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Wednesday, 31 May 2017 14:04

Management by measurement

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There’s an old adage in business that says, simply, “If it isn’t measured, it isn’t managed.”

Although that may be disputed by some, the basic truth of the statement is that grasping the entirety of economic production by a city, a county, a state or a nation requires some degree of recordkeeping wherein meaningful statistics can be collected and analyzed by elected officials, economic developers and other decision-makers.

“If you asked the average person on the street here, ‘Is Haywood County doing well?’ it’d be fascinating to know how they would make that call,” said Tom Tveidt, a Haywood County economist whose Syneva Economics conducts economic data analysis for governments and corporations. 

Tveidt’s stock-in-trade is a mind-boggling array of data products like that which the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Labor & Economic Analysis Division (LEAD) produces and makes available online, for free. 

One of those products, the quarterly census of employment and wages, contains sortable, searchable data on the activity levels of nine broad economic sectors as defined by their NAICS code: goods-producing; manufacturing; service-providing; trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; public administration; and, “other.”

Almost every business fits into one of the above categories, which contain hundreds of subcategories. 

Some industries, like agriculture, collect data differently and are not included in the survey; while not perfect, the data that is collected — number of establishments, number of employees, that sort of thing — is tracked over time and measures trends than can then be managed. 

INFOGRAPHIC: Hospitality and leisure

“Every place is good at something,” Tveidt said. “Or a couple of things. A lot of communities try to chase ‘the next big thing.’ For a lot of years, that was green technology. A couple years before that, it was biotech. A couple years before that, it was nanotech. Believe it or not, I was on an internet task force at the [Asheville] Chamber, which just sounds cuckoo now, but at that time, everybody wasn’t using it and it was new.”

Economic developers in Haywood County are still trying to discern what, exactly, is in the cards for the county’s vitality as a whole, but sector information at least gives them an idea how to play their hand.

Probably the most valuable information contained in the data is the total wages paid by each sector, as it directly represents the amount of money the overwhelming majority of Haywood County residents earn and spend on goods and services of their own. 

Not surprisingly, the sector that pays the most total wages according to LEAD’s data is the service industry, followed distantly by the education and health services sector. Rounding out the top three is the production of goods. 

But the total wages paid are a factor not only of the amount of employees, but also of the average wage. 

As of the third quarter of 2016, Haywood County Consolidated Schools and Evergreen Packaging were the county’s largest employers, both employing more than a thousand people. 

HCS fits into the education and health services category, which has an average weekly wage ($745.10) that ranks fourth of the nine sectors, which is why that sector is ranked second in total wages paid — lots of employees, above-average weekly wages.

Evergreen Packaging is a member of the manufacturing category, which ranked first in average weekly wage ($964.18) and accounts for probably half the manufacturing jobs in the county. However, there are about twice as many jobs in HCS’s category as there are in Evergreen’s, which is why manufacturing is ranked fourth in total wages paid — few employees, great weekly wages. 

The leisure and hospitality sector actually employs more people than manufacturing, but suffers from the worst weekly wage ($299.58), earning it eighth place on the total wages paid scale — above only the “other” category. 

Many of the revelations contained in the data, like the manufacturing employment numbers, are counter-intuitive.

“What’s fascinating to me, and this isn’t necessarily a local thing, is going to other communities — the city fathers and mothers are sitting there, and I’m the outsider in a suit and tie, and I say to these people who have grown up in that community, ‘You probably don’t know what’s really going on. How do you make your decisions? Seat of your pants? Watching the national news?’” Tveidt said.

As this Smoky Mountain News series on economic development progresses by delving deeper into Haywood’s various economic sectors, look for apples-to-apples LEAD data on each sector from the quarterly census of employment and wages to appear alongside subsequent stories.