The COVID-19 pandemic has presented counties across the country with difficult, compounding challenges and tighter budgets to address present challenges and plan for recovery. To make informed policy and funding decisions, county leaders need timely access to quality data. NACo recently assessed county need in economic recovery through county leader interviews, focus groups and a membership survey. Participants shared what available data elements are helping them assess current and future impacts and make important funding decisions and what additional data they need to speed recovery efforts.
Available data sources
Counties are largely satisfied with the information and guidance they have received in economic recovery and are using data from a variety of sources.
- Ex: for counties in Ohio, Ohio Benefits for tracking services like SNAP, Medicaid and TANF, and OhioMeansJobs for tracking job data
- Ex: restoreyoureconomy.org by the International Economic Development Council
- Ex: COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University
- Ex: Small Businesses Development Center at Western Washington University
Private company data
- Ex: CoStar.com for commercial real estate news stories
Local hospital data
County leaders are using these data to:
- Make decisions about allocating federal funds, such as from the CARES Act
- Make decisions about community programming, partnerships and outreach
- Assess how resulting unemployment will impact all sectors
- Track and assess economic impacts across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic strata
- Montgomery County, Ohio tracks outreach to businesses and their attraction and retention efforts and uses this information to advise their economic development team.
- Whatcom County, Wash. organized a group of 140 businesses to examine the county’s reopening through both a health and business lens and developed many tools for community outreach.
Additional data needs
Counties have identified data sets and analytical tools that they do not currently have access to but believe would enhance their economic recovery planning capacity.
- Childcare capacity data to better understand the potential workforce impacts of limited childcare in communities
- Easily accessible state employment data disaggregated by industry sector and high- versus low-wage workers
- Disaggregated data to better understand trends that vary even within counties, including racial, socioeconomic, and zip code stratifications
- Faster access to data, such as shortening the six-month lag time in federal data reporting
- Data on local policy changes, as compared to state or federal changes
- User-friendly tools that are easily accessible for policymakers to download and analyze
- Especially smaller counties, which are less likely to have the resources for dedicated staff analysts, need readily available analytic tools
- Real-time tracking of funding allocations to monitor spending and inform future impact evaluation
As county leaders face unprecedented challenges in 2020, NACo is committed to helping them identify and access all the information they need to effectively lead their residents through economic recovery from COVID-19.
NACo hosted two focus groups in August 2020 aimed at assessing county government use of data in economic recovery. The focus groups, executed in partnership with Opportunity Insights (OI) and the National League of Cities, were part of NACo’s greater County Needs Assessment project. Much of the focus groups centered around OI’s Economic Tracker, a tool that is critical for many leaders in planning economic recovery. NACo thanks the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their generous support of this project.