June 28, 2021

“Without big data, you are blind and deaf and in the middle of a freeway.”
-Geoffrey Moore

“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” 
-Jim Barksdale
The quotes above from two Silicon Valley giants underscore both the necessity and the emotion often attached to gathering, analyzing, and putting data to use in the real world. Innovation is born out of difficult circumstances and major shifts and transformations. Given that, we are due a big “big data” payoff in the years to come. The technology used to inform us during the pandemic; medical, economic, demographic, and business data, should serve to improve our ability to react in the future and more importantly to be proactive in avoiding future problems.

We now know more than ever before about who we are, where we reside and work, our buying habits, and the flow of goods and services both physically and digitally. According to this insightful interview by HPE, “data science is uncovering the insights businesses need to decrease risk, realign strategies, and thrive in a changed world.” The same could prove to be true for policy government, social service organizations, and economic development organizations serving small, mid-sized and even larger employers. This MIT article is one more example of how the United States has made advances in its overall medical and health data in the past year.

As states, counties, and communities pass budgets and develop public policy this gift of powerful data will surely make a difference in how resources are allocated and programs are managed. As always, we should be wary. All of this data will not and cannot replace the perspective of those on the ground or in the field delivering services and living within the community.

It should also highlight where we still have gaps in knowledge and need to invest in closing gaps that continue to exist, primarily in our rural, immigrant, and minority communities. These communities are rationally suspicious of data science, artificial intelligence, and big data. Its potentially positive impact on our daily lives must not only be handled with care, but coupled with partnerships within these communities so that it produces real, tangible change.

Two areas of information could have a profound impact on the economic development of our country. First, from business itself. The PPP loan program generated a huge data set that can help target where resources can have the biggest impact going forward. It highlighted the inequities that exist in the small business community and the vast opportunities we have for growth if the gaps are closed. We know more about our supply chains and have highlighted where the weakest links exist in our agricultural and food, industrial, medical and pharmaceutical sectors. Companies, with the support of the federal and state governments, are already taking action to become more resilient and agile.

Second, the workforce data being produced is profound. The changing nature of work,and the American worker, is being collected and processed in real time. What motivates workers and what drives productivity is being examined in deeper detail than in the past 50 years. The changes in the built environment of cities and small communities, and within the housing industry, will shape our country and perhaps the globe for decades to come. Let’s hope the big data payoff is positive, not abused by the few, and benefits the many.

Let’s have a great week and continue to build, rebuild, close gaps, grow and prosper.

​​​​​​​​​​-Kenny McDonald