Reporting Dos and Don’ts

Two curious things happen when people start writing economic impact reports: they use more words than necessary to explain a simple data point, and they use words that make
sense only to other economic developers.

If we can make just one suggestion about presenting your data, it is that you should make it clear. While preparing this toolkit, NBIA reviewed close to fifty economic impact reports from member incubation programs. Nearly every report featured data points and language that had no clear meaning. Without a time frame, “jobs created” doesn’t mean much. Without a discussion of methods used for calculations, “economic impact” is a subjective assertion. And claims like “sales impact” and “earnings impact,” without further explanation, don’t carry much weight.

When reviewing the results of your data collection effort (or your impact analysis report), it’s easy to get excited about the numbers and forget to put them into perspective for those not intimately involved with the program. Following are some tips for presenting your data in a clear way that gets people’s attention.

Do provide a time frame for the data you’re reporting. For example, “In 2007, clients and graduates of X incubator created 72 new jobs.”
Do keep it as simple and short as possible. A one-page fact sheet that is easy to understand is far more valuable than a ten-page report filled with flowery language.
Don’t make extrapolations or use multipliers unless they are provided to you by your sponsor with instructions, or unless they are made by someone trained in economic impact modeling. Multipliers are impressive, but they’re also supposed to be used with skill and expertise.
Do put things into perspective by doing your homework and presenting your facts in relation to your community or region’s economic climate. For example, the following two statements (excerpted from complete impact reports) are effective and easily understood by the average newspaper reader:
  • Based on these figures, a recent economic analysis calculated that the Advanced Technology Development Center has delivered a 6.8 times return on the funding it has received from the state of Georgia.”
  • “[Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center client and graduate companies] employ 103 full-time employees. These full-time employees are paid $7.86 million a year in salary and benefits, or $76,000 per person, nearly $50,000 above the state per-capita income of $29,000.”
Don’t invent metrics. Stick with commonly used measures of success like full-time employment, average salary, total wages paid, city sales tax revenue generated, etc.
Do get a reality check. After you’ve written, edited, and proofread your report or fact sheet, send it to someone outside the industry to see if they can understand it. Have them tell you what they think it says. Don’t be surprised if it comes back with red ink or if you get some tough questions – it’s better to get errors or ambiguous language cleared up before you release the data than after.
Don’t be vague with your wording. For example, the following data point doesn’t provide accompanying information as to what that impact is based on: “Current annual economic impact: $20 million.” Without descriptive language explaining what base data was used to come to the $20 million figure, the public is left wondering.
Do provide community or regional context. If you know that no net new jobs have been created in your county for five years, then the creation of ten full-time jobs is a big deal. Make sure people understand the meaning of data, particularly when numbers could appear small at first glance.
Do make sure you can back up your claims, which must be supported by the raw data you collected.