OPINION: It's Not About Jobs, It's About Achieving the American Dream
Muriel Eason | 5/16/13

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about how to measure success in community development, so I was intrigued when I found a recent article by Ed Burghard in “Site Selection Magazine.” According Burghard, to one of the biggest challenges in economic development is determining what to hold economic development organizations (EDOs) like the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC) and our local elected officials accountable for.

It goes without saying that in business, accountability is absolutely critical to success. What gets measured gets done.  But while measurement is important, you can't hold someone accountable for something they can't directly impact.

According to Burghard, traditionally, success in economic development has been measured by job growth in a community. But the fact is neither that the CDC nor our elected officials can directly impact job creation. 

Only employers do. 

Furthermore measuring success only in terms of job creation can lead to unintended negative behavior such as the misuse of incentive packages to entice outside companies to move into town.  Companies that relocate here just because of incentives are generally looking for low cost locations.  They will not stay here simply because they love the community, if wages, land and other costs of business go up.  They are not invested in our community for the long term.

So if it isn't just job growth, how do we measure success?

According to Ed Burghard, the answer is to hold EDO’s and elected officials measurably accountable for creating the right conditions in their community so that people can better live the American Dream.

Burghard contends that the EDO’s and elected officials must play a direct role in developing and deploying strategies that enable people's ability to achieve their personal definition of the American Dream. They do this through the choices made in local asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy, by creating a business-friendly environment and supporting programs to help local businesses thrive. Job growth is not the best measure of the impact of those choices.

So how should we measure success?

According to Burghard, the best measure of success is Xavier University's new American Dream Composite Index™ (ADCI).

Burghard said, “The ADCI measures the extent to which people living in a state are achieving the American Dream. The ADCI is survey-based. The study includes 139 statements pertaining to various aspects of the American Dream. Responses from people living in the state are used to create the ADCI and 5 sub-indexes.

The five sub-indexes are:

Economic Index — a measure of one's satisfaction, freedom, and progress with respect to finances, job, home ownership and health care.

Well-Being Index — a measure of the extent of one's contentment, health and prosperity in life.

Societal Index — a measure of the extent to which the government, businesses, and people are fair and trustworthy. 

Diversity Index — a measure of the attitudes toward assimilation of differences.

Environmental Index — a measure of the extent of pollution in the air, food, water and land one encounters on a regular basis.”

Xavier University recently completed a data mining study of survey responses from January 2012 through December 2012. The data represent the outlook of people living in each state. The ADCI is the only statistically validated measure of the American Dream. You can find more information on the ADCI survey by visiting the Xavier University Williams College of Business:  http://www.americandreamcompositeindex.com/

Also, earlier this year the "2012 State of Well-Being" report was released by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI), based on real-time daily well-being data collected from 1,000 interviews a day over the course of 2012 across six sub-indices: Life Evaluation, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Healthy Behavior, Work Environment and Basic Access. Over five years, the WBI has garnered the opinions of more than 1.7 million people.

Below are the top states for in terms of WBI for 2012. Four of these top 10 are also represented in the American Dream Composite Index™: Colorado, Minnesota, Utah and Montana.  You can download Colorado and Colorado Congressional District 3 details here:  http://www.well-beingindex.com/files/2013WBIrankings/CO_2012StateReport.pdf

According to Burghard, “The ADCI study clearly demonstrates the American Dream is about more than job growth. The best states create the conditions for people to achieve what they strive for, work for and wish for. Holding economic development professionals and elected officials accountable for improving the state's ADCI score will ensure the conditions for everybody to achieve the American Dream are created. For some people living in the state, that may in fact mean having the opportunity to be productively employed. But for others it may mean having access to a quality education or the opportunity for a long and personally fulfilling retirement.

Because the ADCI score reflects the sentiment of people living in a state, measuring economic development professionals and elected officials on the relative performance versus other states makes them accountable to the people.”

We need to find similar measures at a local level.  The CDC will soon be launching a quarterly “community indicators” update, as well as another on long-term trends in our community.  This will help us measure success in ways other than purely jobs.  It will help us measure our Pagosa version of our American Dream.




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