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Notes from the Field

It’s (Still) About the Data

Data networks, such as Case Western Reserve University’s NEO CANDO system, are an invaluable resource in the field of community development.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

The need for better and integrated data to address policy and social issues is a recurring theme that comes up time and again in our outreach. For example, on a visit to Warren, Ohio, we learned from the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership (TNP)—the only community development corporation in Warren—that the biggest community development problem in town is the significant number of scattered vacant and blighted properties. In order to strategically address the blight, TNP first needs data on properties and their conditions so they can determine which properties are candidates for demolition or for repair. TNP is using a recent HUD Community Challenge grant award to thoroughly inventory all property parcels in the city in a survey of their condition and occupancy status. In cases of extreme dilapidation, TNP advocates for demolition by the city. TNP also runs a side lot program for the Trumbull County Land Bank wherein neighbors can buy vacant lots resulting from demolition in order to expand their properties.

Having an inventory is important to address blight, as is having data more generally. As one community development practitioner puts it, to know where you are going, you need to know where you are. This knowledge is also important in broader regional economic development conversations. Economic competitiveness is one topic we’ve been hearing about in Northeast Ohio. For example, the question of how to make cities like Warren, with shrinking populations and dwindling employment opportunities (both of which contribute to vacancy and abandonment), economically competitive is very much on the minds of staff at the Raymond J. Wean Foundation. Local conversations on regional economic development in the Mahoning Valley have focused on talent development and inclusion. Foundations and decision makers recognize that data—and the ability to manipulate it—is integral to understanding the issues at hand and to monitor changes in response to investments. One such issue that we hear repeatedly in our outreach, particularly in Northeast Ohio, is how to expand job opportunities for traditionally hard-to-employ populations.

Northeast Ohio is lucky to have NEO CANDO, a free and publicly accessible social and economic data system managed by Case Western Reserve University’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. The system has data for the 17 counties across Northeast Ohio. What data resources are available in your community? And what resources would help you do your job?