Black School of Business provides data, analysis to Erie Vital Signs project.

Black School of Business provides data, analysis to Erie Vital Signs project.

Black School of Business provides data, analysis to Erie Vital Signs project.

Credit: Penn State

The Economic Research Institute of Erie, a research center of the Black School of Business at Penn State Behrend, has partnered with the Erie Community Foundation to provide data and analysis for Erie Vital Signs, a benchmarking program that tracks the region’s performance in seven key areas.

The move sharpens the program’s local focus. The analysis previously had been done at the University of Pittsburgh.

“This partnership between the Erie Community Foundation and ERIE signifies the impact the Black School of Business and its faculty have in providing timely analysis for decision-makers in the region,” said Balaji Rajagopalan, director of the Black School of Business.

Erie Vital Signs tracks key indicators of the community’s well-being, including the economy, cultural vitality, civic engagement, education and regional cooperation.

“People make decisions with both their hearts and their minds,” said Mike Batchelor, president of the Erie Community Foundation. “Erie Vital Signs helps with the cognitive side of that process. It makes the data available to anyone, so our community leaders can make better decisions about the future of Erie.”

Ken Louie, associate professor of economics at Penn State Behrend and director of ERIE, will provide much of the analysis, which will be based on employment rates, home ownership rates, health costs and crime reports, among other measures.

“We want our local decision-makers to base their decisions on facts,” he said. “Each of the areas we study has a ton of data – measurement statistics with multiple dimensions. Our job is to sort through that data, update the statistics on an ongoing basis, provide analysis to determine patterns and identify the emerging trends. That will help focus discussions of where Erie is headed.”

Jim Kurre, director emeritus of ERIE, also will provide analysis. He will lead an Erie Vital Signs expert panel on the economy, one of seven groups that will shape and share the data. He and Louie also will offer community presentations throughout the year, discussing economic trends with elected officials, donors and other interested groups.

A key part of that analysis will be comparing Erie to similar communities across the country. Erie Vital Signs currently measures Erie’s growth against conditions in Boulder, Colorado; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Lansing, Michigan; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and other cities.

“It’s very important that we compare our region to other parts of the country,” Kurre said. “That’s how you identify competitive advantages and disadvantages. And that, hopefully, sparks a more informed debate.”