Team NEO Unveils Economic Assessment Tool

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Officials at Team NEO expect a new tool launched last week will provide a more complete picture of the regional economy and how residents of the region are faring. 

The regional economic development organization introduced the Vibrant Economy Index at its annual ED Now event, which was held Friday. 

The Index uses an expanded dataset in six categories – talented, equitable, innovative, resilient, competitive and prosperous – to offer a more detailed, nuanced and accurate measure of the Northeast Ohio Region’s economy and individual prosperity, according to a Team NEO news release. 

In addition to high-level data points such as employment, gross regional product, per capita income, and labor force participation that are commonly used to measure the economy’s strength, the index will incorporate data such as unemployment by race and gender, educational attainment, poverty and cost of living that measure the economic and social wellbeing of individuals, across all races and gender and the economic health of communities. 

Team NEO’s research team began researching the concept of the Vibrant Economy Index in 2019 with the goal of developing a tool to help inform solutions and strategies that support economic growth and address disparities in economic opportunities and outcomes. The organization worked with several partners in the Northeast Ohio Region’s economic development network to gather input on the categories and individual data points in the index, and to gauge support for it as a tool.

Despite the progress the northeastern Ohio economy has made over the past two decades, many of its residents still face systemic barriers to careers with family-sustaining wages and opportunities to thrive, Jacob Duritsky, vice president of research and strategy at Team NEO, said. 

“Traditionally, we’ve measured our economy primarily using growth-oriented metrics.  Measuring our economy only at that macro level can mask specific challenges and opportunities to economic growth and prosperity,” he said. “Highlighting measures relating to key factors that impact growth and prosperity enhances our community’s opportunity to create a more vibrant economy through better aligned economic development initiatives.” 

The index will track economic performance in the 18-county region of Northeast Ohio, as well as 12 metropolitan areas in three categories: 

Aspirational – markets that are widely recognized as top markets in the United States (Boston, New York, San Francisco and Austin, Texas).

Competitive – metros that the Northeast Ohio region frequently competes with for business attraction and expansion projects (Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Houston).

Nearby – locations in Ohio and neighboring states (Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh) that are frequently used for comparative purposes.

In addition to traditional economic metrics like employment and gross regional product, the VEI includes data points such as unemployment by race and gender, educational attainment, poverty rates, cost of living, broadband access, access to alternative fuel stations, frequency of natural disasters, median home value, and many others.

“The Vibrant Economy Index is going to challenge us – it will challenge how we think about the structure of our regional economy, have competitive we are, who benefits from its progress, and how we can impact success over time. It will challenge us to create new solutions and aligned strategies that improve our competitiveness and individual prosperity,” Koehler said. “But it also presents an opportunity for us to push towards aspirational outcomes and celebrate the gains we make along the way.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.