Questions and Answers on the New IEDC EDRP Data Standards

Last month IEDC’s Economic Development Research Partners (EDRP) published a great new document for economic developers called “A New Standard: Achieving Data Excellence in Economic Development”. The document builds on the 2002 Site Selection Data Standards that were developed when the internet played a vastly different role in everyone’s lives and a much different role in the dissemination of data. In the new data document, EDRP notes that open government data makes it easier to collect and track certain metrics and that private data providers are enhancing publicly available data and putting it in an easy-to-digest format. As I dug in to the document I was interested to see how the research addressed the following questions:

  1. In 2016, when every business and consultant has unlimited data at their fingertips, is it still important for an EDO to post standard Site Selection data on its website?
  2. Will the research discuss the use of data across the economic development process, not just for site selection / attraction?
  3. Will the research be accessible for the average economic developers, many of whom understand the importance of data but may not have advanced degrees in statistics?

Site Selection Data in 2016

In our role as consultants to EDOs we are intimately familiar with the economic development industry, but I don’t have direct experience as a site selector nor as an economic developer. Having worked with large, established communities, small rural towns, fast growing cities and areas losing population, we’ve seen a pretty wide cross section of the economic development industry. So picking up this document I wanted to know the argument for even having site selection data standards in 2016. My perception was that the site selector or location consultant, armed with his preferred, standard database could know as much about your community and peer communities as you do – so why waste the time pulling all of these specific data points? The new research document acknowledges the first half of my initial perception – that site selectors “have increasingly turned to software to gather information more comprehensively and quickly than they could by request from EDOs.” But it goes on to note that site selectors will use this as a filter and will reach out for more information on other topics they cannot obtain from online sources such as sites and utilities.

Additionally, although the information may by widely available to site selectors, an EDO shouldn’t walk around blindly. EDOs need to be proactive by seeing their community’s data as it is viewed by the site selectors so that it can be prepared to address perceived weaknesses or highlight emerging strengths. The research notes that EDOs can provide “narrative context for data where it is difficult or unclear.”

The Broad Role of Data in ED

It is made clear in the full 80-page research document that data in economic development in 2016 is about much more than site selection standards. All economic developers should read the IEDC’s research so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the research points out many points in the economic development process where data must be used. It begins, logically enough, with using data to understand a community with the common ED concepts of strategic planning, analysis and program design, cluster analysis and shift share analysis. It, then, provides an overview of data sources – focusing on various federal data providers as well as private data providers, utilities, colleges and primary data collection. Next they address the various consumers of data including the business community, location consultants, governments, and workers. In each instance the research includes survey data to better understand the stakeholders’ unique concerns. The document touches on how to deal with data standardization and consistence issues including geographic mismatch and datedness. Overall, the EDRP data standard document gives a 360-degree view of data in economic development in 2016.

Comprehensive and Accessible

My final concern as I began to dig into IEDC’s EDRP data document was – will the document be too nerdy for economic developers to really get anything out of it? I believe the document strikes the right balance between being a comprehensive discussion of economic development data and making an accessible and digestible document. Again, in our experience we know some EDOs are a one-man or one-woman shop while others have a staff of 20+ data issues can get complicated quickly. The research was a great entrée to ED data which provides a map to all of the data rabbit holes larger EDOs can let their research team chase down. Meanwhile, the research was digestible enough for the smaller-staffed EDO to prioritize its efforts and possibly seek out assistance from private consultants.


While I had several big questions about a topic so near and dear to my heart, IEDC’s EDRP did an excellent job pulling the information together and providing context with survey results. I encourage all economic development stakeholders to take a read.

Upcoming Webinar

Interested in this topic? Have any questions? We are hosting a free webinar!

Economic Development Metrics for Success

July 13 at 1pm (CST)

Register here

The webinar will discuss IEDC’s EDRP new data standards. We will be joined by a site selector who will discuss the standards and answer any questions that you may have. Also, an economic developer will be present and will share how using performance reports alongside the data standards helps his community push deals across the finish line. Please register using the link above.

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