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Using Data to Provide Complete Picture of Two Washington Counties

A new website, called Benton-Franklin Trends, will serve as a tool in recruiting businesses, providing immediate access to information about labor force availability and education levels of potential workers.

by Ty Beaver, Tri-City Herald / June 9, 2015

(TNS) -- Tri-City leaders are hoping a new website that pulls together data about the region, from high school graduation rates and the number of violent gun crimes to the affordability of rents and air quality, will simultaneously entice businesses and stimulate discussions.

Benton-Franklin Trends at http://www.bentonfranklintrends.ewu.edu was unveiled today at Columbia Basin College’s Gjerde Center.

The product of Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis is the latest in a series of Community Indicators projects from the center that uses primarily federal and state sources to create statistical surveys of counties and communities in Washington and Idaho, as well as Fresno, Calif.

“The effort is to provide as complete a picture of the two counties as we possibly can,” Patrick Jones, the institute’s director, told the Herald.

The foundation, which worked with numerous partners in the area, has gathered enough financial support to keep the website updated and online for the next three years.

That means it will be available for businesses scouting for a new home but also a resource for people trying to change some things for the better and wanting to see the results of that change.

“At the end of the day we do need statistics,” said Carrie Green, executive director of Three Rivers Community Foundation.

The institute used the last portion of $250,000 from the federal government to put together the website and gather the information. It will cost about $20,000 a year to maintain the site and ensure its data is updated.

The data is presented through 10 overall topics, from agriculture to transportation, which have further subjects within them. The data can also be broken out by individual county and in many cases for Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

Overall, there are 175 different metrics, Jones said, the most of any Community Indicators project to date. Local partners on the project, which advised the institute on what metrics they wanted to see, included Columbia Basin College, Kadlec Regional Medical Center, the Herald, Washington State University Tri-Cities, the Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, Benton Franklin Health District, the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the ports of Benton and Pasco, Pasco Chamber of Commerce and Visit Tri-Cities.

Most of the information is publicly accessible elsewhere, through resources such as the U.S. Census Bureau or from various state agencies. But Jones said that only savvy data collectors may know where to get some specific figures and, even then, government reports aren’t always easy to digest.

“We think there’s a lot of value to a one-stop shop like this,” he said.

The website will aggregate only current data about the region and not create its own statistics, officials said.

While figures for some issues such as unemployment and income go back decades, other topics have a much shallower pool of data such as some gun and crime numbers. Some issues such as the rate of autism, have no known data source specifically for the Tri-Cities, Green said.

But the website will be a valuable tool in recruiting businesses, she said, providing immediate access to information about community amenities, housing, labor force availability and education levels of potential workers.

It also could lead to some interesting revelations. One community that ended up with a Community Indicators website from EWU realized its high school graduation rates weren’t as high as they had been led to believe in past years, Green said. That led to a coalition that worked to get more students through their education, an effort that an increasing graduation rate showed was working.

The website could lead to similar activism in the Tri-Cities, Green said.

Even with the region’s strong economy there could be data that shows that not everyone is benefiting from it. The data could give weight to awareness and prevention initiatives for health issues such as diabetes by demonstrating how many are affected in the area.

“Some of the stuff isn’t going to be pretty,” Green said. “The facts are going to be out there.”

©2015 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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