Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.
So much about the practice of economic development is information-driven and the Internet has facilitated the creation of several web-based tools that make data on regional competitiveness more accessible than ever. A newly launched web site makes such analytical tools available to economic developers and public officials in an effort to support better decision-making, particularly in rural regions. These web-based tools are part of the Rural Innovation Project, which is a collaborative effort between three Midwestern universities and a couple of private research firms.
With funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the project has built three analytical tools that are designed to inform strategic thinking about what it means to be competitive in a knowledge-based “innovation economy”. The three tools are: 1) the Innovation Index, 2) Cluster Analysis, and 3) Regional Investment Analysis. The Innovation Index is comprised of four sub-indexes (human capital, economic dynamics, productivity and employment, and economic well-being) and allows a region to compare itself to other regions, a state, or the U.S. on key measures of innovation. The Cluster Analysis tool allows users to examine the characteristics of 15 pre-defined occupational clusters and 17 industry clusters that are knowledge-based in their orientation. The Regional Investment Analysis tool provides a framework for prioritizing public investments that support innovation-based economic development within five broad categories:
• Innovation and Entrepreneurship Networks
• Quality, Connected Places
• Branding Experiences
• Civic Collaboration
Additional data are provided on educational attainment, employment and wages, income, and population demographics. The web-site has data available for every county in the U.S. and enables users to create customized multi-county regions for analysis. The site and its analytical tools have compiled a wealth of information and look promising. The Occupational Cluster Analysis tool is intriguing because it offers a different way to think about regions by focusing on the linkages relative to what people do in their jobs rather than what products they make (industry clusters).
Give the site a try and share your thoughts on how useful you find it to be. What, if anything, is missing? What other web-based tools have you found to be helpful in supporting economic development?
 See Edward J. Feser, What Regions Do Rather than Make: A Proposed Set of Knowledge-based Occupation Clusters. Urban Studies, Vol. 40, No. 10, 2003. http://usj.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/40/10/1937.