Economic development ‘toolkit’ wins national award

BOWLING GREEN. O.—It’s always easier when you have the right tool. For the second time in three years, Bowling Green State University’s Center for Regional Development (CRD) has won a national award for creating an innovative tool to help economic developers do their work.

To win the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) 2011 Award of Excellence in the Research and Analysis category, CRD Assistant Director Will Burns and Dr. Xinyue Ye, a specialist in economic geography, presented their “Comprehensive Space-Time Data Analysis Toolkit” before a panel of judges and a large audience. The other two finalists were Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research and Indiana University.

“It was a tough competition,” Burns said. “Both were excellent.”

The tool developed by the CRD is a searchable online database containing real-time information on what workers exist in specific locations and the skill sets they possess. The toolkit utilizes business directories, geographic information systems software and Google maps to compile its database, which will be continually updated to provide users the most current information.

Along with its project partner, Ohio University, BGSU recently received $800,000 in federal funding for the workforce development effort. The cross-disciplinary team includes BGSU faculty and graduate students from the School of Earth, Environment and Society, computer science, technology and economics, said Dr. Michael Carroll, CRD director. “We are also part of BGSU’s center of excellence in Developing Effective Businesses and Organizations,” he added.

Armed with the information the tool provides, start-up companies can make data-driven decisions on where to locate their business, and existing companies that are seeking to expand can identify areas in which they might need to provide professional development, Carroll said. Economic developers will also be better able to attract businesses to an area by allowing them to know exactly what resources are available.

“It will also help higher education institutions, especially community colleges, in all of Ohio to know what is needed in terms of curriculum in order to be more responsive to the state’s needs,” he said.

The award was presented Oct. 12 in Indianapolis at the association’s annual summit. The UEDA will shortly begin working with the center to produce a series of Webinars to disseminate the information, Burns said. The CRD expects to have the toolkit fully developed and available to share within about two years.

The Research and Analysis category “focuses on the capacity of colleges and universities to provide new forms of research and to design the next generation of analytic tools for community, economic and workforce development practitioners,” according to the UEDA.

The products must be replicable by other institutions, scalable so that both small and large organizations can adapt them to their needs, and sustainable in that they can be financially supported.

In their presentation, Burns and Ye used examples of how the toolkit can be used in conjunction with the Worker Adjustment and Notification Act, which mandates announcements of upcoming plant closings and mass layoffs; with the Unemployment Rate Clock, which graphically displays unemployment trends; and with journeys-to-work flow data showing employee movement around the county and state.

“The fact that we used geographic information systems as part of our toolkit helped us to win, I think,” Carroll said. “It’s a very powerful tool that allows us to visualize data spatially, conduct statistical analyses and extract and organize data.”

The center also won an Award of Excellence in 2009 in the Economic Development Research category for developing a mapping approach to identifying the most promising sites within Ohio in which to locate production of wind turbines. The method could potentially be replicated for other industries as well.

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(Posted October 21, 2011 )