Virginia Tech has partnered with Arlington County Economic Development and Arlington County Economic Development Commission on a pilot project to help the county better understand and communicate its economic successes, goals, and challenges.

The project will also provide an engaging practice-based experience for Virginia Tech graduate students studying in the National Capital Region.

Driven by continued interest to understand Arlington’s economic success, the Arlington Metrics Initiative is a nine-month study that will catalog existing data sources and explore frameworks for how communities like Arlington can use metrics effectively to enhance awareness of key trends affecting the economic ecosystem. 

The study will also engage Virginia Tech graduate students directed by Adam Eckerd, assistant professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy, to propose and assess metrics that focus on economic competitiveness, a 2014 priority highlighted by Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette.

Based in the Arlington Economic Director’s Office, the Arlington Metrics Initiative will align metrics from initial and current work on economic sustainability by the Arlington County Economic Development and Arlington County Economic Development Commission's Task Forces on Metrics and Messaging with the county’s core strategies as outlined in the Arlington Model of Economic Sustainability.

That strategy is composed of three interwoven themes -- innovation, resiliency, and competitiveness -- and 20 previously identified value-based thoughts that speak directly to Arlington County’s economy. The Arlington County Economic Development and Arlington County Economic Development Commission's continued interest, investment, and integration of the Arlington Model into their problem-solving and decision-making processes provides a firm and sophisticated foundation on which to develop contextually meaningful and validated metrics.

Nick Stone, director of National Capital Region Operations, serves on the Arlington Economic Development Commission and chairs the Metrics Task Force. 

“Arlington and Virginia Tech have been working together for years, finding ways for our students and faculty to work on real-world problems and data, while the county benefits from increased analytical capacity and in-house testing and evaluation of research-based methods and tools," said Stone. "The Arlington Metrics Initiative is a natural extension of that partnership."

The pilot program is proceeding in phases. In the first, Lauren Bulka, a research associate at the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, was embedded with Arlington Economic Development to identify key data-based questions and an appropriate metric framework, and to develop an inventory of relevant county data. 

Bulka, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2013 with a master's degree in urban and regional planning, will share proposed metrics and analysis for feedback at monthly commission meetings throughout the pilot. Jessica Hanff, research manager at the Metropolitan Institute, is also assisting in the project.

The second phase will begin this fall. Students enrolled in the Public Administration and Policy Inquiry course taught by Eckerd will create data plans aimed at answering data-based questions identified by Bulka. Using the data inventory developed in phase one as a resource, student-generated data plans will include a proposed set of indicators and a plan for measuring and gathering data on these indicators.

The third phase will take place during the 2015 winter term. Bulka and Arlington Metric Initiative partners will review student data plans and provide preliminary recommendations on the final selection of metrics.

“I am pleased to be so uniquely involved in this study,” said Bulka. “Being embedded in the office is a big plus for getting accurate information for the students to work with. The biggest challenge for all of us, though, is not just having the data but using metrics effectively, in smart and strategic ways.”

A successful pilot could lead to an ongoing collaboration between Arlington Economic Development and the Metropolitan Institute through the Arlington Metrics Initiative. 

“Using metrics to inform decision makers and to communicate with the public and other stakeholders about the county will likely continue to increase in importance,” said Bulka. “And the initiative is well positioned to help.”



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