As the world becomes increasingly digitized, businesses are faced with endless amounts of information and often hire experts who analyze the data to extract meaningful insights. The same is true at economic development organizations such as Pinellas County Economic Development, where Market Intelligence Specialist Ben Friedman supplies leaders in one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas with intel to support its expansion.
The Emory University alumnus earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and “had never even heard about economic development” until pursuing his master’s degree in public policy at Georgia State University. However, it didn’t take much to persuade the philosopher to pursue a different career path.
“Once curiosity got the best of me, I started taking classes on economic development and I was hooked.”
Ben interned for the City of Marietta’s economic development team while finishing his master’s degree and later worked as a full-time researcher at Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation, a nonprofit focused on social entrepreneurship and economic development to address social issues. Through data analysis, he began to recognize patterns in economic development that, if leveraged correctly, could have a ripple effect on the innovative advancement of communities as a whole.
Ben explained, “I noticed that when it comes to community development, it’s essential to figure out how to work with local stakeholders and anchor institutions.” This realization was the result of studying a rundown shopping mall near Vanderbilt University that was transformed into a premier medical facility. Ben noticed a ripple effect following its development, including high-quality job creation and enhancements in the surrounding neighborhood that culminated into a higher overall standard of living for residents. As he dug into the data for other revitalization projects, he noticed a similar pattern.
Roughly one year after joining the Center for Civic Innovation, Ben had fallen in love with the application of big data in economic development decision-making and was keen on pursuing career opportunities that would allow him to explore the concept. That’s when Ben set his sights on The Corridor region – which he described as an “overlooked hotbed for talent and innovation” – and landed in Pinellas County.
“This is the place people go to reinvent themselves. Whatever you want to be, you can do it here and in a different way … you can think outside the box.”
Condensing big data into actionable insights requires careful analysis and astute interpretation. In a world where there’s endless data at our fingertips, sometimes the challenging piece is knowing which points to consider. Even more challenging is communicating these insights in a succinct and engaging manner.
“People have short attention spans. I can write reports about population projections and location quotients to illustrate why a city or region should revitalize a certain space, but very few people want to sit down and actually read them,” Ben said.
As the saying goes, “A picture paints a thousand words.” To make important data more digestible, Ben started implementing data visualization best practices, adding illustrations to his market intelligence reports that helped educate recipients about complex concepts. His reports now employ a mix of narrative storytelling and data visualization, which have been well received by Pinellas County’s partners in economic development.
For his great work advancing economic development in Florida since 2017, Ben recently received the Daniel Webster Young Innovator Scholarship Award sponsored by the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and presented by the Florida Economic Development Council. Honoring Congressman Daniel Webster’s role in establishing The Corridor Council, the award provides up to $5,000 to fund the pursuit of a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) credential.