project. The project team spent thousands of hours working with local organizations to determine what metrics were important to include, compiling the data and building a platform that was easy to use.

Ultimately, the 34 indicators represented in the dashboard had to meet four criteria: the data had to be backed up by authoritative sources; the indicator had to have been deemed meaningful; information had to be available on a county level; and the information had to be actionable.

The WMRPA budgeted $50,000 for the project, with The Right Place picking up the remainder of the tab.

“It’s our contribution to the alliance, as well,” Chapla said. “The $50,000, we’ve spent a lot more than that on the creation, and more importantly, we’ve agreed to maintain this in the future. There are not many organizations around the region that can do that, but we have the ability, our board endorsed this and it’s an important statement, as well.”

Chapla said the bulk of expenditures come from the creation of the dashboard, and now that it has launched, the organization’s primary contribution will be the dedication of person power over the next five years.

Weiss, Chapla and Riley presented the dashboard at a press conference Feb. 17, along with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

“This region has really embraced the notion of collaboration, but what I love about this step that they’re taking with the dashboard is that it’s a statement of values and what’s important to them but also a statement of accountability,” Calley said following the event. “They want their citizens to be a part of this discussion, and they’re also doing it in a way that allows for all types of entities to be creative and use this information for their own plan.

“This is a tool that can be used for economic development; it’s a tool that can be used for community planning. This is just one of those tools in the toolbox that I think will make a big difference in taking the collaboration to the next level but also will put their long-term planning into a framework that is measurable.”

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