WCU launches online dashboard of WNC, statewide economics data

Angela Dills

Western Carolina University has launched a new online information tool designed to provide easy access to recent economic trends in the counties of Western North Carolina and across the entire state to everyone from community-minded residents and college students conducting research to industry and business executives exploring possible locations for expansion.

Called the North Carolina Data Dashboard, the economics database includes more than 12,000 unique data series from sources such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Reserve Economic Database.

The open-access electronic resource will serve as a one-stop information source that includes nearly 12 million independent observations from categories including workforce, product markets, land and infrastructure, said WCU economics professor Angela K. Dills, who holds the university’s Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professorship in Regional Economic Development and is one of the primary drivers behind the project.

“The new economic data dashboard fills a growing need for information that’s available in an easy-to-use format,” said Dills. “With this dashboard, Western North Carolinians from all walks of life – from small business owners and entrepreneurs, to economic developers, to laypeople who are curious about the WNC economic engine – will have access to vital information about their economy and their communities.”

Edward J. Lopez

The data, which can be examined down to the county level, is searchable by geographic area and time frame, and users are able to save and print dashboard-generated charts specific to each search, making it a unique tool for students, economic planners, journalists and community leaders alike, said economics professor Edward J. López, who holds the university’s BB&T Distinguished Professorship in Capitalism and serves as director of WCU’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise.

“We’re excited to be bringing this dashboard to life,” said López. “The dashboard not only enhances economic and community development efforts in WNC, but also supports cross-disciplinary research and teaching on campus.”

Developing the North Carolina Data Dashboard and sharing the wealth of data it contains with the public is in keeping with WCU’s tradition of meeting the needs of the people of the region it was founded to serve, said Acting Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar.

“This new data dashboard will be an essential addition to the resources that WCU has at the ready through its role as a regional comprehensive university. This open-access website will strengthen our existing partnerships and foster new relationships with a variety of community groups, including economic development authorities, prospective businesses, policymakers, media and the general public,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “At the same time, it provides unique tools for WCU students and faculty in their educational and research pursuits.”

Dills gave the WCU Board of Trustees a sneak preview of the dashboard at its meeting Friday, June. 1. She is scheduled to demonstrate the capabilities of the online tool during a meeting of the Mountain West NC Partnership on Wednesday, June 6, in the Southwestern Commission offices in Sylva.

The North Carola Data Dashboard is jointly sponsored by the Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professorship in Regional Economic Development and the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise, with continuing support provided by WCU’s Office of the Provost.

For more information or to view the dashboard, visit the website NCDataDashboard.org.