Taking Control of Data

You hear the ting a new email flying into your inbox. You quickly check it, hoping it is a company looking at moving into your community or even a message from the governor’s office exposing a new project lead. You see the subject line and your heart sinks a little. Another open records request. That’s the third one this month. Somehow your job migrated from recruiting companies and giving the community tour to sifting through emails and files – some of them even from your predecessor – just to satisfy the high demands of each open records request. In fact, this research has become your full time job! You think to yourself: “If only we were more organized and had already researched the data to defend each incentive, or lack of incentive, offered by our office. Then I would be on that recruitment trip in California courting a new Google campus.”

Perhaps this is extreme, but this lack of organization of project data is exactly the type of nightmare that can come back to haunt you years down the road. Believe it or not, in this new era of easily accessible data, it is expected that when someone comes knocking at your door, you can expose your department’s transparency and explain to them the thought process behind an incentive package. Things such as rate of return, jobs created, and capital investment will prove to be vital when defending yourself in front of your board or council. When that council member asks you if the impact of a certain company moving to your city means that the city needs to invest part of its precious budget in the construction of a new fire station to meet the demand of your increasing population, you need to confidently respond that he should reference page 7 of the report you handed him – you know all the data is in there.

It is easy to get lost in the company’s name, number of jobs created, or their out of town visitors spending money in your community, but it is vital to know whether your school district can handle the influx of students moving into the area or if there will need to be an increase in police, EMS, and fire fighters. Gathering this information about a project as you go along will help you in the long run. You’ll thank yourself a year down the road when reporters are drilling you about that incredible tax abatement that won you the project, and you can simply pull out a report and remember all the data and reasoning for your decision.

Don’t let data run wild and get the best of you! It can be the most effective resource at your fingertips or the largest threat to your job. All you need to do is keep organized and you should have no problem explaining each of your decisions.

Banner Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Andrzej Pobiedzinski

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