The Community Index began six years ago as an effort by our team to document the key indicators of current and future vibrant communities. Fourth Economy takes a holistic approach to economic and community development. Our model considers a range of criteria to measure economic strength. The Community Index is made up of 20 indicators across five themes: Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. While we know there is no single recipe for economic success, we also know that these five areas are critical ingredients in vibrant communities everywhere.
From 10 to 1,837
Each year, we publish a list of the top 10 scoring counties. In 2018, we developed an interactive tool to allow others to see how our Index model ranks counties across the country. This year’s Community Index features data on 1,837 of the 3,007 counties in the United States, covering all counties with a population of 20,000 or more. Each benchmarks against all counties in the state, geographic region, and similar population size.
A great conversation starter
We debuted the Community Index tool at the International Economic Development Council conference in Atlanta. Our first users were inquisitive and had some great questions. Some of the most interesting questions we fielded include:
- What outcomes were unexpected?
We were glad to see that the model does not identify a specific recipe for economic success. Communities that score highly across our categories do not come in one mold, but many—from rural cultural hubs to small, developing cities to booming metro regions.
- What should I do with this tool? How is it useful?
We hope that people will use the dashboard to explore the economic strengths and weaknesses of specific communities, use the Index map to see who is doing well across the country overall and in specific metrics, and use the top ten to read about some particularly strong examples of regional economies.
- Why do all the counties with cities score so well?
Generally, more densely populated places have economic and cultural assets that more rural or suburban places do not, and the model picks up on this. So on one hand, it’s important to compare among similarly-sized places. That’s why we’ve organized the counties by size categories. So, when comparing large cities, it’s important to realize that a score of, say, 85 (as with Allegheny County, PA) is not as high relative to its geographic peers as a score of 85 for small communities. BUT, there are also many small communities that do well in our model. Look, for instance, at our top ten list for mid-sized counties. Or, look at the even smaller communities of Juneau, AK, or Wasatch, UT, for some high-scoring examples.
- Why didn’t we look at counties with fewer than 20,000 people?
Many of the indicators that inform the index model are population-based statistics that have been collected from sources like the US Census Bureau. For small populations, these data are less reliable (i.e., come with greater margins of error) and can be more significantly influenced by single contributors (e.g., a company opening or closing), so for that reason, we’ve chosen not to include small, rural counties in this version of the model.
- Why did you analyze at a county level?
We analyzed at a county level because of the data set availability. It’s easy for us to combine indicators and to do a multi-county analysis for a region. For specific projects, we could apply the index model to other types of geographies, or conduct or more nuanced analysis (for geographies that are either larger or smaller than counties), but that is not part of this tool.
We see the Community Index as a starting point for communities, providing them with a baseline to help understand where they are doing well and see where there is room for improvement. Many of our most interesting projects stem from conversations with communities about where they are and where they want to be. Do you have a question you’d like us to answer? Reach out!
We see the Fourth Economy Community Index as a starting point for communities, providing a baseline to help understand where they are doing well and see where there is room for improvement.
We envision using the information:
- When developing an RFP to create specific strategies to improve your community
- To lead community discussions about areas of relative strength and weakness
- To inform presentations to stakeholders about the state of your community
- To compare your community to top ten communities of the same size
The Index model incorporates twenty different indicators in the areas of Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. While we know there is no single recipe for economic success, we also know that these five areas are critical ingredients in vibrant communities everywhere.
What do we mean by each of these?
- Investment: active businesses, access to capital, and investment in physical infrastructure
- Talent: a growing workforce with education and job skills, equipped to excel in high-wage opportunities
- Sustainability: transportation, land use, and environmental conditions that promote healthier lifestyles and a healthier planet
- Place: affordable housing and transportation options that provide access to recreational and cultural amenities
- Diversity: personal and professional interaction across lines of race/ethnicity, age, and wealth
Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US (50K – 150K)
- Minnehaha County, SD (Sioux Falls)
Minnehaha County, South Dakota, has strengths in Place, Investment, and Talent, and has experienced a whopping 8% growth in population over the past five years. Along with the increase in the population of Minnehaha and the Sioux Falls area, the county also has a robust business community and has seen increasing development to meet demand, as illustrated by the blossoming communities around Sioux Falls.
The end is near…the year end of course.
Like most of you we’ve been reflecting a little and recognizing what an exciting year it has been. We wanted to share some of our highlights:
We began the year talking about our newly announced partnership with the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, powered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Our Region’s Business, a Southwestern Pennsylvania new program featured Chelsea and Rich discussing their role as a Platform Partner and what it means for our work and the Pittsburgh region. You can check them out HERE.
Fourth Economy completed a Pay for Success feasibility study for Enviro Social Capital to assess the potential for green infrastructure to be supported by this innovative financing model. The Fourth Economy team developed a financial model for a potential transaction, identified key stakeholders who would need to be engaged, and modeled three scenarios based on our analysis. This work is currently being used by the project team in continued conversations with stakeholders.
Completed the business district analysis and projections for the Homewood business district for Operation Better Block (Pittsburgh, PA).
Also in March, Fourth Economy partnered with Mongalo-Winston Consulting on a public engagement process for the Pittsburgh Land Bank’s Policies and Procedures, which must be completed before the Land Bank can be fully operational. You can read the full report on public feedback here.
Not to let a little weather get in the way of some team fun, we participated in our annual Pirates baseball Opening Day outing to PNC Park. The impressive snow squalls that kept rolling in did not deter us, but may have caused us to think that maybe Spring training would be a better outing next year.
This month we supported the University of Pittsburgh in the launch of the inaugural Life Sciences Week. Our team helped create the website and materials for a variety of presentations. During the week our sector analysis, Life Science Opportunity Analysis was published and provided a base for ongoing conversations in the community.
We hosted our first Agents of Change meetup event for community leaders from a variety of backgrounds to get together in a free form conversation about how we can achieve greater impacts in the region. To join us – sign up here!
Our team was selected to serve as the inaugural One Stop Operator for the Pittsburgh/Allegheny County CareerLink. This new position was created following changes to the federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. This is a big responsibility and an awesome way for us to help advance this critical community network. To date, we’ve worked with the seven partners who provide services through the CareerLink to create a common vision and mission, and to establish goals and related working groups to enhance collaboration and service delivery.
Fourth Economy kicked-off our engagement with the Indianapolis MPO. Since then we’ve engaged hundreds of stakeholders throughout the 9-county region to help the MPO determine how they can best support other regional planning needs, such as economic development, water quality and supply, land use, and housing.
The team completed a strategic planning engagement with Interise. This engagement opened our eyes to the world of small business training programs and how important they are for growth and resilience in our urban centers. Interise licenses their Streetwise ‘MBA” to partners who deliver it through their own locally branded programs. This training provides small business owners with the knowledge know-how, and networks they need to achieve scale. We strongly encourage our economic and community development friends to look into Interise to see how you may partner.
We joined 500 practitioners in New York City for the 100 Resilient Cities – Urban Resilience Summit. Fourth Economy is the only domestic community and economic development platform partner for this the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative.
Fourth Economy completed the market analysis and business plan for University of Pittsburgh’s GRID Institute.
Building on five years of modeling, Fourth Economy released the 2017 Fourth Economy Community Index. The Fourth Economy Community Index highlights counties that are poised to achieve sustainable growth in a 21st-century economy. We examine five areas: Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity because we know they cultivate better communities and stronger economies. We believe the right metrics identify responsible and resilient growth, and you can read more about the great economic development stories that the data unearthed here.
Chris Ellis contributed to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s inaugural volume of a publication series intended to catalyze discussion, engage new partners, and inspire action to build a Culture of Health in America. The book is titled Knowledge to Action: Accelerating Progress in Health, Well-Being, and Equity. The chapter focuses on public, private, and nonprofit partnerships and examines the impact of these partnerships by highlighting Utah’s Pay for Success transaction that expanded access to high-quality preschool services for low-income children.
The Indiana Regional Cities Initiative received a Silver Award for Cross Border Collaboration by the International Economic Development Council. The Fourth Economy team supported the Indiana Economic Development Corporation in the development of this initiative. “Fourth Economy supported our vision with a creative and engaged planning process that allowed us to launch the Regional Cities Initiative on solid footing and achieve quick success.” –Eric Doden former CEO for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
Also in September, we recognized a few of our Fourth Economy Community Index Top 10 Communities while we were all participating at the IEDC conference.
Rich Overmoyer, presented at the Talent Infrastructure Summit in Evansville, Indiana. Rich presented a response to the question “Does place matter and why should we invest in it”. The Summit led by the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana was a rallying point for community leaders to think differently about their community, the recruitment of talent and the risks and opportunities ahead.
And finally, Emily was one of two presenters at a two-day IEDC training course in Frostburg, Maryland entitled, “Economic Development for Local Leaders,” covering strategic thinking, revitalization, and workforce development for a group of about 35 leaders in the western Maryland region.
Completed a market analysis report for Ascender, a hub for Pittsburgh’s starters and builders that provides programming, insight and connectivity. This coworking space is part of a growing movement that we are seeing around the country. For more information on the way that coworking is being discussed see here.
This month we traveled to Gary, IN to kick-off their comprehensive plan. We are super fans of the team in Gary and the innovative approach that they are taking to this process. Read more about it here.
Fourth Economy has been working with Rhode Island’s Polaris Manufacturing Extension Partnership for several years to design and launch the Innovation Center for Design and Manufacturing. As part of that, we helped to develop a Design Readiness Assessment to help manufacturer’s assess their capacity to use design to enhance innovation in their company. This month marked the 50th company who participated in the Design Readiness Assessment process.
Rich and Chris authored an article that was published in Green Building Alliance’s annual publication, Viride. The article is titled Social Change: Refinanced and discussed the potential of impact investing.
Rich spoke at the Inspire Speaker Series event focused on Social Impact and Investing. Fourth Economy is a multi-year sponsor of the Inspire Speaker Series, as it aligns well with our mission to bring together different groups to collaborate on community transformation. You can learn more and sign up HERE.
Fourth Economy hosted a Lunch and Learn with Majestic Lane, Deputy Chief of Neighborhood Empowerment for the City of Pittsburgh to learn about his involvement with PlaceLab and how that will influence “Ethical Redevelopment” in Pittsburgh.
The Franklin County Energy Study was released for public comment. The study provides a data-driven assessment of energy use and production across key sectors of the economy in order to establish a baseline and identify issues and opportunities.
The Lancaster Economic Development Company began its efforts to increase informed decision making in the region with two new reports from the Center for Regional Analysis prepared by Fourth Economy. More than 400 regional leaders were on hand at the annual meeting to test their knowledge of the region and the role played by agriculture and manufacturing.
Fourth Economy and Palo Alto Partners worked together to support Just Harvest and Economic Development South in planning for a fresh foods market in Clairton, a community outside of Pittsburgh. Providing a need and opportunity assessment, market analysis, site and market feasibility study, and business planning, the team identified what it would take to transform the community’s vision for fresh foods into a reality. The report is being used by the community to make strategic decisions as the market comes closer to fruition.
We began working with Lawrenceville Corporation, a local community development organization, on their Community Land Trust (CLT). A CLT is a powerful tool that Lawrenceville Corporation is using to help preserve housing affordability in their neighborhood, and Fourth Economy is helping the CLT assess long-term financial planning options.
Jerry served as a member of the technical assistance team and the National League of Cities Equitable Economic Development Fellows on the Nashville site visit.
Jerry worked with a 14-member technical assistance for the National League of Cities Equitable Economic Development Fellowship to advise Nashville on strategies for affordable housing, economic inclusion and promoting urban manufacturing. Recommendations were delivered to Mayor Megan Barry and city staff on December 8.
As summer BBQs turn to fall tailgates, how often do you find that neighborly backyard burger flipping leads to discussions on how great your town is or how much better it could be. Sure there is always room for improvement, but ever wonder how those opinions and impressions sync-up with the facts. Sometimes we are too hard on our own community when it may really be doing quite well, while other times it is heading for a cliff that nobody seems to notice or care. In either case, gaining a better understanding of how impressions align with the facts is a good starting point for long-term strategic planning. Continue reading “Ready, Set, Survey…”
Building the “fourth economy” is all about combining traditional economic development tools with creative solutions to ever-evolving challenges. The Fourth Economy Index is our framework for thinking about what sets communities and regions up for success: investment, talent, sustainability, place, and diversity.
Elements of these indicators came up again and again throughout three “21st Century Cities and Global Leadership” discussions at the recent Thrival Festival, focusing on questions like what might attract and retain talent in Pittsburgh and how to ensure that economic growth is sustainable. And while diversity can mean many different things (and does as a metric in the Fourth Economy Index), one element of diversity that had an undeniable presence throughout the discussion was cultural diversity. Continue reading “Cultural diversity in the “fourth economy””
New analysis highlights the economic competitiveness of counties across the Commonwealth.
HARRISBURG, PA – Fourth Economy Consulting today announced the release of the 2015 Pennsylvania County Competitive Analysis, an assessment of how counties across the Commonwealth are performing economically. At the core, the analysis is based on the company’s Fourth Economy Community Index, which examines both statistical and qualitative factors at the county-level across the U.S. within the economic factors of investment, talent, sustainability, place, and diversity. Continue reading “Fourth Economy Releases 2015 County-by-County Competitiveness Analysis for Pennsylvania”
Fourth Economy Consulting announces the latest release of its national community index, listing top counties from across the nation. The Fourth Economy Index highlights those communities ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth within the fourth economy.
PITTSBURGH, PA – The latest release of the Fourth Economy Community Index (FEC Index, #FECIndex) was announced today listing the nation’s top ten mega-sized Fourth Economy Communities. These communities are recognized as the regions ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth among all regions with a population greater than 500,000 people.
Continue reading “National Fourth Economy Community Index Lists Top 10 Mega-Sized Counties for 2015”
We are celebrating our 3rd corporate birthday this week and it provides an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned. First, the pace of economic and community development continues to quicken as major global shifts drive business and social planning. Three years ago we were all worrying about the long-term impacts of the great recession, as unemployment was 9.6% with little sign of an end. Today, in many sectors we are working on strategies to not just keep the domestic jobs growing but also to bring them back by ‘making it in America’. As we have been saying for the past three years, the economic and community development toolbox must expand to include new models of planning for place, new types of infrastructure, and most importantly the people in our communities. Continue reading “Three Lessons Learned in the Past Three Years”
For economic and community developers, a new “best of” and “top places” ranking season is underway. While it may not be as popular as basketball’s March Madness, there is no doubt that economic and community performance rankings attract a lot of attention. They are of great interest to the media, elected officials, the business community and residents at-large.
But rankings are only one part of a very complex economic performance story. Compounding their use and reliability is the fact that not all adopt the most rigorous, relevant or transparent methods. And positive or negative scores do not impact all business investment decision-making in the same way.
Continue reading “The Best of the Top of the Greatest”
Today, Fourth Economy will be meeting with Rhode Island’s Governor Chafee, members of the legislature, and other stakeholders to discuss the findings of our Economic Development Data Analysis and Assessment. The report comes after two months working closely with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the Statewide Planning Program, and the Office of Regulatory Reform as part of a larger Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. The report analyzes Rhode Island’s business climate, industry clusters, regulatory environment, financial resources, and marketing efforts. Continue reading “Fourth Economy Releases Economic Development Data Analysis & Assessment for Rhode Island”