In a complex and rapidly changing economy, having good data is important. But this poses a problem in rural communities, where massive economic shifts are coinciding with a lack of available and accessible data. As such, community leaders looking to wield a data-centric approach to economic development, face an uphill battle.

That’s why we built the Tech Talent Tracker, a tool for building data-driven reports to help community leaders understand the state of their local tech economies. Our submission to the U.S. Census Bureau’s The Opportunity Project, the Tech Talent Tracker is part of CORI’s ongoing effort to empower rural decision makers with crucial information—and present it in a way that helps move the needle for rural economies.

The Tech Talent Tracker presents information on the digital economy because it’s the fastest growing sector of the economy and is highly linked to innovation and economic development. The stronger a region’s digital economy ecosystem, the more sustainable its economic future.

That makes understanding the local digital economy especially important to rural leaders: Since the Great Recession, the digital economy has been concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural places behind. Automation has eliminated many rural jobs, rural entrepreneurship rates have fallen, venture capital is almost nonexistent in rural places, and tech workers have flocked to coastal hubs.

On top of all that is a digital divide keeping many rural Americans disconnected, and a pandemic threatening rural employment. Countering these trends by increasing local tech employment is how rural communities can find their path into the 21st century economy. We’ve seen some indications that this will happen, but scaling rural digital success will take a widespread intentional effort.

Visualizing digital economy data across the country

As a tool, the Tech Talent Tracker wields county-level data to create detailed maps and charts on key metrics related to a county’s digital economy, including: employment in digital jobs, CS graduation rates, patent data, web venture activity, and broadband connectivity — all while providing comparisons to peer counties and the nation as a whole.

The tool’s array of diverse datasets present a comprehensive picture of a local tech economy in ways that just one metric or a general intuition cannot. It can help to identify a region’s strengths—and where its tech workforce still has room to grow.

The Tech Talent Tracker is designed to advance the work of a multitude of users, from community development leaders to elected officials, Chamber of Commerce Directors to local business owners. The interactive reports that the tool generates are downloadable and easily shared, and can help rural leaders allocate resources, write more effective grants, identify local workforce gaps and capabilities, and tell their communities’ stories.

As we continue to wade through uncharted economic waters, digital economy data will help us move forward on the path towards inclusive and sustainable local economies. We know that unlocking rural America’s assets can be transformational, if we commit to the work. To see where your county stands and where you can focus effort to make a difference, explore the The Tech Talent Tracker today.

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