Data is my friend. I hear this from my colleagues in the foundation world, from many members of the staff at the Maine Community Foundation, and I know it from my own experience. Data reminds me of Aroostook farmer Andy Ayer's mantra "If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
I realize that much of our work at MaineCF does not always lend itself to quick and easy quantification, but we have dedicated more time and resources to using data (both quantitative and qualitative) to shape decision-making. Next month we will be mailing a copy of Measuring Up, a Maine Community Foundation special report – with data – that outlines our work toward achieving our vision of a high quality of life for all Maine people. You can download a copy of the report at our website
As I dug into my growing reading pile the other day, it was with more than a passing interest that I picked out Measures of Growth 2015, a publication of the Maine Economic Growth Council and the Maine Development Foundation. The growth council’s annual report card on the Maine economy is one of the most widely-quoted publications of its type in the state in part because it has tracked data about Maine’s economic performance for 21 years.
Measures of Growth 2015 deserves attention for a couple of reasons. Its new graphics, charts, and layout are appealing and eminently understandable to the non-data geeks among us. That’s the good news. The more distressing news is that four of the five fundamental performance indicators contained in the report – per capita income, poverty, employment, and value added per worker – are unchanged from a year ago. The fifth indicator, gross domestic product, moved in the wrong direction.
The growth council’s vision is identical to our own at the community foundation: A high quality of life for all Maine people. To realize that vision, there needs to be a strong economy. The council’s view is that their indicators and benchmarks in the areas of the economy, community, and the environment together contribute to a high quality of life. So we should all pay attention. Since its last report, four benchmarks warrant a bit of bragging, seven have shifted downward, and 12 have seen no measurable change.
There are a few things to celebrate since last year’s report. The cost of doing business in Maine reached its lowest since the early 1990s. The cost of energy declined. We experienced no days classified as an air quality “health risk.” And more than 90% of rivers, streams, and lakes met Category 1 or 2 standards.
On the other hand, gender income disparity increased, with women’s earnings relative to men’s falling from 82.9% to 80.6%. The obesity rate grew from 64.2% to 64.9%. And more than 15% of households are food insecure.
If Maine people are our most important asset, what should leaders in the state’s public sector and corporate and foundation communities be thinking and/or do to change this concerning narrative? Inquiring minds want to know.