Alan Pruitt, Executive Director, Western Arizona Economic Development District
Like any other Economic Development District (EDD) designated by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Western Arizona Economic Development District (WAEDD) maintains a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The CEDS is both a regionally driven planning process and a strategic planning document, designed to build capacity and guide the economic prosperity and resiliency of a region. Unlike many other EDDs, the WAEDD’s CEDS is built for the web and uses application programming interfaces to integrate live data from sources such as StatsAmerica, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.
In September 2021, we chatted with Alan Pruitt, Executive Director of the WAEDD, about the organization’s unique implementation of the CEDS, how they use StatsAmerica and his advice for other EDDs considering adopting their built-for-the-web CEDS publishing model. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to develop your CEDS for the web using open-source code and live data when you could’ve just uploaded a PDF? What are the benefits to your approach?
Uploading a PDF on the web creates a static document that’s just another file stored on a website. Search engines cannot easily index a PDF document's content unless precise settings are selected while creating the PDF. Most CEDS that I review also apply print-based document rules (what I call "The Gutenberg Effect") that are neither dynamic nor adaptable to the modern internet.
On the other hand, HTML (the "language" of the web) allows one to introduce dynamic content that is not bound to a software suite or cumbersome formatting issues like fonts, styles, format and structure. I use free, open-source tools (i.e., Microsoft Visual Studio Code) to edit and publish CEDS content as fast as changes occur or circumstances update.
We also have a healthy amount of Python coding in our CEDS. Python is an open-source programming language and is commonly used for developing websites and software, task automation, data analysis and data visualization. We use it to create dynamic data visualizations by using open-source tools called application programming interfaces (APIs) that import relevant data tables from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
StatsAmerica leverages the same API resources, but our data points (primarily socioeconomic data) are imported from Census, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and BLS source data files in the background and automatically updated as these agency data sets update. A standard PDF cannot perform that function. So, one benefit of our approach is time savings: Python and APIs save our organization many hours of time and effort over the year.
The next benefit is the fact that HTML allows you to insert simple lines of code into the source file that enables the CEDS to be accessible. That means vision-impaired readers can consume your CEDS by using accessibility features on their devices that can read aloud the content and even describe illustrations or tables. Did you know that 75% of the world's vision-impaired community uses adaptive reader devices or accessibility tools to consume digital content?
The last benefit is that HTML enables responsive design. A line of code can allow a reader to use any device to view the CEDS, and the document will adapt its display and functions to the screen real estate on the device, whether it's a tablet or mobile device. People today "read with their thumbs" on the Internet because of the power of responsive design. It’s cumbersome to read a PDF document on mobile devices. To me, future-proofing the CEDS is just as important as the actual content.
What advice do you have for an EDD who wants to develop a CEDS like this?
Switching to an HTML version of the CEDS is the ultimate in fine-tuning the CEDS for the modern web. HTML is a “living standard” and isn’t complicated to learn. An average person with some digital fluency can create and modify an HTML document (e.g., create a simple static website) using many freemium and paid internet learning resources like Udemy and Coursera.
I started with LinkedIn Learning. You can successfully design and deliver a simple static web page to the Internet over a long weekend. Start upskilling your technical skills, and a whole new world of document publishing options are available to you—for free—because that’s what open-source means: democratized digital assets and tools.
What StatsAmerica tool or data set do you use the most for your work?
We are currently creating the Python code that will use the available agency APIs to extract the StatsAmerica U.S. Counties in Profile data sets to compare counties in our region. Initially, it’s a tedious coding exercise, but the future updates to the CEDS are instant and "hands-free." Our goal is to create dynamic data visualizations that show County A–to–County B information like educational attainment.
The purpose of all this open-source coding work is to turn complex research and static tables into shareable and easy-to-understand data for CEDS users. We have a lot of exciting technology updates to our CEDS that are on the whiteboard right now. We can't wait to share these improvements with our peer community soon!
Download our open-source code at: https://github.com/alanyuma/waedd-material-design.