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"In every community, there is work to be done…"

… "in every heart, there is power to do it," writer Marianne Williamson said.

So true, and as I wind down my role as a US Commerce Department official who has been privileged to lead our mission to advance data equality in America, I've been thinking about what "community" means today given the classic Digital Age conundrum.

Counselor Justin Antonipillai

Counselor Justin Antonipillai

That is, while technology makes it ever faster and easier to connect, communicate and learn about the world, how has that affected our traditional sense and strength of community — knowing our neighbors, our towns, our local businesses, economy, leaders, challenges and futures? Does technology lead us to see, hear, read and know more about our nation than our neighborhoods? And if we don't have a clear picture of our communities combined, can we really know our country? Have online communities distracted us from the real thing?

At the same time, we have incredible volumes, literally terabytes, of data available about every community in America — who we are, what we do, how we're doing, how we live — down to the county or zip code. This community data is rich, objective, updated, validated, open and available for the asking. It's produced and published every day by the US government, some 40 percent by Commerce.

As I've said before, we recognize our public data is not so easy to access and apply to advance common understanding and solutions to community and national needs. So we're thrilled with the response to our challenge to the digital world, from Silicon Valley and beyond, to bring that data to the public, private and charitable sectors with tools to make it easy to put to work.

Tableau CMO Elissa Fink

Tableau CMO Elissa Fink

The latest is from a collaboration of Enigma and Tableau built on Commerce data. Tableau has made Commerce data easier to grab and use, by bringing their visualization and business intelligence tools to the public for free. According to their CMO Elissa Fink, Tableau's mission is to "help people see and understand data." In working with Commerce Elissa and the whole team at Tableau hope "to make data more open, accessible, and understandable for people all over the country."

Using their combined toolkit, citizens can now crunch and convert rows of static, eye-glazing, mind-numbing data into lively and interactive pictures, charts, graphs and dashboards.

For example, Enigma and Tableau just loaded a new series of Commerce datasets — county business patterns, construction spending (by value and category), US home sales, and export control screening. With this data and the Tableau software, companies, researchers and other users of this data can query county business pattern data, for example, to find and visualize:

  • How many large manufacturers are in a certain zip code?
  • What industries are the largest employers there?
  • How have the types of businesses in a neighborhood changed over time?
Number of businesses per Metropolitan Statistical Area. Visit the live vizboard here.

Number of businesses per Metropolitan Statistical Area. Visit the live vizboard here.

To make this real, let's say you're a local nonprofit that wants to sponsor a regional jobs and career fair. You could quickly identify and reach the area's largest employers, connect them with job seekers, and build a powerful visual presentation that expands awareness and engages local leaders, job agencies and the public at large.

Or let's say you're the county business development agency, trying to attract and compete for new commerce, employers and jobs. You might query the data, and build convincing presentations, to target and attract subcontractors or suppliers that serve local manufacturers — saving them money and creating local jobs.

Or say you're on the local zoning board, or come to meetings because you care about local planning that affects your community. You want to revise obsolete rules that controlled the number and type of local businesses allowed in certain areas. You could come to the table with new data, cut and illustrated in a number of ways, to make your case.

"All politics is local," the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill said over 30 years ago. Our national identity, economy and beliefs also come down to local. We are, and have always been, an amalgamation of communities. E pluribus unum.

As I move forward from my Commerce role that has taught, thrilled and always humbled me, I hope that our mission to advance data equality continues to help the nation and every community come together in common understanding.

As Marianne Williamson said, in every heart is the power to do it. Inspired by my time advancing this cause and the incredible people and technologies I've had the chance to meet, work with, and see, I'm confident the momentum will continue.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Justin Antonipillai — Counselor to Secretary Penny Pritzker, with the Delegated Duties of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs


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