They are more than just maps, pie charts, and bar graphs — they are the story of a city, representing real people who live, work and learn in Greenville. How far are people driving to work each day, and how many of them drive alone? Where are new residents coming from? Where are child care deserts, or areas with workers likely to be impacted by global trends of automation and artificial intelligence? How specialized is the workforce compared to the rest of the nation?
Knowing the answers to those and other questions can help business owners, community leaders and elected officials better realize their vision for Greenville as a region where businesses succeed and people prosper. So the Greenville Chamber, through its Accelerate Greenville economic development initiative, has put it all in one place: a live, online dashboard called Community Insights that’s full of data sets breaking down almost every aspect of Greenville life.
“It’s a great starting point for us as a community,” says Hank Hyatt, senior vice president for economic competitiveness at the Greenville Chamber. “This has been much-needed infrastructure for us here at the Chamber. It’s really thanks to our Accelerate investors because one of the strategies of Accelerate is to enhance the data ecosystem. Accelerate funded this effort.”
Available to anyone, Community Insights currently covers demographics, economic base and workforce, quality of life, opportunity and inclusion, and livability aspects such as transportation and housing. The data comes from trusted sources like the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hyatt says the plan is for the dashboard to add more data sets with time, growing even more robust than it is now.
“We see this as a first iteration of this platform,” Hyatt says. “We’ll continue to have conversations with partners and stakeholders to tell the best stories and have the best data. We want to be that go-to place for the public, the business community, and elected officials, saying, ‘Here’s a source of reliable information on the community.’ We trust it, and we want to utilize this data in our decision-making process.”
‘It really is about community first’
Accelerate, the region’s private sector-fueled economic development initiative, was formed in 2009 over concerns of Greenville’s growth in per-capita income not keeping pace with other metro areas. That led to the production of an economic scorecard, a hard-copy data breakdown used to help spark conversations within the community. Then, at a 2019 Intercommunity Leadership Visit in Ohio, Greenville Chamber leadership learned from the economic development group One Columbus how data could help affirm the direction in which a region needed to head.
“They got very granular in their data. They were talking about things like knowing how many homeless vets were on the streets of Columbus at any one time,” Hyatt recalls. “We’re not there yet, but the passion behind it and the animating spirit behind it is what we’re trying to tap into. This is kind of the second iteration of the economic scorecard we used to have here at the Chamber. We wanted to make it more dynamic, easier to understand, and easier to access by putting it online.”
The Greenville Chamber connected with MySidewalk, a data science firm in Kansas City, Mo., which has developed platforms for numerous other organizations and municipalities. The Chamber liked the purity of the data the company used, meaning it came from trusted and nationally recognized sources like the U.S. Census. Much of the data is also live, so the dashboard is updated in real-time. The agreement was signed in December, and Community Insights debuted on June 15.
Although the information is available to anyone, Hyatt sees Community Insights serving primarily community-based organizations, members of the business community, and elected officials. “It really is about the community first, and those are folks who have a stake in where Greenville is and where we’re going,” he adds. “Those are our three key audiences because we rely on them to have good information as they make decisions.”
Offering a bird’s-eye view
Community Insights is sure to also find use among Greenville Chamber Investors, even if they’re only using it to broaden their understanding of the place they call home. “This platform gives them a bird’s-eye view of who we are as a community,” Hyatt says. “They might gravitate to one section because they have an interest in green space or transportation or health. And that might drive them to engage differently with the Chamber or other organizations.”
The dashboard will have more practical uses for business owners as well. Socioeconomic and demographic data can help members learn more about the areas they operate in, and who their potential customers are. Using information from Community Insights, the Greenville Chamber can also prepare ah-hoc reports tailored to a specific business.
“If a company wants to know, say, within a 35-minute drive time from my location, how are people employed and what kind of household incomes do they have — we can get down to the census tract level in a lot of places to give them information about the communities they serve,” Hyatt says. “Community Insights is our 40,000-foot view dashboard, but there are opportunities to use the platform to create ad-hoc reports to answer very specific questions businesses have.”
The Greenville Chamber will also use the dashboard to gather information for periodic specialized reports released to the community, on business-impacting issues like transportation or talent and workforce. Though several other chambers around South Carolina have adopted the economic scorecard model, Hyatt says he believes Greenville is currently the only chamber in the state with a live, real-time platform like Community Insights.
“More and more organizations are investing in data,” he adds. “It’s how you do business today, so we had to have a seat at the table.”
Interested in learning more about the Community Insights dashboard, the Accelerate Greenville program, or other aspects of the Greenville Chamber? Contact the chamber at (864) 242-1050, or visit their website at GreenvilleChamber.org.