The Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has developed an interactive COVID-19 data dashboard that tracks how the pandemic has affected the state socially and economically.
The AEDI said the dashboard will provide timely and relevant information on how the virus has affected employment, mental health, food security, economic security, education and more.
The goal is to inform the public and policymakers so they can make good decisions, Director Jim Youngquist told Arkansas Business late Tuesday.
“We feel like it's pretty user friendly. … It's just kind of a way of visually seeing what's going on as opposed to looking at an Excel file with 2,000 numbers in it. We've become very visual. We don't like to read anymore, very much,” he continued. “And so we feel like this is really a visual way for Arkansans, and for that matter anybody else that would be interested in it, to see what has the impact of COVID been on the state.”
A business continuity plan is featured on the dashboard’s homepage.
“And that's basically prepared so that a local business of any size could use that as kind of, ‘OK, here's our situation. This is what we need to plan for,’ etcetera,” Youngquist said.
Younquist said the dashboard will allow users to compare Arkansas to bordering states and New Mexico, which — along with Arkansas and the states that border it — is included in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Southwest Region.
Data collected so far comes from interviews and surveys by AEDI researchers and interviews with 138 Arkansas chambers of commerce, Youngquist said.
Arkansas economist Michael Pakko has been providing quantitative data for the project — such as employment, tax revenue and tax collection figures — and schools have been providing educational data, such as how many students are receiving in-class instruction and how many are receiving virtual instruction. The AEDI is tracking the latter alongside the Arkansas Department of Education, Youngquist said.
The dashboard project is part of a larger initiative funded by a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The AEDI will use the money to create an Arkansas Recovery & Resiliency Plan and develop a history of the economic effects of COVID-19 on the state.
Youngquist added that, as part of the grant project, an advisory council of chamber representatives, business leaders, local and state government officials and members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation has been formed. The council will develop policy strategies that will help the state not only recover from the pandemic but be resilient going forward, he said.
“God forbid something like this happens again,” Youngquist said. “We're able to respond and expect to respond to tornadoes and floods, but we really don't know what our batting average is with all the other states when it comes to the pandemic. That's a totally different ballgame.
“So what we've done is we decided that we needed a place, a central point, and we developed this dashboard to document everything."
Youngquist said most of the data the AEDI has now is state-level data, but “what we're trying to do now, on a regional and local basis, is work with our partners to see if we can break that down further to the local level because, if we can do that, that would be even more helpful to the individual communities.”
The AEDI will work with communities throughout the state to develop new databases that specifically address the challenges and concerns facing Arkansas communities. It’s also partnering with the Delta Center for Economic Development at Arkansas State University and eight EDA Planning and Economic Development Districts in Arkansas to provide training, documentation, resources and planning for local government, schools, small businesses, the health care community and other entities affected by the pandemic.