Radically Rural: How Is Your Economy? A DIY Primer to Help Anyone Answer That Question

Instead of assuming you know where your community’s jobs are coming from, check the facts through a simple online tool.

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Keene is a small city in southwestern New Hampshire characterized by a bustling downtown, an abundance of cultural activities and a relatively diverse local economy.  The people who live here are known to be engaged and to work well together. The region boasts mountains, lakes and ponds, forests, fields and historic towns and villages.  A strong sense of self-reliance and a buy-local ethic have fostered a strong local agricultural sector, thriving independent retail shops and restaurants, and a hub of entrepreneurs working together in a lively community.  

Radically-Rural-LogoIt all sounds great, yet, as with other rural regions and small cities, the economy has struggled to return to pre-recession levels of jobs.  Data about your local economy is often both out of date and hard to find, leaving one to guess at the appropriate actions to take. Actions that worked 20 years ago may be ineffective now.   

In 2006 when we opened a business incubator in Keene, 28% of jobs gained in Cheshire County came from startups; by 2018, 86% of jobs gained in Cheshire County came from startups.  Attracting businesses from outside the community may have been a great strategy when new jobs were coming from new and growing businesses, but to support conditions now, startup programming and support for new businesses is clearly critical. 

I hope by now you are wondering where your new jobs are coming from, because the purpose of this article is to share how anyone can easily access that information, and much more, for your community.  The details of your local economy offer up valuable clues to the work that you should be focusing on and might even offer clues as to the effectiveness of existing efforts.  

I first encountered YourEconomy.org (YE) while at a retreat for entrepreneur support organizations at the Edward Lowe Foundation.  It is currently powered by the Institute for Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin.  Starting with Cheshire County data to give a feel for what is available, here is a quick tutorial on how to access jobs, revenue and business data for your county.

Here’s what the YE easy-to-access data tells me about the change in our local jobs picture from 2017-2018.  While Cheshire County, New Hampshire, gained 338 jobs during that time period, only Stage 1 businesses (those with two to nine employees) had a net positive impact. Stage 1 businesses added 929 jobs, while the other business categories — Self-Employed, Stage 2 (10-99 employees), Stage 3 (200-499) and Stage 4 (500+) – all lost more jobs than they gained, effectively lowering the net impact of the Stage 1 businesses on job creation.   

Stage 1 businesses added 929 jobs!  Do these incredible job creators who love our region have the respect they deserve and the support they need, or are we still focusing on ribbon-cutting ceremonies for bigger firms? 

Startups contributed to 86% of the jobs gained in Cheshire County. Expansions of existing businesses were responsible for 14% of the job growth. Companies moving into the county from elsewhere provided no growth in jobs.  Business closings caused 84% of the jobs lost. Businesses that contracted accounted for 15% of job losses. Companies moving out of the county caused 1% of job losses.   

Startups account for nearly nine out of every 10 new jobs.  What support do they need? Are there effective models for rural entrepreneurship?  YourEconomy.org provides the numbers your community needs to start asking the right questions.   

The same detailed analysis is also available in YE for the types of businesses in your region (it turns out those Stage 1 businesses account for 70% of the overall businesses in Cheshire County while returning almost three times the jobs of the other stages). YE also tells you the source of total revenues. Stage 1 businesses account for just 26% of the revenues, so that means those bigger companies are still very important.

The data is available from 2003 to present, so you can compare your current configuration of businesses, jobs and revenue to, for example, what it was pre-recession if you’d like.  In 2006 new startups accounted for 28% of the jobs gained in Cheshire County; by 2018 new startups accounted for 86% of jobs gained. The focus on the importance of bigger companies and recruitment of companies was once well-grounded in reality, but we have a new reality.  Growing our Stage 1 companies is the most cost-effective path to replacing the larger employers we have lost, and the good news is that they have a lot of momentum right now.

You can also compare your county to the others in the state.  We are seventh out of 10 in job creation, seventh out of 10 in job loss, and 10th out of 10 in net job change year over year.  You can also compare your state to other states and to the U.S. as a whole.  

YE has dashboards that show total jobs, revenues and business creation. But the most valuable piece of the YE tool is that it can show you clearly the detail of the business-size that drives your community.  YE is simple to use, but if you want the “quick start” instructions to understanding jobs in your county, and learning how to navigate YE, here they are:

  • Go to YourEconomy.org
  • Select your state
  • Select your county
  • For this exercise, keep the time range on 2017-2018
  • Click “GO” 
  • Click on “Jobs Gained” under performance indicators, a black arrow on the left will show you are there.
  • Click on the turquoise Performance Indicator Details under Indicators on the left
  • Print it out.
  • Repeat with “Jobs Lost” and “Jobs Changed”.  I plugged mine into a simple excel table that you can find at https://radicallyrural.org/how-is-youreconomy/ if you don’t want to re-create the wheel.

This quick exercise will give you enough familiarity with the tool that you can dive into other aspects of your local economy.  One thing I’ve learned from using YE over the years is how much the underlying composition and contributions of the different stages of business change over time.  So don’t just go in once and assume you are done. Your economy is always changing in subtle ways. YE offers a great tool for even the most data challenged among us to keep our programs closely tuned to those changes.

 

Mary Ann Kristiansen is executive director of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene, New Hampshire.

Radically Rural explores ways rural leaders are building stronger communities through innovative strategies. The column is produced by the organizers of Radically Rural, an annual summit of rural leaders that last year brought together almost 600 rural leaders from 25 states working in arts and culture, main street development, community journalism, land and community, entrepreneurship, and renewable energy. For more information on Radically Rural, visit the organization’s website or contact them via email at info@radicallyrural.com.

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