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Getting an Accurate and Complete Economic Picture for Rural Counties

By Jim McEntire, Commissioner, Clallam County

It can be challenging to assemble a comprehensive view of county economic conditions due to the many different sources of county-level economic data. I have the curse of a curious mind, from long before the beginning of my service in local government. First as a Port Commissioner, and then as a County Commissioner, I began a personal project to compile demographic and economic statistics for my county over the past 6-plus years - mostly because of personal interest (I plead guilty to being somewhat of a numbers nerd), but also to help inform my votes on the annual property tax levy. As an aside, what first piqued my curiosity was a 2006 newspaper article describing how the County's overall population was growing, but enrollments in my local school district were declining - not a happy picture for the long run, I thought. I also believe strongly that how our citizens view their own economic circumstances, and how they perceive their municipality's or county's economic progress or retrogression, significantly influences their level of confidence in government and their level of general optimism.

Since I also happen to represent my County on its economic development council, its regional (bi-county) economic development district, as well as its regional workforce development governing board, some periodic, analytically-based view of our economy is a must. My county's economic development council is right now in the throes of developing an economic strategy - complete with quantitative goals for the next five years - which of course must spring from a well-constructed and thoughtful analytical basis.

MRSC to its great credit has a "gateway" web-page containing a plethora of links to all sorts of economic and demographic data. So far, so good. Problem is, fine-grained data for small and medium-sized rural counties is subject to some spottiness due to the small sample size, and extrapolations from more regionalized data sets, used by federal agencies such as the Census Bureau (U.S. Dept. of Commerce), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Dept. of Labor). I personally have much more confidence in state population data and labor force data found on the Office of Financial Management's (OFM) and the Employment Security Department's (ESD) websites. And of course, I have the most confidence in locally generated tax receipt and property value data, and that of the Department of Revenue (DOR), from its website. I do quibble somewhat in how DOR categorizes some of its data for senior and junior taxing districts. Port districts for example, are senior taxing districts, but their data is lumped together with junior taxing districts.

As always, in trying to assemble an econometric and demographic picture of one's county, trends over time are the most valuable information to have. If data collection anomalies or data biases are fairly constant from year to year, analyzing trends for a fairly lengthy period will tend to "sweat out" those biases and validity problems due to effects of small sample sizes and extrapolations from regional data sets.

A final confession: it was only due to a brilliant and very effective professor in graduate school, that I have any understanding at all of good research design, and the information and understanding one can gain from statistical analysis. None of that penetrated very deeply into my cranium in my undergraduate days. I am, and will always be, deeply in her debt.

Below are several examples of my compilations of Clallam County economic and demographic data from 2003 - 2014.

I would be very happy to provide my data to anyone who wants to see how I have put together my county's economic and demographic data. It's all sourced from the public domain, and I have absolutely no proprietary interest. Shoot me an email, and I'll send it along.

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Photo of Jim McEntire

About Jim McEntire

Jim McEntire writes for MRSC as a guest author.

Jim McEntire serves in his first term as a Clallam County Commissioner, representing the east end of Clallam County. He and his wife live north of Sequim. In prior lives, he retired after 28 years as a U.S. Coast Guard officer, ten years of which were at sea in six ships, commanding the last three. After retirement from the Coast Guard, he had further service as a career civilian in three Federal cabinet departments (Transportation, Labor, and Homeland Security), retiring from the Senior Executive Service. In Clallam County, he has served as a Commissioner for the Port of Port Angeles in addition to his current office.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.