By David Pittman –
It’s amazing what collaboration between diverse interests can accomplish.
Collaboration between the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the University of Arizona has created a new tool that has the potential to help business leaders, government officials and the general public make better, more informed decisions regarding economic and quality of life choices in the Tucson region.
The tool is called MAP Dashboard. MAP is an acronym for “Making Action Possible” for Southern Arizona.
The MAP Dashboard is a new Internet site built and operated by the UA Eller Economic and Business Research Center. Unveiled in December, the Dashboard gives residents of Southern Arizona unprecedented access to continually updated, comprehensive economic and lifestyle data.
The intent of the SALC, CFSA and UA project is for the community to become well informed and then take collective data-driven civic action to measurably improve Southern Arizona.
“Until you can put a mirror up in front of the citizenry so they have an accurate picture of where we are as a community, they are not in a position to make good choices,” said SALC Chair Lisa Lovallo, the top executive for Cox Communication in Southern Arizona. “The MAP Dashboard provides that mirror and the opportunity to better align community interests to improve results and make resources go further.”
Accurate data with the click of a mouse
The MAP Dashboard website has 36 areas of measurement grouped into six categories – economy, education, health and social well-being, infrastructure, quality of place, and workforce and demographics – providing thousands of factual details gathered in a colorful graphic format that allows visitors to learn about this region and how it stacks up with other cities in the West.
View the MAP Dashboard at www.mapazdashboard.arizona.edu or www.mapazdashboard.com.
Jennifer Pullen, a research economist at the UA Eller College, is project manager and analyst for the MAP Dashboard Project. She expects the MAP Dashboard will be utilized by those hoping to make Tucson and Southern Arizona a better place.
“We anticipate the MAP will be used by community members, organizations and leaders to help identify potential areas of improvement in their community,” said Pullen. “We’d like to see the entire community use the Dashboard to facilitate conversations on where we’ve been and where we should head.”
Ron Shoopman, SALC’s president and CEO, said the MAP Dashboard belongs to everyone in Southern Arizona.
“SALC worked together with the Community Foundation and the university to create something beneficial to the community – but we don’t own it and we don’t control it,” he said. “It isn’t the SALC Dashboard or the Community Foundation Dashboard. It is the Southern Arizona Making Action Possible Dashboard at UA Eller College. This is the community’s dashboard, not ours.”
Fact-based planning leads to a brighter future
UA President Ann Weaver Hart called the MAP Dashboard “a gift to our community” from the university and its partners. “Having this information accessible to everyone gives us the tools to build a successful future for our region.”
The MAP Dashboard mirrors more than 125 similar projects across the country. Many of those are static presentations updated annually. The Tucson site is designed to be a resource people want to visit often – it’s interactive and offers monthly updates and real-time data.
Clint Mabie, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, said the MAP Dashboard tracks a complete range of issues. “It is important to have that 360-degree view of our community so we can identify and work together to address the issues across sectors. To move the needle on each issue we must collaborate and support community-driven civic action.”
The MAP Dashboard reveals both strengths and weaknesses regarding Tucson and Southern Arizona. For instance, on the good side, did you know that the average Tucson Water customer has reduced water usage by 27.3 percent over the last 17 years? Or that Tucson’s four-year college attainment rate of 29.8 percent is 1.2 percent higher than the national average? It’s on the MAP.
However, did you know Tucson’s working age (25-54) labor force participation rate is just 79.4 percent – which is 2.4 percent less than the national average – and 11th lowest among 12 comparable Western U.S. cities? (Thank goodness for El Paso.) That, too, is on the MAP.
SALC’s Lovallo said it is important that the MAP Dashboard becomes a popular website among Southern Arizonans.
‘Just map it’
“One of the things I will focus on as chair of SALC is not only making people aware that the MAP Dashboard exists, but encouraging everybody – schoolchildren, teachers, healthcare workers, academics, business people and politicians – to use it. The MAP is accurate, easy to use, interesting and fun – and the data contained in it is the latest available from the economists at UA Eller College.”
The phrase “google it” is commonly used by people everywhere when it comes to looking for information online. Lovallo wants the term “MAP it” to become just as common among Tucson-area residents when it comes to searching for information about their part of the world. She said “MAP it” needs to become “part of our nomenclature.”
Shoopman also believes it will benefit the local community if the MAP site is heavily utilized. “The Community Foundation is committed to using the MAP on philanthropic issues,” Shoopman said. “We (SALC) are committed to using it on economic issues. The United Way, the Tucson Metro Chamber and TREO are going to use it. We have to keep widening the circle of organizations that are committed to utilizing the MAP.”
One organization embracing this new resource is the Tucson Airport Authority, which already has used the Dashboard as a source for 12 presentations, each specifically tailored to convince a different airline to provide or expand service to Tucson International Airport.
In a February presentation to an airline that provides passenger service to and from Canada and Europe, TAA officials included information gleaned from the MAP to paint a flattering picture of Tucson’s economy, its workforce, its affordability and its quality of life.
Growth of Tucson startups exceeds national average
For instance, information from the MAP Dashboard places the growth rate of Tucson business startups at 4.9 percent annually – which exceeds the national average. Tucson ranks fifth best among 12 western cities – Albuquerque, Austin, Colorado Springs, Denver, El Paso, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego.
TAA also used MAP data to underscore that Tucson is fourth lowest among those same 12 cities when it comes to the cost of living, and below the national average. MAP data also showed that Tucson’s median home price is just $169,500, second lowest among the 12 cities, and well below the national average of $197,400.
Airline officials also shared that Tucson has a highly educated workforce focused on science, great air quality, large amounts of open space, a bicycle-friendly environment and many recreational opportunities.
Bonnie Allin, TAA president and CEO, said the authority began using MAP Dashboard data just two weeks after the website was up and running.
“As an SALC director who had the benefit of knowing about the thoughtful process that went into developing the MAP Dashboard, it was very clear the resulting data would be invaluable,” she said. “Once they saw the site, our team members were very excited as they could see how useful the MAP information could be for us. They wasted no time in putting the material to use. From my view, it is a valuable part of helping us try to make our case.”
Measuring performance against other metro areas
George W. Hammond replaced Marshall Vest as director and research professor of economic and business research at the UA Eller College of Management in July of 2012. Hammond said that when he arrived at UA, Vest was already involved in “serious discussions” with SALC and the Community Foundation about establishing the MAP Dashboard.
“Marshall (Vest) did all the preliminary work of talking to the partners and getting them together in the same room, developing the basic ideas of what the Dashboard would be and getting the financing and all the budgets set up and ready to go,” Hammond said. “He then passed it on to me and retired.”
Hammond called the resulting collaboration “a fairly unique partnership between the university and the nonprofit and business communities.” He said his biggest contribution to the Dashboard was hiring Pullen to coordinate the project.
“Jennifer (Pullen) has provided a whirlwind of effort,” Hammond said. “My job has been to get out of the way and make sure she has what she needs.”
Though modest about his role in creating the MAP Dashboard, Hammond clearly sees it is an important tool for Southern Arizonans.
“It’s critical that people have a common place to find trusted information,” he said. “That is what the MAP is designed to do. It gives people information on where the Southern Arizona economy is at the moment and where it has been – so that they can benchmark our performance against other metropolitan areas in Arizona and the U.S. We are doing that in a way that is interesting and engaging, with colorful graphics and written analysis that helps people interpret what is going on.”
Groundswell of funding for Dashboard launch
The MAP Dashboard was funded by an array of business, philanthropic and educational organizations. Platinum sponsors of the project were SALC, the Community Foundation, UA, Diamond Ventures, Freeport-McMoRan, Tucson Electric Power and the Thomas R. Brown Foundation.
Gold sponsors were Ashland Group, Cox Communications, McMiles Family Fund, Tucson Foundations and Wells Fargo.
Silver sponsors included BFL Ventures, Holualoa Companies, Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, Vante and Cushman & Wakefield/PICOR.
Hammond welcomes feedback from the university’s project partners and others involved in launching the project. Yet he is very clear that Eller College economists are ultimately responsible for the MAP content.
“Our partners are helping to fund the project and they are also giving advice on what is important to track, what we should be paying more attention to and what we should be paying less attention to,” Hammond said. “But we are the economists. We make the final decisions about what goes on the Dashboard and how it gets interpreted. They help us understand what their constituents are thinking.”
Finding regional common ground
Though SALC and private business interests contributed to develop and launch the MAP Dashboard, permanent funding sources will be needed in the future.
“We (SALC) and others will be users and advocates for it, but we are not the owner of it,” Shoopman said. “We are funding this for a while – but we’ll need to figure out how to secure sustained funding for it the long term because it is so important.”
Government, business, nonprofit and educational leaders throughout Southern Arizona are voicing optimism about what the MAP Dashboard Project can accomplish.
David Hutchens, president & CEO of Tucson Electric Power, said the MAP provides a common set of data to measure how we are doing as a community. “You get what you measure and having data that is trusted from a reliable source like the University of Arizona’s Eller College is very important,” he said. “It gets us all on the same page, all looking at the same information.”
Sharon Bronson, chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors said information provided on the MAP Dashboard “is from a trusted source that people can use from their living rooms or their offices to get a sense of this community’s strengths and weaknesses.” She said the MAP “ratchets down the rhetoric and stops the ideology. It reveals facts about our community – and it’s the facts that should inform our decision making.”
Tony Penn, president & CEO of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and chairman of the Tucson Metro Chamber, praised the partnership between the UA, the Community Foundation and SALC that created the MAP Dashboard. “In those three organizations we have the business, education and social service and wellness communities represented,” Penn said. “That kind of cross-section coordination is essential to create the very best environment for economic development that is needed to acquire the very best jobs and be able fill them for today and tomorrow.”
Tucson Mayor Jonathon Rothschild said the MAP Dashboard “will identify our strengths and weaknesses” and we can use the MAP “to determine what areas we need to focus on as a community.”
Manuel O. Valenzuela, superintendent of the Sahuarita Unified School District, said the MAP Dashboard can provide people from all walks of life and various communities information to help “find regional common ground about who we are, what we have in common and who we want to be.”
Oro Valley Mayor Satish I. Hiremath said all cities and towns want trusted, reliable data that allows comparisons with other jurisdictions. Thanks to development of the MAP, Southern Arizonans “will finally have metrics available that are statistically valid so we can actually have apples-to-apples comparisons” with other communities in the Southwest and nationwide.
Mike Hammond, president, founder and managing shareholder of Cushman & Wakefield/PICOR, said “people on different sides of issues tend to choose their own facts and there are many biased sources of information that distort the facts. The promise of the MAP Dashboard is that it is a reliable and trusted source of information associated with the Eller College at UA.”