Note from Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman: No one has a better feel for the progress and economic momentum taking place in Cumberland County than Robert Van Geons, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation. When an inept Washington, D.C., personal finance website like WalletHub shoots from the hip and publishes its version of fake news at our expense, someone needs to set the record straight. Read on. Van Geons does just that. Let’s see if WalletHub picks up on this story. Or, better yet, maybe WTVD 11 will pick it up.
On the morning of Jan. 3, I received a call from Fayetteville Mayor Colvin asking if I had seen a recent study by WalletHub, which listed Fayetteville last on its list of “Best Places to Find a Job.” Considering all the projects we have underway, the recent economic development announcements and general state of our local economy, his instincts told him this wasn’t correct. While the city’s communication team followed up with the publisher, I took a closer look at the study. We soon found out that the mayor’s suspicions were on point.
Digging deeper, when reviewing the sources listed, it was clear that most of the data had been collected in 2016, before projects like the $130 million Woodpeckers Stadium/downtown development, our new transit center, the $35 million Parks and Recreation Bond and important initiatives such as Pathways to Prosperity. And it certainly didn’t include any of the job-creating economic development announcements made in the last two years, Booz Allen Hamilton, Campbell’s Soup Company and eClerx as examples.
At best, rankings like what was published by WalletHub say a lot about where we’ve been — as opposed to where we are today or where we are headed.
Before going any further, let’s be clear. We are a work in progress. I am confident that most of our public- and private-sector leadership would agree that, while we are making great strides, there remains much to be done. That said, our recent history shows us confronting tough challenges, investing in the future and driving progress forward.
Wanting to understand better the data that went into the WalletHub rankings, we went searching for the reports referenced, starting with the heavily weighted “Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.” To our surprise, that analysis is only available for the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas, of which we are not one (Fayetteville is #138).
Shortly after this discovery, the city’s communications team received additional information from WalletHub, showing that five data points for Fayetteville were marked “N/A – Not Available,” taking 17.07 of 100 possible points off the proverbial table.
Subsequent conversations with the publisher confirmed that while we were not penalized for unavailable data, based on the sources they chose to use, we could not receive points for any of the following:
• Employment Outlook: Double Weight (6.53 points)
• Job Satisfaction: Full Weight (3.27 points)
• Retirement Access and Participation: Full Weight (3.27 Points)
• Transit Score: Full Weight (2.00 Points)
• Recreation-Friendliness: Full Weight (2.00 Points)
In the end, benchmarking our community against other cities can provide valuable insights. However, if someone is going to saddle a community with a label, the same criteria must be used for all. Putting our city at the bottom of a list that was developed using incomplete data is downright disingenuous.
Our community is moving forward, and I am confident that our citizens — and those considering Fayetteville for a business or personal move — will see past this website’s ranking. While WalletHub left out important statistics about our community, here are a few of which we can be proud.
• 1,200-plus current job openings in Fayetteville (NCWorks Employment Center)
• $200 million-plus announced projects under construction (FCEDC)
• 1,100-plus new jobs announced since January 2017 (FCEDC)
• 3,725 more people working than December 2016. (NC Commerce)
• 2,000 more people in the labor force (NC Commerce)
• 1,00,000-plus square feet of new construction underway (FCEDC)
• 4.6 percent unemployment rate – down 1.5 percent since December 2016 (NC Commerce)
The actions we are taking today set the foundation for us to be a stronger, more vibrant and globally competitive city. Working together, we are committed to building an economic landscape full of opportunity for all of our citizens. No internet study is going to deter us from continued progress along our path toward a brighter and more prosperous future.