A local professor and a finance student have joined forces to gather data and provide each month an easily digestible snapshot of the local economy’s health.
Michael Oakes, MBA director and senior lecturer in finance at IUPUC, said single pieces of economic data rarely provide any meaningful information. The data, such as the unemployment rate or housing starts, must be placed in context and compared with the prior months or years before they reveal any insights, he said.
Oakes with the help of IUPUC junior Kayla Freeman created and now updates monthly the Columbus Economic Dashboard, which provides current data for 11 economic indicators and trends. Each indicator is highlighted in yellow, red or green, depending on whether the data over the past two or more periods show no change, decline or improvement.
The dashboard provides local residents, businesses and policy makers a quick insight into which areas of the economy are performing adequately and which they need to watch, Oakes said.
The data are available individually, but it can be a hassle to compile them, he said, and without context, their meaning can be misinterpreted.
Freeman, who is majoring in accounting and finance, said that state, national and international data are readily available, but local data provide a much better insight into the health of a local economy and are much more meaningful to people living here.
Oakes has used the dashboard in presentations since late last year and plans to make it available once IUPUC launches its redesigned website.
Freeman recently updated the dashboard with gross domestic product data, which showed that Columbus recorded a GDP growth in 2011 of 7.8 percent. That made the Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area (Bartholomew County) the fifth-fastest growing in the nation.
Odessa and Midland, Texas, ranked first and second; Williamsport, Pa., was third, and Peoria, Ill., home of Cummins rival Caterpillar, ranked fourth.
Although GDP growth declined from 2010, when it exceeded 10 percent, Oakes said that the data show that Columbus is recovering from the recession better than most counties in the state and nation.
About 90 percent of the GDP growth came in durable goods manufacturing, reflecting, in large part, the success of Cummins.
Oakes said that as Cummins saw some stagnation in the second half of 2012, he suspected that Columbus likely will see the pace of growth decline further.
But no one should be alarmed at somewhat slower growth, he said. Growth figures in the past few years also have looked good because they are being compared to the recession. Many U.S. counties would be happy with a 3 percent annual GDP growth, he said.
Oakes said the dashboard also serves to provide students some hands-on experience.
Freeman, a self-described “numbers person,” said compiling the data has been meaningful — beyond improving her spreadsheet capabilities.
“When you can actually go out and use the things you’ve learned ... it’s really great,” she said.
The Westport native said her career plans are still evolving, but she expects to continue her studies at least until she obtains a master’s degree.