How data insights can solve geographic inequity, build regional economies
The Commerce Department’s Regional Economic Research Initiative will provide accessible data tools, visualizations and expert services help to federal, state, local and tribal decision-makers better understand what kind of projects will promote growth.
A new data initiative aims to increase the understanding of local regional economies and help them compete.
The Department of Commerce announced the Regional Economic Research Initiative to provide research and data tools to federal, state, local and tribal decision-makers. The program aims to “help identify strengths and weaknesses of regional economies, uncover new opportunities for growth, provide insights into local economic needs and maximize the impact of regional investments,” officials said in the March 27 announcement.
According to Commerce Department analysis, the concentration of opportunities on the coasts and in major cities has increased geographic inequality over the last 40 years.
To reverse that trend, public and private sector investors must understand what kind of projects will encourage business and job growth in previously overlooked geographic areas. The Regional Initiative will give decision-makers accessible data tools, visualizations and expert services they need to address long-standing geographic inequality.
Specifically, the Commerce Department’s Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs will harness statistical and federal program datasets to show previous federal investments in local economies and provide unique insights into regions and their needs. The insights will help decision-makers determine what types and levels of investment will maximize regional impact, based on the area’s unique characteristics and what has worked before.
The Biden administration has pushed for geographically distributed economic growth with a number of its funding programs, including infrastructure investment and broadband expansion. The CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to boost domestic semiconductor production, calls for the Commerce Department to “ensure geographic and demographic diversity” by creating at least three innovation hubs in each of the Economic Development Administration's six regions, fostering tech-based economic development into new locations.
Similarly, the Department of Energy in a Jan. 27 request for information echoed the call for geographic equity when it asked for insights into developing place-based innovation ecosystems anchored by DOE’s 17 national labs.
Some place-based economic development data is already available. In December, the Economic Innovation Group launched the Innovation Hub Index, a tool that analyzes data on metro areas’ economic needs and potential to determine which cities might best benefit from a federal innovation hub.
“Geographic inequality continues to widen, and high-paying sectors remain concentrated in specific places,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Jed Kolko said. The Regional Initiative will spotlight those key trends and ensure federal investments are coordinated to close these gaps and improve regional competitiveness.”
The Initiative’s research and data products are expected to be released within the calendar year.