Vital Signs for Erie's Transformation

March 5th, 2020, 11:00 AM

Key Performance Measures Presented at State of the Community Event

 On February 26, the Erie Regional Chamber hosted the region's first State of the Community event.  The topic? Erie's economic future realized through shared vision.  The Chamber's vision and plan is found in Erie Forward.

Toward setting a baseline for tracking progress and aligning strategies among Erie's sectors, the Chamber is partnering with Erie Vital Signs to report on and track a hand full of key regional performance measures. 

What follows is the essence of the Erie Vital Signs presentation delivered during the State of the Community Event.


Presentation Summary

The ole adage you can't manage what you don't measure is driving Erie's renaissance as we are seeing rising commitment to transparency in tracking impact in our commitment to progress. 

Erie's leadership are distinguished in being intentional about accountability to the state of our community. 

In order to assess the state of our community, the Chamber and County Data Center teams have identified five key metrics of success relevant to both public and private sectors.  Drawn in part from Erie Vital Signs which is now managed for the Erie Community Foundation by the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development, these indicators also speak to the potential of our community to implement recently developed strategic plans. 

While analyzing trends of the past is critical to the work of today, we can't lose sight of our goals for the future.  The past does not have to be prologue but instead is seized as notice for the work to be done like never before for Erie to be the next great 21st Century region. 

Erie County's population numbers continue to slide.  From 2001 to 2019 we experienced decline of -9,892, a -4% change, placing our county population at about 270,758 persons.  By comparison, the City of Erie experienced a population decline greater than the County at -5.3% since just 2010, with the latest estimates at 96,549 persons.  The City of Erie hasn't had a population over 100,000 since 2013. 

Within those trends, in the same period, the population of White Erie County residents was the only group to fall by -24,566 residents or nearly -10%.  But, growth among other races greatly mitigates such decline with the greatest increase being among Hispanic and residents of two or more races.  Hispanic residents are estimated to continue to increase by 1,088 by 2025.

Increasing racial and ethnic diversity is a competitive advantage for Erie County where overall about 13.5% of residents are of color and growing.  The some 18,000 immigrants & refugees highlights that strength.   

Certainly embracing our growing populations is critical to a thriving economy as population is the basis for drawing political districts and a direct line to our opportunities for representation such as seats in the Congress, and earning our fair share of federal funding for all kinds of critical services.   Thus the 2020 Census is eminently important to Erie County.

We often position population growth as a gage of whether a place is doing well.  Reasons are obvious such as the burden to a smaller population having to bear costly upkeep of infrastructure built for larger populations of days past.  And, in general, the argument goes that more people fuel the economy in many ways, a detailed in an informative article by Pittsburgh Quarterly.  As noted, the relationship between population, a region's economy, and the well-​being of its citizens is complicated.

For example, despite decline in our population numbers, it is a very good trend that the median salary for Erie County has grown from about $36k to $42k, a 16.8% percent increase in the last decade.  

This illustrates that we are wise to have our eye on multiple indicators.  Naturally we want to see rising household incomes in step with affordable cost of living, adequate numbers of prime age workers to meet job growth, housing opportunities for all our people, and community strength founded on a diversity of prospering industries that create abundance in equitable opportunity and quality of life. 

As noted, a connector to population is the matter of skilled and prime age workers of 25 to 54 years available to meet job growth demand.  Erie's trend has been to become greyer but is projected to even out with growth in the younger ages. 

Further connecting demographics to job growth is recent reminder of the gift of diversity as business leaders around the county routinely depend on our multicultural workforce to fill key jobs. 

Regarding workers, there were 130,219 persons employed in the County at the end of 2019 and 5% Unemployed or 6,456 persons.  For Erie's economy, bets are in that opportunity is to be found in our new growth industries.  Specifically, the Chamber recently completed a target industry analysis which identifies six industries where our region has a competitive advantage.  They are:  Life Sciences,   High Value-Added Manufacturing,    Food and Beverage Processing/Agriculture and Aquaculture,    High-Value Business Services, Tech/Gaming/Digital,   and Year-Round Experiential Recreation. 

With the goal of 2,000 direct new jobs among them, each of these industries is anticipated to be a strength both due to market factors and local amenities like our four universities and world renowned healthcare facilities.  As one example, the jobs in Erie's Tech/Gaming/Digital target sector grew by 39% from 2008 through 2018. 

However, putting things in context is that just 47% of jobs around the County pay a Family Sustaining Wage.  This indicator measures median wages above the living wage threshold as analyzed by MIT's Living Wage calculator.  A family sustaining wage for Erie County is about $31,000 per year, or $15.68 per hour for a family with two working adults and two children in daycare.  As our Chamber and other leaders work to attract businesses here, the focus is on primary jobs or jobs that are family sustaining within these target industries. 

Within the positive signs of progress in family sustaining wages, we can't ignore the existing Wage Gap in our community.  On average, in 2019, a person of color made 92.9 cents on the dollar as compared to white peers.  It is encouraging that this this gap has decreased in recent years, and with Mayor Schember's stated goal to eliminate racism and prejudice, we are evolving into a community with capacity to recognize our blind spots and the political will to take action to address them.  We are grateful for this leadership and the inspiration for the next generation of innovators.

With an eye toward our emerging leaders, we look to high school graduation rates as the culmination of a successful K-12 education and the gateway to college or employment.  As is well-known, students who don't graduate face the prospect of unemployment or low-paying jobs.  A prosperous community values and measures graduation as a reflection of its success presently and predictor of the future in the hands of tomorrow's leaders. 

Overall, Erie County, with 13 school districts, compares favorably to the state with both having graduation rates of 90.6% in 2018.  This serves up an abundance of qualified candidates for higher education including an Erie County Community College.

We note, both the highest and lowest graduation rates were found in the Erie City school district, with Erie HS (71%) and Collegiate Academy (99%).  We should also note that within the City School District, their Career and Technical Education program, which is working hard to align its curriculum with the needs of your businesses, has one of the highest graduation rates across the District.  

Of course, one of the greatest funding pools to reinvest in our students is the community's tax base.  This indicator has been identified by the Chamber as one that shows economic growth.  The County's commercial and industrial total tax base sits at just over 2.7 Billion, with the City's portion of this tax base coming in at about 27% or about 766 Million. 

The Chamber has set a goal to increase this tax base by 2% over its Erie Forward five year plan.  Certainly, it makes sense to strategically reinvest in existing commercial and industrial sites while revitalizing our existing downtowns as hubs of choice to live, work, play and access services.  With Erie City rising in its strengths, it is also inspiring to see reinvestment efforts in communities like Union City, Corry, North East, and Edinboro.  Such strategic reinvestment is also key to improving the tax base of surrounding neighborhoods and is essential to protecting and enhancing private investment with public dollars. 

This leads finally to public health, a topic material to business success as personnel is a company's number one expense.  Productivity and health are joined at the hip.  A healthy workforce also has more consumer buying power.  And, a community's health is a strong indicator of its ability to deliver on goals set by its leaders in implementing our strategies for sustainable development. 

In conclusion, backed by data to take stock of needs and progress, our community has made great strides in aligning efforts.  The stars are aligned for Erie to measure and manage for the good life we all want. 

The community will continue to track the trends through these and the many other measures found on the updated Erie Vital Signs website and welcome suggestions on key performance indicators. 


Speaking notes of Court Gould, Erie Community Foundation, 2/26/20

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