Data Dashboard Provides New View of Bloomington-Normal | WGLT

Data Dashboard Provides New View of Bloomington-Normal

Sep 26, 2018

What’s the average commute time in Bloomington-Normal? How many patents do our entrepreneurs win each year? What’s the median rent for those living in the Twin Cities?

These are questions with answers, but until now, they’ve been hard to find. The new BN Vitals dashboard will fix that problem, creating a one-stop shop for data-driven insights about Bloomington-Normal.

The dashboard is an online tool with more than 120 metrics, offering quick access to stats about Bloomington-Normal’s demographics, workforce, quality of life, and other slices of the economy. It’s been years in the making, part of the BN Advantage initiative spearheaded by local governments and business leaders to promote the community and “deliver the social and economic environment needed to compete in the global economy.”

"We now have data and information that's both current and historical that I think they would find very valuable in evaluating our community."

“The intention is for it to be used very broadly,” said Adam Garey, a vice president at Country Financial who co-chairs BN Advantage’s data team. “There’s nothing we want to keep close to the vest. If someone is exploring or expanding a business or a nonprofit organization in the McLean County area, we now have data and information that’s both current and historical that I think they would find very valuable in evaluating our community compared to other communities they might be considering.”

Added the other co-chair, retired Country executive Deanna Frautschi: “I think we’ll see a lot of use of this data by other organizations (outside of BN Advantage) and by entrepreneurs coming to the community—or thinking about coming here.”

Before now, all this data was fragmented—siloed off on websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Census Bureau. It’s never been pulled together in this way.

Garey and Frautschi credited staff at the McLean County Regional Planning Commission—one of the lead partners in BN Advantage—with doing the bulk of the work setting up the actual online dashboard. The data will be updated at regular intervals, with additional BN Vitals analysis provided annually.

Can the data be trusted? After all, BN Advantage is tasked with promoting the community. Is it willing to disclose data or insights that reveal weaknesses in the local economy?

Yes, according to Garey and Frautschi. Data sources and context are displayed right alongside the numbers, providing transparency to dashboard users, Garey said. And the BN Vitals team uses a common-sense “snicker” test when a number looks off and needs to be explored further.

“There’s been a lot of checking and cross-checking across the metrics by the data team. It wouldn’t serve the community well if the metrics weren’t just crisply objective and we got as close as integrity as we can. Our team strived to make an objective, factual set of metrics and report,” Garey said.

BN Vitals will debut Thursday at BN By the Numbers, a quarterly event hosted by the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council. The event is co-sponsored by GLT.

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