Big Data Transforming Site Location Decisions and Economic Development

RESEARCH TRIANGLE REGION, N.C. (March 30, 2015) – The ubiquitous nature of data today is changing the game for companies making location decisions and the communities and organizations seeking to recruit them, a panel of economic development experts said Wednesday at the Data4Decision Conference and Exposition in Raleigh.

Research Triangle Region“Research has always been part of economic development,” said moderator Lee Anne Nance, executive vice president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, which manages economic development for the 15-county Research Triangle Region of North Carolina. “But we are shifting to a time when economic developers are taking data – research, numbers – and using it in a way that solves a problem for the company or offers a solution for them.”

Site selection consultants used to rule the data game with access to information not available elsewhere, said Kent Holliday, principal of consulting services for Cresa. That is no longer the case.

“What we’re finding now is that companies are developing customized equations to solve their labor and talent issues,” Holliday said. “We have the power now to connect data in ways that it has never been connected before and to identify lost knowledge, siloed knowledge, knowledge that is heavily influential.”

The nonprofit research institute, RTI International, for instance, is helping the state of Massachusetts identify barriers to the growth of small to mid-sized manufacturers in rural parts of the state, said panelist Sara Lawrence, RTI senior manager of economic development. A survey of more than 1,000 manufacturers revealed among other things that high energy costs were prompting companies to move elsewhere. That is an actionable finding that policymakers can address to promote business growth in their communities, Lawrence said.

Research Triangle Cleantech ClusterRTI also launched a survey recently of more than 700 cleantech and related companies in the Research Triangle Region to help the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster understand the industry’s workforce and talent needs and strengths. RTCC will use that information to help the region prepare its workforce to support the sector’s growth.

The key today is having data that matters to someone and having data that isn’t easy to get, said Ted Abernathy, managing partner for Economic Leadership LLC.

“Doing a survey of your business attitudes on a biennial basis is not that hard. Next thing you know, you have something you can hand to a site selection consultant that says 80 percent of our manufacturers say they can find the labor they need; 75 percent say that turnover is not an issue.  Those are powerful pieces of information," Abernathy said.

The City of Raleigh is one community that is leading the way to manage both the opportunities and challenges Big Data offers. Its Open Raleigh initiative seeks to develop opportunities for economic development, commerce, increased investment and civic engagement through an open, collaborative platform that allows public access to city data for both non-technical and tech-savvy users.

Open Raleigh manager Adam Martin said the Data4Decisions conference offered invaluable exposure to ideas and opportunities he can take back to city government.

“Being able to see how industry leaders are using data, shifting from just reports to data analytics and predictive analytics, is informing the way we at the city level are working to put in place best practices and use some of the same tools we see here to improve citizen’s lives. We also see an opportunity for strategic partnerships that can help us use data in ways we haven’t even thought of yet and help change our culture around data as an asset,” Martin said.

Data4DecisionsMore than 800 business leaders attended the inaugural Data4Decisions conference, designed by business, government and academic partners in the region, including the Research Triangle Regional Partnership and Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster.  The goal of the conference was to help business leaders understand how to use Big Data for maximum results and profits, uncover strategies that best harness its benefits, take a forward look at how to prepare for the future and network to promote collaboration and innovation. For more information, visit

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Contact: Lee Anne Nance, (919) 840-7372,