Guest Post: "All Data is Local"

We are excited to offer you this “Guest Post” by Sam Zamarripa of The Essential Economy Council. In this thoughtful post, Sam reminds us that data is everywhere - including politics. He also reminds us through a real-life example where our focus should be before we start to unload all of the knowledge, information, and data we possess.


If you’ve paid close attention to the politics of the last 15 or 20 years, you may have heard the expression, “all politics is local”. This expression was originally coined by Tip O'Neill, former Speaker of the House in the U.S. Congress. This phrase refers to the specific kitchen table topics that are most relevant in each district. It is about addressing what each person in the district truly cares about instead of harping about big, global, and intangible ideas. This phrase is so pertinent at the Essential Economy Council, we are now starting to say that “all data is local” too!

At The Essential Economy, we realized that all of our printed materials and discussions needed to be grounded very solidly to the local district and their specific areas of responsibility — to their local politics. Sure, an overall average or total might be considered an interesting factoid, but we’ve proven that they’re much more engaged when our content is specific to them, or better yet, to their constituents, resulting in a much higher likelihood that they will take action.

“The Essential Economy” in its simplest form refers to that portion of our economy that includes restaurant kitchen staff, janitors, landscape crews, farm workers, nursing aides, stock clerks and other non-managerial positions. The cluster spans six major economic sectors from agriculture and construction to hospitality and personal care. Workers in The Essential Economy have traditionally been described as low wage and unskilled, but without whom, core and necessary components of our economy would collapse (anyone out there like to have their trash collected on a regular basis?). In Georgia, one in four workers belong to this part of our economy.

In 2012, we were asked by these industry leaders to understand the impact their workforce had on the overall economy. As a result of these initial discussions, the Essential Economy Council was created. With the help of Alfie Meeks, PhD Economist, of Georgia Tech. We compiled data from the Georgia Dept of Labor on 86 job classifications.

Essential Economy jobs in Georgia
Essential Economy jobs in Georgia

Summary of key findings:

  • 12% of Geogia’s GDP
  • Generates $114M in sales taxes
  • 25% of all jobs in Georgia
  • Average wage: $21,718
  • Consistently present in all Georgia counties, from wealthiest (Fulton, 22% of workers) to poorest (Quitman, 24%)

This overall data is great to have in our hip pocket and it continually surprises folks. However, when we presented this same state-wide data to Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston his first response was “so what?” That was the response we needed to hear. When we modified our approach and proceeded to show him the data for the counties in his district, his reaction changed. He immediately asked pertinent follow-up questions such as "How have the Gilmer County numbers changed over the years?" and "How does Gilmer compare to the counties around it?"

Now that we understand this, we offer a more customized approach to each audience we address. We have developed anecdotes about the data. For example, “did you know that Forsyth County has over 1,400 cashier positions”. We are now able to share this information with policymakers, industry and economic development leaders all over Georgia. They seem to appreciate the fact that we realize “all data is local”. We’ve learned it’s OK not to do a full data dump during every meeting or presentation; not only “OK”, but “better.” To accomplish this, we’ve worked with Juice to build several interactive tools to help us communicate our findings in targeted and contextually relevant ways.

Interactive Georgia County Map
Interactive Georgia County Map

As we consider future datasets, growing the Essential Economy beyond Georgia, and contributing more to the national discussions on immigration reform, we continue to believe strongly in the idea that all data is local. As you consider sharing information with your audience and you are looking for more action than "so what", "that's interesting" or "thanks for sharing" responses, think of this post and remember to "localize" the data for your target.

The Essential Economy Council is a bipartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that originates research and communications that are used to educate elected officials and business leaders on the value of Georgia’s Essential Economy. The Council is managed by a board of industry specialists and professionals, and it partners with leading businesses, economic development organizations and academic institutions to design and execute its research and communications. If you'd like to know more about the Essential Economy and the work we're doing you can visit our website or follow us on twitter @EssentialEcon.