Nebraska Thriving: Market Intelligence for the Rest of Us

Over the years, I’ve worked in many communities that don’t really have a good understanding of how their local economies work.  They operate with limited and/or outdated information on who’s hiring, who’s growing, and who’s doing innovative things in business and elsewhere.  Many places need better market intelligence capabilities, but some community leaders are reluctant to spend money and time on gathering and sharing data.  That’s work for academics, not for economic developers!   This mindset seems to be changing (thankfully) as more places recognize that good data can lead to better planning for community and economic development.  And, the good news is that all communities, even heavily distressed or isolated rural places, can do this work.  There are lots of great resources out there—I highly recommend networks like the Community Indicators Consortium and free data sites like StatsAmerica.  But, there are also hundreds of places that are out doing it, gathering important insights about what’s happening in their local economies.  A great example can be found at Nebraska Thriving, a new effort from the Rural Futures Institute.  The Index is an easy to use data tool that allows folks across Nebraska to track how their region compares in areas such as economic opportunity, human capital, social capital, and quality of life.  Thanks to Nebraska Thriving, local leaders now have the capacity to benchmark their performance and invest to close gaps and capture new opportunities.  This is an excellent research tool that can easily be applied to others states and regions.  With better data comes better informed—and better overall (we hope!)—decision making.