North Carolina Data Dashboard gains momentum in first three months

Angela Dills, WCU economics professor, utilizes the North Carolina Data Dashboard during a recent presentation to highlight workforce factors in Western North Carolina.

Since its launch by Western Carolina University in June, the North Carolina Data Dashboard has proven to be an effective and reliable source of information about the westernmost counties, say those involved with the project.

The open-access electronic resource serves as a one-stop information source that includes nearly 12 million independent observations from categories including workforce, product markets, land and infrastructure. The data, which can be examined down to the county level, is searchable by geographic area and time frame, and dashboard-generated charts are easily printed. It has been utilized by students, faculty and media outlets.

The dashboard is more than a tool ― essentially, it’s a toolbox, said WCU economics professor Angela K. Dills, who holds the university’s Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professorship in Regional Economic Development and is one of the primary drivers behind the project.

Daniel Hartness explains details of the North Carolina Data Dashboard, as Manuel Enamorado looks on.

“The dashboard provides current information as well as long-run trends on a variety of economic indicators,” Dills said. “Users include those looking to compare North Carolina counties to each other or to view county-level economic trends. The dashboard provides data on demographic changes, changes in the housing market, as well as trends in personal earnings and county-by-industry gross domestic product figures. Many data series are available at county-level as well as at the Prosperity Zone-level data. We aim for these data to help inform decision making in the region – for policymakers, for entrepreneurs, for grant-seekers and for researchers.”

The current project mostly reflects the labors of four students who work with direction of a consultant and under the supervision of faculty.

“Data compilation is from several independent sources,” said one of those students, Daniel Hartness. “Sources include the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Federal Reserve Economic Database and, of course, the U.S. Census. There are several ways to interpret the data and perform analytics, depending on what your objectives and needs are.”

In that way, Dills said, the dashboard complements what a local economic development director is doing, such as providing details for an entrepreneur considering a startup. The dashboard is organized by sectors for land, labor, product, demographics and industry market value. Analytics within each sector are broken down to critical measures. For example, the land sector includes home ownership rates, housing price index, number of new structures and transactions.

The majority of the users are from Western North Carolina, but an increasing number are from Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

Edward Lopez

“We have testimonials from both campus and the business community,” said Edward Lopez, who holds the university’s BB&T Distinguished Professorship in Capitalism and serves as director of WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise. “We’re still in the early stages of the project, but I think we are already achieving measures as a catalyst for economic and community development. It supports cross-disciplinary research and teaching on campus, and readily available to the public and private sector.

“As an educator, the dashboard is a fulfilling project because it gives these students the chance to gain hard skills and real work experience with data management, which is a great resume builder for them.”

The North Carolina Data Dashboard is sponsored by the Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professorship in Regional Economic Development and the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise, with additional support provided by WCU’s Office of the Provost.

For more information or to view the dashboard, visit the website NCDataDashboard.org.