How Three Communities are Taking a Holistic Approach to Performance Metrics to Build More Resilient Economies

By Noelle Salerno, Consultant

When most economic developers think of metrics, two words typically come to mind: jobs and investment. However, as Brookings recently highlighted, this doesn’t tell the whole story. A community that only follows these performance measures may look good on paper, but could have serious issues to address such as income equality, distressed neighborhoods, or a mismatched talent pipeline. Communities must take a hard look at what success means to them and prioritize their goals accordingly, even if performance metrics aren’t as cut-and-dried as jobs and investment.

We are encouraging our clients to take a more holistic approach to their economic development programs. They seek ways to create more resilient economies that provide opportunities for all residents. Quality of jobs is taking precedence over sheer quantity of jobs, and development of career lattices that align with industry needs is top of mind for many. Initiatives that enhance the overall wellbeing of a community are more future-focused, focused on how to make their community a better place for the next generation.

What does this trend mean for performance metrics? What communities have done a good job measuring progress within a holistic viewpoint?

Santa Monica is doing this with their Wellbeing Project. The City was awarded $1 million by Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch the program, partnering with RAND Corporation, the New Economics Foundation, and other experts to research factors that make a city thrive. Once wellbeing factors were identified, they measured how Santa Monica performs and shared findings through their Wellbeing Index. They are now implementing programs in areas that need improvement. The goal of the Wellbeing Index is to “continuously measure wellbeing as a foundation of Santa Monica government and build a streamlined system to discover more quickly, more precisely, and more cost-effectively what will make Santa Monica thrive.”

The Minneapolis-St. Paul region developed the MSP Regional Indicators Dashboard to track the region’s change on critical economic, environmental, and social outcomes. This is a collaborative effort that involves organizations such as ULI Minnesota Regional Council of Mayors, The Itasca Project, Minnesota Business Partnership, The McKnight Foundation, The Metropolitan Council, Greater MSP, Saint Paul Area Chamber, Minneapolis Regional Camber, and Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Over 50 indicators across subjects such as economy, business vitality, talent, education, infrastructure, environment, and livability are measured. They dig into more nuanced data, such as percent of jobs that are family sustaining, average number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes by public transit or walking, and percent of population 16+ who volunteered in the past year. Their goal is to measure change in the region’s priority areas in order to improve economic competitiveness and set the region up for long-term success.

Avalanche Consulting had the opportunity to work with The Miami Foundation as they sought a new way to inform decisions about community investment through the Our Miami project. Through an in-depth research process, which included local analysis and benchmarking against other major metros, Avalanche uncovered stories that lie at the heart of Miami’s economic and social conditions. The goal of Our Miami is to compel the Foundation and Miami residents to direct public investment, charitable giving, and volunteerism into the issues that most impact the city’s wellbeing. At the October 2015 launch of the index and the corresponding Our Miami website, the Miami Foundation announced a new accelerator program that awarded eight $10,000 grants to area nonprofits, one for each issue area. This month, we updated the index to reflect progress Miami has made in each issue area.

How can you enhance the wellbeing and sense of place in your community?

  • Measure. Like the examples above, it is important to have solid metrics behind any economic development initiative, including those that incorporate wellness and placemaking. Once you have identified what success means for your community, outline the data and information you need to collect in order to monitor progress.
  • Collaborate. One organization can’t go it alone – successful economic development initiatives have the buy-in of the whole community. Identifying areas of collaboration allows a region to share resources and leverage the collective impact of its visionary leaders to make greater strides in reaching its goals, especially those that require greater regional advocacy.
  • Take Action. Once you identify issues, outline metrics to measure success, and identify partner organizations, make a plan of action to tackle these important topics. Include clear timelines and assign responsibilities to ensure accountability. This will increase your ability to move the needle in each of your community’s priority areas.
  • Communicate. Have a communications plan in place to share your success with the community. A dedicated website, such as, shows progress made towards reaching goals and creates a sense of pride and ownership among community members.