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The findings by MU faculty and students appear in the June 2013 Wabash County Economic Report that biannually identifies growth opportunities and tracks economic advantages. The report is a terrific resource for community planners, says Bill Konyha, president and CEO of the Economic Development Group of Wabash County.
“Every community has its strengths and weaknesses,” says John Deal, assistant professor of economics. “In an economically perfect world, each community would focus on its strengths and abandon activities in areas of weakness. This is what economists call ‘comparative advantage.’”
The Manchester researchers discovered that Wabash County has a strong resource of skilled manufacturing workers and low start-up costs, says Matt Hendryx, visiting assistant professor of economics. Developers should promote that comparative advantage to draw more manufacturers to the county, he says.
MU faculty and students unearthed Wabash County’s manufacturing advantage by studying key economic data. Communities rarely monitor their comparative advantages as their demographics shift; businesses arrive, expand and contract; and technology and transportation systems change, says Deal.
Manchester embarked on the Wabash County Economic Report in January 2012 with a Ball Brothers Foundation grant. Before the study, critical Wabash County economic data was buried in government archives or nonexistent. The project fills this void by collecting and aggregating important data, allowing for informed policy making and a more vibrant Wabash County.
“The Wabash County Economic Report has become one of the components of the critical data that we consult as we adapt and revise our economic development strategic plan,” says Konyha. “We are proud to be associated with the report.”
Other issues of the Wabash County Economic Report analyzed the economic health of Wabash County, revealing population trends, customer price indices and a declining number of high school students taking the SAT, a popular college entrance exam.
Manchester University students are heavily involved in the project. They collect data by scouring census, Federal Reserve and Bureau of Labor Statistics data and conducting research of their own. They also present their findings to agencies and organizations in the county and develop connections with local businesses.
Manchester hopes to expand the report with more extensive surveys. The January 2014 report will survey local businesses about the state of the economy, with surveys of residents planned for subsequent issues.
Original grant funding is nearly depleted, but with generous support of the Community Foundation of Wabash County and local businesses, the report will continue.
Find the Wabash County Economic Report on the web.
Learn more about economics at Manchester University.